“This changes everything.” Those were my words when Nature and other science journals reported mapping the gut microbiome in June of 2013. Since then, my gut microbiome has been changing everything in my world, too. Last month I spent 6 days in the hospital with a condition known as ITP–idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, basically staring down a condition that never impacted how I felt, but put me at grave risk for spontaneous hemorrhage.
I woke up on a Thursday morning with a single blood blister in my mouth. After a quick peruse on the internet, I dismissed it as probably linked to dental work done earlier in the week. I couldn’t so easily dismiss the additional blisters erupting throughout the day. By the time I peered into my mouth after an evening workshop, I counted 13. Not willing to venture into Kaiser’s ER at 10 pm, I vowed to call my doctor in the morning–but I didn’t get that far. I woke at 3am and counted 17, found a rash on my legs and remembered I saw a few unexplained bruises when I dressed for bed the night before. Something was wrong with my blood, and the after hours nurse on the phone said, “Get in here now.”
ITP: Idiopathic Means They Don’t Know
With platelets measured at 1000 (normal 150,000-450-000/ml3 ), I was immediately treated with IVIg, a bag of platelets, and 80 mg prednisone. Frank and I both swallowed hard when we were told I would be admitted. With so few platelets I was at extreme risk. I spent the next 6 days reading, watching movies, getting flowers and seeing friends at Spa Kaiser, while madly researching this bizarre and shocking development.
I didn’t respond to the initial treatment and my hematologist recommended taking the next drug, rituxan. Reading the disclosure papers brought tears to my eyes. I had already contemplated the dark side of my condition, I didn’t want to voluntarily take a drug that could kill me six different ways without ruling out other factors–especially the one linking my new diagnosis to my gut and the increasing gastric distress I had managed to mostly keep in denial over the past couple of years.
WHAT’S MY GUT GOT TO DO WITH IT?
With prednisone on board, I had an excess of time and energy to research my condition. (As far as I’m concerned, it’s legal speed) I stumbled across several accounts of ITP linked to h pylori, a gut bacterium known to cause ulcers and other gastric distress. When it came time to sign off on the rituxan treatment, I requested tests to rule out my gut hypothesis first, and my hematologist agreed to hold off on the scarier drug. Both tests came back positive, I was prescribed a cocktail of antibiotics,and watched my platelets recover enough to be discharged. During the course of antibiotic therapy, my platelet count rebounded geometrically, and 10 days after discharge I measured within a normal range.
Did treating the h pylori trigger the rebound? Would I have recovered spontaneously? We’ll never know, but now I am curious enough to want to know more. Ironically, I had already scheduled a time to meet with integrative gastroenterologist, Dr. Farshid Sam Rahbar, before my hurrah in the hospital. Over time more of my clients complain of GI tract problems, and I looked to find a someone to work with me. As we met, we discussed his work and I jumped at the chance to have a breath test, but would need to wait a few weeks. Just enough time to wrangle Frank and Noah into my scheme. I wanted to see a range of results, and I already know the best kind of learning is personal.
THE TEST DIET
So yesterday we embarked on the pre-test diet: eggs, chicken and fish with some dairy. Oil, chicken broth, salt and pepper. White bread and white rice. That’s it. No vegetables, no fruit, no beans, legumes, nuts or seeds. Frank felt deprived. Noah claimed he felt irritated and not satisfied. I felt out of sorts all day. But we mostly followed the diet, and this morning we will test our breath every twenty minutes over two hours of time. The breath test will measure hydrogen and methane production by the bacteria in our gut and Dr. Rahbar will interpret the results.
I noticed that while taking the antibiotics last month that my gut symptoms markedly improved, especially during the time in the hospital when I ate no starch or sugar. But real life demands more energy that I can get with eating only protein and produce. I prudently added more beans and a few more whole grains to my diet, and I am experiencing more gas and bloating–even though it is nothing like before. I wonder if other microbes are a play.
I’m grateful that I treated the h pylori, but now I am wondering what else or if the h pylori is truly gone. Gut microbes are notoriously hardy, able to survive an absurd range acid concentrations in the stomach. I am all questions at this point.
I am also curious about the role the gut plays in other arenas as well: 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, gut health impacts mental health, as well as signaling hunger and satiety and a host of other conditions. In a previous blog this summer I shared Dr. Stephanie Seneff’s concerns about glyphosate and it’s impact on gut health. She outlines a variety of health conditions impacted by our guts. In an earlier 2012 blog, I discussed the impact of raw milk and Noah’s gut. Consuming raw milk and using probiotics calmed his overactive gut considerably. I could probably write about Frank’s gut, but we already know that his reoccurring bouts of GI distress have everything to do lunch at his favorite taqueria. He might as well drink the salsa.
It’s almost 8 am and we are ready to begin. This breath test is another piece of information, and I can’t wait to find out what else there is to learn about my gut. Thanks to Frank and Noah’s willingness to play guinea pig , I get to find out even more.