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The importance of our gut health has been known for a long time.
Traditional medical systems like ayurveda even consider our gut as the most important part of our system when it comes to keeping and restoring our health.
Western medicine has been catching up lately as can be seen in a multitude of research programs investigating the role of our gut microbiome, i.e. the microorganisms living in our gut. According to studies from the past two decades, our microbiome seems to have an influence on the development of certain types of cancer, chronic inflammatory bowel disorders, chronic neurological disorders or psychological issues like depression or autism, skin problems, allergies, and food intolerances. The list goes on.
In general, many chronic health issues seem to be associated with changes in our microbiome.
Over the past few years, I’ve experienced how directly connected our well-being can be with the little “subtenants” in our belly. And I suffered a pretty bad setback just this week.
Retrospectively, the story of my health decline started in 2017 with a pretty bad abdominal influenza, after which I suffered from lasting digestive issues.
I didn’t really care about it and just thought it would go away one day. One year later, I suddenly suffered from a really strong pollen allergy, including asthma and unexplained physical breakdowns when I would be unable to talk or move, especially when exposed to the sun or at dinner. My general practitioner prescribed me some antihistamines and an inhaler for the asthma and told me to work less. The medication helped partially, and I was able to go on with life almost normally.
At the end of 2018, I began to experience dysmenorrhea, or painful and strong periods, and in 2019 I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I underwent surgery, but the problems with painful periods and gynecological issues returned, even though there was no physical reason to be found.
During the summer months, I would start to suffer from a multitude of strange symptoms like the described breakdowns, vertigo, dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, nausea, painful bloating and bellyaches, heartburn, heart arrhythmias, low blood pressure, asthma, and a stuffed or runny nose. I wasn’t able to sleep and my emotions were on a rollercoaster, from depressed or anxious to highly aggressive.
Furthermore, my period was almost killing me, but whenever I took painkillers my entire body would flame up in a bright red rash, followed by several days of itchiness. Neurologists sent me for an MRI with a contrast medium, after which I broke down more often, and when exposed to the sun, I ended up having paraesthesias (unpleasant or no feelings on the skin of my arms, legs, and head).
Doctors told me it was all in my head—that I was mentally ill and should stop working because of burnout and anxiety. Being a psychotherapist myself, I was told that I “should know best what is wrong with me.”
But it just didn’t feel right to me, so I trusted myself and refused to accept their assessment. Thank God I’m a super nerd who loves to investigate everything I don’t understand and has a big interest in medical and biochemical topics.
After some rather painful detours, I ended up studying European Naturopathy, which was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past 15 years. Within my studies I came across the phenomenon of histamine intolerance, which would eventually explain all my weird symptoms.
Histamine is a biogenic amine and plays an important role in our body, for example in our immune function or regulation of our blood pressure. It can be ingested with food or secreted by the mast cells, a type of immune cell we all have in our bodies. I will not go into detail about the exact mechanism of histamine intolerance here, as it is beyond the scope of this article but you can learn more here and here (if you’re super nerdy, like me).
The treatment is usually to cut out all foods that are high in histamine or that trigger the mast cells to secrete histamine, and to avoid all other triggers for the mast cells, which in my case included sunlight, heat, working out, painkillers, and X-ray contrast media. This trigger list is highly individual, but I also learned it’s possible to help stabilize the mast cells so they don’t overreact to the triggers via specific supplements like DAO (the enzyme that breaks down histamine in your digestive system) or to take antihistamines.
Finally, the last part of the puzzle is to check your microbiome. Some of the bacteria in our gut are actively producing histamine, while others are not or are even suppressing histamine secretion.
In my case, the microbiome analysis did show a clear imbalance with too many histamine producers. I was able to stabilize my health with a histamine-sensitive regimen to restore my intestinal bacterial flora. For me, a month with the healing earth and a probiotic without histamine-producing bacteria and L-Glutamine did the magic. Until this week, I was perfectly fine with no symptoms and, after 3.5 years, finally able to work out again.
So, what happened? Sadly, I didn’t trust myself enough with my own plan and sought supervision with a specialist just to make sure I was doing it right. The combination of the products I worked with was adjusted and I didn’t think to double check the new products I was prescribed.
After six days of taking an extra probiotic with only one type of bacteria, I’m back to where I was before, breathlessly dropping off the dinner table like a bag of potatoes, suffering from the entire set of symptoms again.
Although this really sucks, I’m also highly fascinated by the fact that one single type of bacteria, in my case Enterococcus Faecalis, can have such a huge impact on a person’s well-being and level of functioning. To experience this directly with such a clear connection between the bacteria and the state of my physical and mental health is blowing my mind right now.
I’m even more confident than before that this was never all in my head. For me, it is 100 percent clear that the health issues I’ve dealt with for the past few years all came from my gut.