Today I woke up with one mean hangover! My eyes felt puffy with big dark bags under them, I woke up heavily and reluctantly, wishing it was Sunday, my head full and fuzzy and I was a generally grumpy little human. Alcohol? What alcohol? Oh no, this isn’t your typical one-drink-too-many hang over. This is a DAIRY hangover!
Look all I can say is that it was cold last night and I got caught up watching Game of Thrones reruns on the lounge, so when dinner time came I was rather unenthusiastic about cooking. It was far easier and more attractive, to call up our local Indian restaurant and order a few delicious curries to go. I swear I meant to say Daahl, but ended up saying Palak Paneer instead; home made cottage cheese cooked in a delicious spinach sauce! Yum!! And it was. I enjoyed every mouthful. But this morning, not unlike a sore headed sailor after one rum too many, I am filled with regret and woe.
A good friend of mine recently went gluten free. She had been eating gluten for the best part of 30 years so avoiding it was certainly something to get used to. After a few months of working out a whole new way of eating while enjoying numerous health improvements, she decided to indulge in a little naughtiness and had a gluten containing treat while out with her children. Within 15 minutes her body was wracked with cramps, to the point where she couldn’t even stand up straight. With difficulty she drove herself and her girls home, only to spend the next 6-8 hours in varying levels of pain and discomfort. The next time she saw me she asked the question that so many people with food allergies and intolerances ask: “What was THAT all about?? I used to be able to eat gluten fine, now it cripples me! Why is it that avoiding it has made me MORE allergic to it?” I could see she was also thinking, “I’m not sure avoiding it is better for me, if every time I eat it I get such a horrible reaction. Maybe I would have been better never giving it up…”
So what IS with that? Why is it that you can happily eat an allergenic food for years and years and nothing major goes on until you start avoiding it?
Well it all comes down to inflammation.
When you consume a food your body has a reaction to, this is what happens. Specialised cells in your body detect the offending food and send messages to your immune system. Your immune system then mounts a response. Your ‘solider cells’ start seeking out, attacking and destroying the ‘enemy’, which in this case is a food item. This miniature war causes a whole lot of inflammation. Think of an actual war- the landscape is a heck of a lot worse for wear afterwards; in fact the landscape is usually pretty decimated. This is what is happening in your body. Your other tissues are taking the brunt of the battle, losing health, vitality and tone.
Now if we were talking about being invaded a bad germ, this reaction would be fantastic. Even though there would be damage to the surrounding areas, the offending germ would usually be defeated and life in balance returns. The damaged areas would then be given attention by the body and sped on the way to recovery. Homeostasis is re-established.
But what happens when your body does this in response to a food item? The battle is continuous. Think of my friend eating gluten every day for 30 years. There is no time to stop and repair the damage. The battle rages day in day out. And because your body is a marvellous thing, you generally feel OK. You get used to how it feels with this level of inflammation. Your body has reached a point of being so constantly inflamed, constantly reactive and constantly at war, but because this is the norm, you’re ok with that. If you had an inflamm-O-meter inside you, my guess is that you’d be sitting constantly in the red.
Those regular headaches for no reason are just the result of a headache tablet deficiency, the fact that you sometimes have diarrhoea or constipation just means you have a dodgy digestive system, the rashes on your legs come and go but whatever, you’re used to living with them… This is just the way things are.
Fast forward a few months into avoiding those allergen foods and your headaches have disappeared, the rashes cleared up and your bowels moving like clock work. But the funny thing with us humans is that when things are going well, and I mean really well, we don’t tend to notice. That is why I always take notes as a naturopath, so when my client comes back after avoiding gluten for 8 weeks and tells me nothing has changed, I get out the files and go through the old symptoms. I must say I love the moment when my clients stop, think about the symptom and go “Oh, headaches? Ah, no, I don’t get them any more, they’ve just stopped”. OH YEAH!!!!!! WOOHOO!!!! FOOD INTOLERANCES, BABY!!!
So there you have it. After everything has had a few months to settle down, your tiny armies are back at their base sitting around playing backgammon, the clean up crew have done their work and started to heal the damaged caused by the war, and your inflamm-O-meter is sitting well down in the green zone. And then you have a piece of cake, or in my case, a delicious curry.
Cue the cavalry, sound the trumpets, it is on, and in a BIG way! The armies, given time to regroup and recover, come out strong, they start blasting away upon all that newly repaired tissue, and the inflamm-O-meter skyrockets. And because you’re now used to being non-inflammatory, the symptoms may just be worse than ever before.
I like to think of it as your body’s way of saying: “Hey no way, this is not on buddy! We LIKE being all nice and relaxed, we don’t want to fight every day. Here, have this whopping headache or stomach cramps to drive the lesson home. Now don’t do it again!”
Hence my dairy hangover. Thanks little buddies, message received.
If you feel you may be suffering from food allergies or intolerances, or if your everyday ‘normal’ feel like it might just be the result of a continual internal war, please come and see a naturopath like me. We can test for food allergies and intolerances, and speed up the healing. But can we stop the food intolerances all together? Yes, sometimes. It depends on how strong the reaction is. There are things we can do to help reduce the reaction symptoms too. Had I been thinking last night instead of caught up in the world of the Seven Kingdoms, I would have dosed myself up on numerous remedies to help reduce the reaction symptoms. No matter. Sometimes it is good to get a reminder like this. It just goes to show who is really in charge.
Sir, yes sir! No more dairy sir!