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Help me hack my mother's health?

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  • Help me hack my mother's health?

    Alright, so here's the deal. My mother is coming to live with me in the next few months due to some financial stresses and I will consequently have a lot of control over her diet (I've already cleared it with her :P). I'm super excited about this opportunity. She has suffered more than her fair share of health problems, especially in the last 5-6 years. I've been doing as much research as I can, but I'm still having a hard time settling on a good starting diet for her. I figured a few hundred minds are better than one, so I'd compile a post of her symptoms for you lovely MDA'ers to review.

    Before I start, though, I realize that some of her symptoms are probably indicative of some pretty serious problems. She's also aware of this. She has no medical insurance and cannot go see a doctor (i.e. the comments declaring that she should seek immediate medical attention are, while appropriate, of no use). The doctors she HAS seen in the past have done more harm than good to her, unfortunately .

    So anyway, some basic info about her:

    Age: 41
    Height: 5'6" - 5'7"
    Weight: 145 lbs

    5 or 6 years ago she was diagnosed with IBS and chrons disease. She eats her own modified version of the SAD, mostly cereals, grains of various types, mixed veggies (that she can tolerate raw), some meats, bananas, oranges, and ~ 4 cups of coffee and 4 cigarettes/day. She has only recently started moderating her coffee and cigarette intake due to worsening health symptoms. She doesn't tolerate the majority of fresh vegetables and struggles with sugar cravings.

    She has problems with gas and diarrhea, depression, and recently a bit of weight gain. Her periods are irregular (can be heavy one month, and the next month she might just experience some pain but no bleeding).

    As far as bowel movements go, she sometimes has bouts of diarrhea and gas/bloating.

    Recently she was in the ER for more serious symptoms including a intermittent sharp pain in her head that caused her to lose her vision for a few seconds one evening. The pain was followed by dizziness, tingly arms, a weak feeling, and shortness of breath. She hasn't experienced the pain in her head/blacking out since then, but she has experienced some of the other symptoms. She's experienced some swelling in her legs. Also some severe cramping in her legs/feet at night, which seems to have gone away since she introduced bananas. (Probably some sort of magnesium deficiency.)

    She used to have frequent seizures when she was younger but hasn't had trouble when them in 20 years or so.

    The only medications she takes on a regular basis are zantac (for her IBS/chrons) and Tylenol. Also, I think she supplements with some fish oil.

    She works 3 jobs with irregular hours and doesn't get enough sleep. She's frequently stressed/depressed, especially about her financial situation.

    She has a mitral valve prolapse. Also, she frequently gets cysts on her ovaries. There's a name for that... I just can't remember it at the moment.

    Family history of heart disease.

    - - - - - - - - - -

    And that's really all I've got so far. I'm understandably very worried about her :/. Since the medical system has repeatedly failed her in the past, I'm welcoming this opportunity to try and heal her with proper nutrition. While she's living with me she will be able to drop one (possibly two) of her jobs and establish a regular sleep schedule. She won't be under the financial stress she is now, which I think is going to help tremendously. She's planning to go back to school and pursue a teaching degree Really, the only thing left to sort out is her diet. She has a lot of food intolerances and, because of some health issues, has undergone many rounds of anti-biotics over the years. So her gut flora is probably eff'd all to hell. Right now she's not getting enough fat. Or calories in general. I don't want to change her diet too quickly in fear of "shocking her system", so to speak. Maybe some sort of GAPS/SCD diet to start off with? She has already agreed to quit smoking and cut back her coffee consumption, so that will take some time. I feel that her addictions are probably more important to address first, before I start tinkering with her diet. There will be a lot of changes... but she's willing and ready to make them.

    Do you guys have any suggestions/insights? If so, they would be much appreciated. Thank you

  • #2
    Oh Arscott - WOW. One, you are to be COMMENDED. Two, this will potentially be BIG for both of you, not just your mom.

    I suspect by the sheer host of problems she suffers from, the best thing you said was that you didn't want to shock her system and wanted to take a less-abrupt approach. That sounds wise.

    Given the short time-frame she'll be with you, I'd suggest:

    -Get her to list her favorite way/things to eat and you primalize it slightly. Maybe don't go high fats off the bat, per her IBS? Making this ease-in approach may help her adjust?

    -Dont be surprised if her food needs/cravings change dramatically if she truly curtails her smoking.

    -IBS I am familiar with and highly recommend helping her address that. If she has true Chrons, that I am less familiar with. This is a great book and while it's proposes "food combining", just ignore that language. The green drink listed is super helpful for healing the gut and there are short, informative chapters on what symptoms indicate what condition. Food Combining & Digestion: 101 Ways to Improve Digestion (9781878736772): Steve Meyerowitz, Rick Meyerowitz: Books

    There is another super-technical book I'd recommend but let's not overwhelm you!

    -Get her doing some L-Glutamine first thing in the a.m., I like powdered; it's tasteless. Its helped others, myself included, with gut healing.

    -If she is going to live w/ you only a short-ish period of time, will she eventually resume living on her own? If so, will it be in your state? I ask because maybe you could look into any bit of state-funded health insurance. Anything could help; this is a long list of symptoms she has.

    Either way, YOU ARE A GEM to try and tackle this! And to offer her a safe place to live for awhile; that is no small gift. I wish you well and don't forget to take care of yourself.

    “you aren't what you eat - you are what you don't poop.” Wavy Gravy

    Today I am Fillyjonk. Tommorow I will be Snufkin.


    • #3
      spk - Thank you for your reply

      She will be living with me for at least 2 years, hopefully. Possibly a bit longer. So I'll have a good chunk of time to work with her. She does plan to resume living on her own, but as far as location goes, I'm not sure. You make a good point about the state-funded insurance. That might be a big factor in her decision when the time comes.

      That book looks interesting; is the green drink like a smoothie? And you can throw the name of the super technical book out there if you'd like. Any information would be helpful!

      My hope is, like you said, to start by "primalizing" her current diet. I'd like to steer her away from any processed junk/fast food and replace it with a whole foods alternative while she adjusts. That alone will probably make her feel better energy-wise. I'm familiar with L-glutamine; I take it myself actually :P. She could probably benefit from magnesium and vit. d as well (pretty positive she's deficient). I've also read some things about folks using Dl-Phenylalanine to help overcome coffee addiction. Not mega-doses of it or anything, just 500 mg/day. My mom has cut back to around 4 cups, but recently she used to drink something like 4 pots. So I figure that might be something to try if the need arises. I'm also buying some stuff to start experimenting with fermentation, which I'm quite excited about.

      My mom is one of the few genuinely good people I have ever met. She bends over backwards to help everyone she can and never gets anything back in return. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile, that sort of thing. She deserves to be treated well. I'm glad she's giving me the chance to help her. Thanks again for your response and well wishes! I'll be sure to look after myself


      • #4
        This is so cool of you.

        It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on where you are headed on the nutrition front. It will likely help her so much to live in a setting where the healthier choice is the easiest choice.

        What a great opportunity to watch some or all of the great food documentaries together. It might be really eye opening to her to see how many people have really changed their health and lives with nutrition. Even Forks Over Knives (totally non paleo) is a very powerful movie about the healing power of food and the importance of plants in the diet. Mixed in with Food Inc, King Corn, Supersize Me, etc. she could perhaps really change her views on food and health. Netflix has dozens of great documentaries on food and the food system: bottled water, bees, organic farming, etc.

        I just thought I'd put that out there - I sure wish I had the opportunity to hang with my mom and watch all of these provocative flims.


        • #5
          Suzeruns - I hadn't thought of that, what a great idea! She loves documentaries


          • #6
            hey Arscott - you sound like you are talking about my mom. Which is why I'm cheering you from the sidelines; I, like Suzeruns, would love to do this with and for my own mom.

            I noticed you sound like you have a goal of reducing or eliminating her coffee intake too. Maybe picking the "top offender" in her diet and tackle that first. Two years is a spectacular amount of time to make huge changes; it means you have some breathing room! And getting rid of the processed food-stuffs and replacing with comforting, delicious real food is sure to appeal to her.

            The green drink isn't a smoothie per se -- it does require someone enjoy earthy, gingery, garlic flavors. It is not sweet whatsoever. May actually be tough for someone right out of the gate. But I posted it for someone else recently, at the bottom of this page:


            “you aren't what you eat - you are what you don't poop.” Wavy Gravy

            Today I am Fillyjonk. Tommorow I will be Snufkin.


            • #7
              If she could have other grains (particularly gluten free oatmeal and rice) would she be willing to give up wheat and other gluten grains? That would be a change with a good chance of making a difference. Fermenting is a great idea. Maybe coconut milk yogurt? Soups made with bone broth? Custard is a good nutritious treat if she is ok with that much fat. Don't be afraid to take advantage of her good nature and refuse to have problem foods in your house.
              age 56, type 2 diabetes, swimmer
              low carb since 2006 thanks to Jenny, primal since Jan. 2012


              • #8
                Kudos to you for being there for your mom and putting so much effort in.

                I'd start simple with avoiding gluten and industrial seed and vegetable oils, as well as HFCS and food colorings, etc. Gluten-free is easy to adjust to if you eat at home all the time.

                Suggest that she add to her daily diet: a raw, refrigerated probiotic; vitamin D; evening primrose oil; cod liver oil; fermented foods; iodine in the form of sea vegetables and kelp tablets; and perhaps a smoothie to replace her coffee with fruits and veggies she can tolerate. I'd drop dairy too if it might be problematic. A daily walk can do wonders for depression, and encourage her to try new hobbies or meet new people that are a positive influence. People can be just as toxic as food!

                Good luck and good health to you both!
                | My (food) Blog | Follow me on Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter |

                “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” - Samuel Adams


                • #9
                  Lots of good suggestions here. One small thing that i can recommend is cooking extra food at dinner time. If it's the two of you, cook a dinner big enough for 3-4 people. This way, there will always be delicious and healthy leftovers in the fridge if one or both of you does not feel like cooking. This might help her stay away from fast food and snacking on garbage.

                  My commendations for helping your mother.


                  • #10
                    I know most people talk about Potassium when it comes to leg cramps, but I agree with the Magnesium. Mine get "twitchy" when I forget to take it, and it has helped a lot with my migraines as well. I would definitely supplement with that.

                    Getting her off the gluten and crap oils is going to be a huge improvement. If she protests that she needs her fiber, send her to Gut Sense: How to reverse and prevent constipation in children and adults, because fiber isn't the panacea everyone thinks it is.

                    I also like the idea of having leftovers to snack on. Bypasses some of the temptation when it comes to emotional or bored eating.

                    There definitely is hope. I'm not a smoker, but I'm 6 years older than your mom, and Primal works great for me.


                    • #11
                      Oh, and I know it's hard to get used to, but 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar 2x a day for 2 weeks straight, then reduce to 2 TBSP 1x daily with some raw honey. ACV is good for so many things, including helping with stomach acid.
                      | My (food) Blog | Follow me on Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter |

                      “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” - Samuel Adams


                      • #12
                        Pamsc - Yes, I think she would be open to the idea of trying “safer” grains if they sit well with her stomach (we’ll have to try them out). That’s one of the main reasons she eats so many of them. The other reason being that they’re dirt cheap, haha. Coconut milk yogurt sounds delicious, but the only coconut milk I can find around my neck of the woods has crap like guar gum in it. I’m not sure if thickening agents are very conducive to the fermentation process? I’ve found a few brands online that are just straight up coconut milk, but they seem a bit pricey. Soups made with bone broth will be a for sure thing!

                        j3nn - I had never heard of evening primrose oil before - interesting stuff! Regarding the cod liver oil though, my mom has tried supplementing with it in the past and it made her break out quite badly. She’s never had that problem with fish oil. I’m not sure if that’s a common reaction (I’ve never taken cod liver oil myself) or if maybe she just got a bad batch? It could’ve even been the brand; she probably wasn’t taking the good stuff. Also, is the ACV meant to be taken with food as a digestive aid or between meals?
                        (I had planned on inviting her on my daily walks. I agree with you - it’s therapeutic. )

                        NWPrimate - Cooking enough for leftovers is something I’ve been meaning to get into the habit of for a loooong time. This would be a most excellent time to start. Something I’m kind of excited about - my mom is the master of slow cooking, be it in the oven, crock pot, whatever. I’m the exact opposite, haha. My slow cooked meals hardly ever turn out the way I want them to. I never burn things if I pan fry them, though! So if we work together I’m guessing we’ll make one fully functional cook. Delicious things are sure to ensue.

                        RitaRose - I just read Gut Sense last month; such good info. I’m not sure if my mom’s fallen prey to the “MUST HAVE SH*T TONS OF FIBER TO BE HEALTHY” mentality or not. My impression was that she ate grains to avoid irritating her IBS... but that could be only part of it. I’ll ask!

                        I’m totally thrilled that you guys have taken the time to share your info/suggestions! You rock!


                        • #13
                          I'm not sure if this is a useful idea.... Food allergy testing is crazy expensive and crazy controversial, but it was some of the best money I ever spent. I missed your moms age, but it can't be too different from mine. I had been gluten free for about 10 years and as I approached 50 it just didn't work anymore. I knew I had some other issues - like dairy but figured a dash of half and half in my coffee wasn't much. I ended up splurging on blood testing for about 300 foods (worked with a naturopath). Seeing the extremely high numbers and surprising foods (89 of the 300) that I reacted to was incredibly motivating. Nearly all grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and eggs. It left me with veggies, fruits, and animals. I have never felt better - but doubt I would have cut out so much if I hadn't seen the numbers. It's been a few years of healing a very damaged gut but I am much more resilient now. I can easily eat some nuts and be fine, or a sushi roll when I am out.

                          Once your mom is on board with how much better she can feel with a cleaner diet, perhaps you would both benefit from some targeted analysis of what are really her problem foods. And, if she is like me, seeing the numbers is so motivating. Believe me - 50 year old digestive systems are a total drag and hers sounds pretty damaged already. It will take a lot of time to heal and in my experience it's a very very crooked road that can be hard to figure out even when you are obsessed with figuring it out.

                          But it is so worth it. And she is so lucky to have you. BTW Evening Primrose Oil ROCKS - especially if she is dealing with anything hormonal. One thing I noticed is that my gut issues were so much more sensitive and less resilient in some (not always clear) relationship to my hormones. EPO really helped everything balance out. Get the good stuff - I use Efamol.