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Our long, learn-as-we've-gone health journey

3 things you must know about me before reading:

1. I'm writing this because the topics of health, wellness, food allergies, and the like come up frequently in personal conversations (because it's been a constant aspect/struggle/learning process of our lives the last 10 years), and I've been wanting to get that info in one place so I can refer friends back to it. This is an effort to both share what we've learned as well as an aid to me in regards of spending less time online during the course of a normal week.

2. My degree is in English, with graduate studies in scripture, so I have no documented credentials for what I'm about to share other than our own personal experiences. However, when you combine exploration, experiments, personal drive to solve problems, intelligence (gifted to us all by our Creator) and wisdom (provided by the Holy Spirit), one can learn anything well and extensively. That's in fact how the first experts were made.

3. Don't label me as granola, health-nut, hypochondriac, conspiracy theorist, gullible, or opposed to modern medicine. None of those would be accurate. I also firmly believe that God has numbered all of our days, and am not motivated by fear of death. I used to dismiss any warning by spouting, "Everything causes cancer these days." Unfortunately, my blind trust of what was offered to me as food choices on a shelf was in fact that--blind. I remember the day my bestie reached for the organic milk in the grocery store, and I looked at her as if she had betrayed our mom club--the club who gives their kids poptarts and pats themselves on the back for not spoiling childhood by being paranoid helicopter moms. She said, "I know, I know, and if you want to know why I'm buying this instead of regular milk, I'll tell you, but if I do, you'll never go back." To which I replied, "Then I don't want to know because I'm not paying $6 for milk when I could pay $2." My husband and I already experienced minor health issues--ones that doctors said, "Oh this is common," and we continued our lives. It wasn't until our firstborn had one problem after another that we started seeking answers, making changes, and when we did, all of us improved in ways we never thought possible. Now we are healthier, but I don't idolize health. It's not the thing I'm most passionate to talk about, but it's necessary for me to have the capacity to do the things I'm most passionate about! I'm thankful for improvements, have learned from mistakes, and am continuing to trust God for grace, wisdom, and balance as we try to take care of our bodies so that we can care for the world.

In my ideal post, I'd write all the aspects of our journey, complete with helpful links and documented with the most reputable sources. But in my real world, I've got one Sunday afternoon for this project. Also I've got growing kids whose privacy I want to respect.

So here's how I'm approaching this--with 3 lists

List 1: All the ailments, large and small, that have afflicted us over the last 10 years.

List 2: Things that have helped and in some cases eliminated those ailments. I'll give you terms and specifics to explore them more on your own.

List 3: What we avoid and why.

1. Family ailments

I won't tell you who had what, but know that every person in our household of five was experiencing more than one of these in an ongoing way:
  • daily dull headaches
  • regular migraines
  • back pain
  • joint pain
  • chronic infections--everywhere--ear, nose, throat, and the opposite extremities --use your inference skills here ;)
  • seasonal allergies
  • severe food allergies
  • mild food allergies
  • gluten intolerance
  • lactose intolerance
  • fatigue even after well rested
  • eczema
  • nosebleeds
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • chronic constipation
  • impacted colon
  • inflamed colon
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • premature puberty
  • endocrine system issues
  • adrenal fatigue syndrome
  • swollen tonsils
  • itchy throat
  • itchy eyes
  • thyroid issues
  • hair loss
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • hormone imbalances
  • swollen glands
  • mental fog
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of energy
  • weak immunity (catching all the colds/all the germs)
  • irritability
  • hypoglycemia
The things I've listed were a part of our daily realities for years. We managed them and accepted them as normal. We didn't question whether they could be removed from our lives. Our cabinet was regularly stocked with ibuprofen, tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Mylanta, Malox, Tums, Immodium, prescription migraine medicine, prescription steroids for allergies, benedryl, dayquil, nyquil, sudafed, mucinex, alka seltzer, and a few others. I clipped coupons for these things and we consumed them regularly. All of that has changed. We have a small bottle of tylenol for the occasional fever-flu, and literally haven't purchased any of the others in almost 5 years. 

2. Things that have helped. 

FYI, for almost everything I mention here, quality is everything. You can find cheap options on amazon or in the grocery store, but in our experience, every time I pursued the cheaper option, I  really just wasted our money because they didn't render any effect. 
  • Probiotics. These have been key to all the tummy troubles mild and severe in all 5 of us. Lactose intolerance disappeared once probiotics were introduced. The first unexpected result was that my daughter's eczema went away! So many things were effected by the balance of bacteria in our guts. I would've never thought! Fogginess, energy, infections, swelling, sleep. So.much.stuff. There are several good options available and many not good options. Here's how I select one (again based on my own trial and error. Going for the cheapest option isn't saving money but waiting money). I look for at least 7-8 strains of good bacteria with a count in the billions. Generally, between $25-$50 for 60 capsules is the price of any that have worked well for us. Karl likes Powerdophilus by Country Life. For me, it's missing something and isn't as effective. The one that worked best for me (my digestive issues were more severe than Karl's, and I have some permanent damage that I must maintain) were prescribed by a doctor and are discontinued [sad face]. The one that I'm finding the most success with right now is Life 9 by Young Living.  I've made the mistake of buying the kind at the top of the amazon search--sometimes the descriptions make them sound just as good but for half the price--but they haven't been just as good, and I've learned that they have solicited reviews by giving discounts or free products. I don't rely on yogurt--the amount in yogurt is negligible (I honestly don't even buy yogurt anymore--do you see how much sugar is in there? I'd rather eat ice cream for the same amount of sugar!) And I don't rely on another supplement that "also has probiotics"--again, not enough if I really need to rebalance my gut bacteria.
  • Essential Oils. Young Living brand has been the most effective for us. I tried substituting a cheap lavender in the same way, and it didn't do anything except smell good. Young Living has  increased our overall wellness. Seasons where we've diffused our YL oils regularly are ones when we avoided the common viruses, seasonal allergies, and we generally slept, ate, and functioned better (and likewise happier). I love using oils because 1. they are completely pure and natural, 2. We've experienced no side effects with them but have experienced their support in many way, and 3. They're not addictive, nor do we build up a tolerance to them which would require that we use them increasing amounts. The YL bottles last a long time, and are actually cheaper in the long run as we haven't needed to buy OTC meds in years. Oils we use the most:
    • Lavender 
    • Peppermint
    • Thieves
    • Rosemary
    • Copaiba
    • Tea Tree (Melaluca)
    • RC
    • Raven
    • Nutmeg
    • Lemon/lime
    • Purification
    • Abundance
    • We also use their Thieves household cleaner, and personal products.
  • Magnesium supplements. This was recommended to me by a doctor, a chiropractor, and a massage therapist all within the same 3 months. Google "benefits of magnesium" and you'll see why. The trouble is that some magnesium supplements will have an unpleasant bathroom effect. :/ I've found the Plexus BioCleanse to be the best option here. It's easy to take (two capsules with 8 oz. water). I take it first thing in the morning and wait 30 minutes to eat. I've had more sustained energy and less tight muscles as a result. Sometimes my daughter feels sluggish or foggy and I'll give her half an adult dose with water in the morning for a few days. I take it perpetually as an aid with chronic damage, but for her and hubby, it's a good support after poor eating. 
  • NAET (Allergy elimination practices)-- has lessened the degree of severe food allergies and has completely eliminated lesser ones! I came into this one skeptical. And if not for two trusted friends who had gone before us with success, I would've been looking for myself on the next episode of Candid Camera because the session was just that unusual to me! If you read about it online, you'll find plenty of sources saying they are kooks or con-artists, and perhaps some are, but if you find a true certified practitioner like I did, there's a solution that most don't know exists, and it's based on Eastern medical science instead of Western. And here's where the Lord opened my mind while living overseas--just because it's Western doesn't mean it's the only way, doesn't mean it's the best way. And just because it's Eastern doesn't mean that it's a mystical pseudo-religious experience. God has revealed pieces of science to different pieces of the world, and the more we put those pieces of knowledge together, the more we learn about the world. Our bodies are SO COMPLEX. I'm sure there's loads of information that humans have yet to learn! With that being said, it took about 12 months of weekly NAET treatments (thankfully socialized medicine in Europe made this an affordable option for us!) to permanently eliminate several of my daughter's food allergies including egg, strawberry, and several other fruits. I had a series of NAET treatments myself, and I experienced improvement. I could feel a difference in my body's response to foods--even some that I wasn't intolerant to previously. Blood tests revealed the allergies no longer present, and also a lower reactivity of severe allergens. I saw in my daughter other positive effects such as reduced anxiety and a stable system (no new allergies have occurred, whereas we were seeing an increase in new allergies prior). NAET exists in the US but for a much higher cost, which is the only reason why we haven't continued with these. In theory, if we continued, she could come to a point where even her anaphylactic allergies were eliminated.
  • Chiropractic spinal adjustments--Spinal health is just as key as gut health, and fortunately we are blessed to have a gifted chiropractor in our family. He is the one who also put us on the probiotic path and shared a book which launched this health journey 10 years ago. Spinal adjustments remain a key part of our wellness plan. Several times in the past few years, someone in our fam has been congested, and after a chiro adjustment, the congestion subsides. Budding earaches have been the same. When the spine is in alignment, all the body's systems work together better. Chiro adjustments are covered by our insurance and are worth looking into if you've never seen one. However, if it's your first time, you should know that toxins are stored along the spine and by aligning the spine, the toxins will be released. It's super important to drink lots of water immediately afterwards to flush these out, otherwise you could feel a bit sick as the toxins resettle into your system. Most chiropractors will recommend several visits in a row if you are new (or relapsed) in your adjustments--this is necessary to retrain your muscles to hold the position of correct alignment. They are not trying to "make you addicted to adjustments" or such nonsense that you can read on the internet. A good chiropractor will want to not waste your time and money by adjusting you and then it moving out of place 2 days later. Once your body is accustomed to an adjustment, it will last a while. Our insurance covers 18 adjustments a year--that will get you 6 in a short time span and then once a month for the year = just right. However, you will be wise to look for a chiropractor who asserts whole body health/kinetic health and not one who is advertising for car accident victims. If you've been in accident, you definitely want to see a chiropractor, but like all things, don't settle on the first one you try if you're not satisfied with the care or attention you're receiving. 
  • Therapeutic massage--not to be confused with spa day. ;) Again it's about toxins. Massage has the same effects on toxins in muscles as adjustments do to the spine while also having many more health benefits associated with reduced stress. I was so surprised after my first massage that my usual stomach-upsettedness improved and subsided for a week or two after the massage (this was before I discovered probiotics and that I shouldn't be eating gluten! The massages helped!). It is possible to get needed massages covered by insurance as well. If you need them, it's worth investigating!
  • Organic meat & dairy. This came as a suggestion by a doctor friend when one of my children showed premature signs of puberty. I mean PREmature, at age 7. I asked her pediatrician, who had already referred us to an endocrinologist, about the foods and she avoided my question. I pressed her and asked her what she bought for her own kids, and she relented and said yes, there could be something to it, but that there wasn't anything conclusive enough for the AAP to make a formal statement, and there are too many families who can't even afford regular milk so she can't recommend that all people everywhere buy organic (totally valid and compassionate point of view!), but she said if we wanted to try a diet change that we should start with meat and dairy as those are the ones with hormone concerns. The appointment with the endocrinologist was far off--6 weeks to be exact, so we kept the appointment on the calendar while making the diet change. By the week of the appointment, all signs of premature puberty had gone away. Could it be coincidence? Could they maybe have reverted on their own as her hormones found balance? Sure. But again, I had now two doctors suggest it and experience to back it up, so we didn't revert back in the meat and dairy department.
  • Organic fruits and veggies--The meat and dairy launched my research on organic vs. non-organic foods. I realized that while all fruits and veggies are beneficial to us, some non-organic foods carry traces of toxins. Our bodies are designed to eliminate toxins, and they can do that as long as we don't overload them. I buy and cook organic food for our family as much as our budget allows so that I leave space for our bodies to eliminate the toxins that we will naturally encounter --through pollutants, chemicals, birthday parties, and potluck lunches. ;) 
  • Vitamin B, C, D. Two years in a row my blood labs showed I was vitamin deficient in B and D. I took prescription tablets which weren't well absorbed and also made me feel jittery. I've tried some on amazon or from the health food store as well, and nothing has beat the Plexus X Factor vitamins for me! They have a patent aloe coating which allows the digestive tract to easily accept and absorb. Game changer for me! At first I needed them daily, and now as my body has accepted them, my most recent labs showed no deficiency! As my gut has gotten healthier with probiotics, the magnesium cleanse, and gentle vitamins, my body is better at absorbing the nutrients through my food once again. I still have the X Factor vitamins, but I only need to take them a couple days a week--as a true supplement if I'm not eating vitamin rich foods for a day or two. I'm so thankful that God designed our bodies to heal!
  • Norwex cleaning products. I swear by their cloths--they work on literally everything, damage nothing, and require no chemical cleaners! I also use their dryer balls after I asked a doctor about gluten and he said, "I'd worry more about what your fabric softener is doing to you than what's in gluten." Which I had never ever thought to look at what was in fabric softener and what it might be doing to us. (Two years later another doctor made me stop eating gluten, so you know, not every doctor hits the nail on the diagnosis).  Anyway, Norwex saves me money in the long run, saves space, and eliminates toxins = no brainer!
  • Cosmetics with better ingredients. Younique, Burt's Bees, Beauty Counter, Bare Minerals, YL just came out with mineral makeup also! Yes to Carrots/Cucumbers, and the like. I'm just more aware of what's in it now. What I've noticed is that while these healthy alternatives are more expensive than drug store makeup, they last a lot longer. A LOT longer, and I only have to buy makeup about every 2 years. 
  • Reducing the use of hand-held devices and technology. As with almost everything I've listed so far, there are conflicting reports as the benefits/risks, but I've found personally that my energy level is correlative to the amount of time I spend on my phone. There's something about looking down + inactivity + the negative ions of technology that drain me. I only recently learned about the effect of positive ions a couple of years ago when we lived in the city (where positive ions are significantly less than the countryside or seaside) and it dramatically effected me! During the normal work week, I put my phone aside until lunch time, and try to check things on my laptop at lunch. We don't sleep with the phones in our room so as to provide space without it near us. (Yep, we reverted back to an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake us up). 

3. What we avoid

We have chosen these because of advice from health care professionals and our own trial and error. We actually feel better when we avoid certain foods. In regards to chemicals, we had some toxin screenings done as part of the process of determining which environmental factors were having a negative impact on our health. As my doctor put it, both me and one of my children were experiencing things that "otherwise healthy people" shouldn't be experiencing, i.e. we had no medical condition to explain them, so the conclusion was that it was environmental factors. By trial and error we eliminated, tried again, and concluded based on our own body's responses. As a result, I've made the decision to not use them for our entire family because we share the same genes, so why risk it? 
  • Foods we avoid:
    • wheat, all forms of modern American wheat, whether organic, whole grain, etc. doesn't matter. If you read enough about it--how it's changed in the last 100 years and how it's processed, it makes sense why we don't feel good when we eat it, so we choose to just not. This was evidenced when we lived in Italy and didn't experience the same negative effects when eating organic Italian wheat. 
    • high-fructose corn syrup. This substance (it is definitely not a food) is illegal in Europe. When we returned to the US after living in Europe for 2 years, we had major and minor ill effects when we consumed things with this substance. 8 year olds should not have severe migraines unless they have had head trauma. That is just one of several things such as my husband who has been cavity prone his entire life hasn't had a cavity since we eliminated this.
    • processed sugar for a variety of reasons
    • food additives/preservatives that aren't natural (i.e. celery salt is natural, silicon dioxide is not)
    • nitrates/nitrites in processed meat. After about a week of these, we feel yucky in the belly and run-down in general. 
  • Substances we avoid in cosmetics:
    • parabens
    • methylisothiazolinone (it makes my hair fall out)
    • most sunscreens (I'll use a homemade solution of coconut oil, zinc oxide, and essential oils, but recently I've LOVED the one for sale from Beauty Counter. It's less messy and squeezes/rubs in nicely and doesn't leave us looking like Casper). 
    • talc, petrolium, and several others on the watch list
    • aluminum (except for my antiperspirant. I haven't found a deodorant without it that works for me, and so far I've tried them all. I'm so happy for you all who have one that you love and swear by, but it's not the case for me, and until the norms of our society change, I will continue to wear antiperspirant). 
    • aerosol anything
  • Substances we avoid in household products:
    • We basically have eliminated all mainstream cleaning products--for the house as well as  laundry.
    • We avoid formaldehyde in fragrances and instead use essential oil diffusers to scent the house which provides health benefits while we breath it. If we want the ambiance of candles, we use natural beeswax or soy candles.
  • Handheld devices for our kids. We had previously let them use our phones and iPads for both learning apps and for pleasure until the recent updated reports from the AAP and the Canadian pediatrics also. So we've changed our family culture and they don't use them at all now. They will when they're older. Again, not paranoia, just too much good info to ignore. 
FAQ's:

  • How can you afford it?  We reorganized our priorities. Also a lot of the expensive stuff and money-wasters at the store are the things we do without--I virtually never spend money on cosmetics or cleaners at the store. There's rarely an impulse buy. Produce is costly, so I try to balance out my meals with the less expensive. For instance cabbage is dirt cheap and organic raspberries are like the cost of gold. I plan my meals around what's on sale. And most of the junk food is just as expensive if not more expensive than fuel food. Plus we out less, which is a huge saver. 
  • Do you buy exclusively organic? Where do you make compromises? I don't buy organic produce if it has a thick peel or rind--like watermelons, bananas, citrus, etc. I try to buy as much as I can of the rest and will let the seasons and sales determine our meal plan. 
  • How can you live without ___? We moved overseas and lived without most of the things that brought us comfort--our family, our car, our language, our belongings, our netflix, our babysitters, our friends, our church. We can live without Eggo Waffles. Really, this is not a big sacrifice. 
  • How do you have time for it? You make time for what's important to you. But the Natasha Red meal planning resources have helped!
  • How do you get your kids to eat it? 
  • Do you take probiotics everyday?
  • Do you still see doctors?
  • What about vaccines?

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