Health and Veganism
This post is not a recipe or about gadgets. I've been having some health issues and felt like writing about it. Feel free to skip this one if it's not for you.
I've been vegan long enough, and in enough situations, to have heard it all. Back in college, when I was just a vegan-curious baby, calling myself a vegetarian while eating fish, I had a boyfriend who told me that vegans were sickly and had dark circles under their eyes. Love is blind, and I actually believed him instead of my own clear eyes... I knew a vegan in my biology class who was active and healthy without any dark marks under her eyes. I was still dating that boyfriend, and eating more meat and dairy than I ever had in my life, when I finally figured out that the reason I felt like I had food poisoning multiple times a week was because I was allergic to dairy.
My fatphobic doctor said it was normal that I sometimes went a week without pooping, and that the reason I was vomiting so violently every couple days was because I was obviously overeating. The doctor seriously looked my body up and down and said that. He did zero tests. A friend of mine had recently been diagnosed with a milk allergy because he was a slim man so his doctor had listened to his symptoms and done a test like a professional. He said, "Your symptoms sound like mine. You should try reading every label and eating nothing with milk for a week and see if that helps." And it did. And when I switched doctors, the blood test confirmed that I had a dairy allergy. The best irony is that I was vomiting so violently, that during this time I had red circles around my eyes where I had burst blood vessels. Those circles around my eyes were from consuming animal products. So there.
So I had heard the "veganism will make you sick" argument, but then I went vegan and I heard a new line, which was that NOW I was going to cure all diseases and become the perfect ideal of health. I didn't. Also, I had no diseases to cure. As a vegan blogger, I've actually said to friends, "I feel like just because going vegan didn't cure some terminal illness, no one wants to know how I make vegan cookies." It's true.
I went through a vegan pregnancy, and seemed to hear both extremes, "Oh that's so wonderful that you are eating so healthy!" and "You can't have a healthy vegan pregnancy!" The baby was over 9 lbs at birth, and it was a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, I did get a stomach bug in my 9th month of pregnancy, and even though a month before I had had my vitamin levels tested and everything was great, I went in at 4 months postpartum feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I was depressed, weak, and felt awful. Apparently making 9 lbs of baby while throwing up constantly with a stomach flu for a week took a bit out of me. At that time, my thyroid levels were low. My doctor told me that I'd need to take thyroid medications for the rest of my life.
I was skeptical. Didn't it make more sense that my body was clearly in crisis, and when I got my vitamin levels up, my body would equalize. Oh no, I was assured that thyroids don't work like that. So I started reading on the internet like an idiot instead of listening to my doctor. Over and over I saw that soy was bad for the thyroid and vegan diets were dangerous for the thyroid and yada yada yada. I even went to a doctor recommended by a friend who did some alternative testing and said my vegan diet would kill me. If I were a smarter businesswoman, I'd say that I cured my thyroid disease with a vegan diet. The truth is that I raised my vitamin levels with a vegan diet (really just adding high doses of vitamin D and B12 for a bit until I leveled out and could go back to a regular multivitamin). My personal belief is that I cured my thyroid out of pure stubbornness. I didn't want to have to take medications for life. I stopped taking my thyroid medication after 4 months, when my vitamin levels all tested normal, and I've had textbook perfect thyroid levels every check for the last 8 years.
About 3 years ago, I went to a new doctor because we have moved and I needed my thyroid tested and an annual. I said I was fine, but this doctor actually listened and paid attention. Sure, I felt like I was feeling way more hung over than seemed normal when I'd have just a glass or two of wine. Yeah, I felt fatigue sometimes. He ordered an excessive amount of blood work, but the results showed that my liver enzymes were elevated and my inflammation markers were high. I stopped drinking alcohol and tried to just be aware of chemical exposure. I stopped eating the wild blackberries by my house where I saw them staying the plants with weed killer. Just little things like that. My doctor said that we are exposed to toxins all the time, and my liver was just reacting to something that I had consumed or touched or inhaled... There's just no way of knowing what caused it.
A year later, when I went for my next annual, things seemed fairly normal. Everything had mostly calmed down. I had some abnormal cells in my pap that year, and I was scared for the next 12 months waiting or a retest. The following year (about a year ago), my pap was normal and I was so relieved. During that visit, I told the doctor that I felt like my cramps had gotten much worse over that year (which had of course kicked my anxiety into high gear after that abnormal pap). I was sure that I had cancer. When my pap was normal, though, we talked about the symptoms, and he said that sounded like endometriosis. Reading about endometriosis made me really depressed and hopeless feeling, on top of the pain that was getting more and more intense. My doctor said there was the option for a surgical diagnosis, but I didn't want to consider surgery at that time.
In the months following that visit, the pain got worse and worse, making me unable to function some days. A friend of mine said I should see her gynecologist for a second opinion, and I went in on a day when I had felt like my left ovary was going to burst and had felt that way for a week. They did an ultrasound, and the ovary was totally fine. Picture perfect. That doctor also said it sounded like I had endometriosis, and he could do surgery to diagnose it and remove it. He said, "Best case scenario, we burn out the bad tissue, and then in a year or two we repeat the process, and we keep doing that until you hit menopause." I sat in my car after that appointment and sobbed and sobbed so hard that I couldn't drive.
After that doctor visit, something strange happened, the pelvic pain started to go away, or at least lessen. Instead, though, I started getting pain in my gums and bumpy eczema on my hands when I ovulated. I went to the dentist and the dermatologist, and both said it seemed to be hormone related.
Then the joint pain started. My hips, legs, knees, feet, and hands throb during ovulation, in the bones. I've read that this can happen with endometriosis, but felt different. This was so deep in my bones, but did flare with ovulation. I also started having oral allergy syndrome, where I'd get pain/itching feeling in my mouth when I ate certain fruits that I'm not allergic to. This all felt like autoimmune disease. I also kept hearing about Lyme, and I've had plenty of tick bites growing up in the Sierra Nevadas.
When I went for my annual, I shared all these concerns with my doctor, and he ran lots of tests. Most things were normal. My vitamin D was low (and I'm now supplementing heavily in hopes to bring that to normal), but also I tested positive for autoimmune antibodies. The way it was explained to me is that it's like when you get a vaccine or get the chicken pox and your body creates antibodies to fight that illness. My body, for some reason, made antibodies to fight itself. Once you have them, your body can always flare up with them. My numbers were the lowest possible result you can get and still be a positive, though, and that gives us some hope. The pattern of the antibodies is associated with systemic Lupus. This is not the same as having a Lupus diagnosis, though.
I also did a saliva test for my hormones, and I have a slight estrogen dominance. The theory is that either I have endometriosis AND an autoimmune issue, or, more likely since I never had these endometriosis symptoms before, my autoimmune issues are messing with my hormones. Again, I'm taking back to cautionary "soy estrogen" bull, but I have been at this long enough to know that is just pseudoscience. For now, I am working on building up my vitamin D levels, keeping my joints moving as much as I can, taking turmeric daily, and CBD oil to help with pain and inflammation. My hope is that once again, when I get my vitamins leveled out, the rest will fall in line.
Anyway, these are the health things I'm dealing with now, and wether it's endometriosis and/or Lupus, I may be looking at lifelong chronic pain, which is messing up my mental state quite a bit. All that said, I'm finding great support online, and I know veganism isn't going to cause or cure these issues. Vegans can be sick, experience chronic pain, and even have nutritional deficiencies (my B12 is great! It's just D I struggle with!). I am sharing because it seems you only hear about sick vegans in "I'm no longer vegan" confessionals or wildly misleading news stories. You also hear a lot about curing everything under the sun with a vegan diet, and I don't doubt that there are folks like me who have been told they will be sick forever and then just not been, but it's not always going to work.
My mom thinks I should just for 28 days and just see if that fixes everything, and I've thought about it, but for now I'm trying to do what's best for my physical and mental health, and that means solid food and balance. I ordered the book below and may follow her protocol at some point, but not right now. I hope if you find this because you are struggling with your health, you don't feel so alone. Being in pain and feeling shame or guilt about your ethics is not a good combo. It's okay to be sick an vegan.
I wrote a children's book, How Our Vegan Family Celebrates, to help vegans and vegan allies know how to include vegans in their celebrations and give affirmation to vegan kids who may feel alone. The book goes through holidays throughout the year and has a section at the back with parent tips!
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