If you suffer from gastrointestinal issues, you are not alone. When I was desperately sick and ready to take back control of my life, I was inspired by others who triumphed over similar adversity and unabashedly shared their stories. My doctors were great at telling me what would not work, but they offered little beyond prescription medication and a sense of helplessness. Despite their sympathy, they could not truly understand my symptoms because they did not feel them. My doctors weren't the ones living in this body, feeling the inflammation, constantly planning an emergency route to the nearest toilet, just in case. That was me.
Human health is a vastly complex subject and anyone claiming to have all of the answers is either full of it or trying to sell you something. In the end, it is the question you ask yourself--and answer honestly--that lets you become the master of your own health.
Treating the Symptoms
While the medicine my doctors prescribed helped suppress some of my inflammation, it didn't correct the underlying imbalances that led to me getting sick in the first place. (Lo and behold, the drug I was on creates additional imbalances like inhibiting folate absorption--not a good thing.) Most of my doctors didn't want to talk about diet because, according to their expert opinions, diet has little or nothing to do with inflammatory bowel disease and certainly could not cure it. I had a disease called ulcerative colitis and diseases were for keeps. I was encouraged to remain helpless and accept my only sanctioned option: lifelong disease management.
Let me be clear that I do not blame anyone for my ulcerative colitis. This is not a they should have known better situation. My parents and childhood doctors did the best they could with the information--and misinformation--available to them. I firmly believe that every medical intervention was guided by love, the desire to ease my suffering, and the genuine intent to make me healthy. I was born in the early 80s and there was no Internet. My parents couldn't just Google "recurring ear infections" or "infant milk allergy." When I was ill, we went to the ultimate authority on health: the family doctor. He was a kind and gentle man who used the tools of his trade as best he knew how. We all had so much to learn.
On The Beginning
The story I'm telling starts at my birth (some details secondhand, of course) but I must at least acknowledge the nebulous nature of the term "beginning." For certain, our genes are not fixed. Sequencing the human genome did not provide a sudden understanding of the origin of all unexplained disease. It turns out there is a whole other layer of genetic code, the study of which is called epigenetics, that affects which genes our bodies actually express. As some scientists believe, our epigenome could be partially inherited from multiple previous generations. The diets, environments and stresses of at least my parents' and my grandparents' generations shaped their epigenomes, and my ancestors may have passed portions of their epigenomes to me. In other words, my ulcerative colitis could have something to do with World War II. As Marty McFly would say: "Whoa, this is heavy."
You can hear an entertaining primer in NPR's Radiolab segment "You Are What Your Grandpa Eats".
Thus begins an ongoing series of posts sharing my personal health story; this is my prologue. I promise to be honest. There will be TMI moments and you don't have to read them.
I have spent years navigating the terrain: reading, listening, observing, questioning, testing and retesting. I know my own body better than any doctor ever will. The Internet teems with information and, for every genuine person wanting to help empower you, there are ten false prophets peddling their wares to any desperate soul with a valid credit card. Hold on the plastic for a moment and look within yourself; if you discover the will to be healthy, right alongside it you will find the power to change.
Wishing you vibrant health,
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.