Sunday, September 6, 2015

Airborne Peanut "Reactions" Debunked! ~and my Microbiome Obsession

I had the most thrilling, exciting, life-affirming day yesterday because of my peanut allergy.  It involves international travel, adventure, and heroic deeds.  I will blog about this at a later time.  That's why you should subscribe to my blog.  Subscribing to my blog is free, and the latest installment will conveniently be delivered to your email inbox.

What I am very excited to write about tonight is to discuss several articles that validate my personal experiences and belief in science in relation to my peanut allergy!  Here are the links:

The Daily Mail.  I know, right?  I apologize that I included it as a source however, the material articulates a point.  Seriously, there is a point besides the hysteria and bad, sloppy writing.  And that point gives me the warm fuzzies, and it makes me feel safe.  Well, I can't ever really feel 'safe.'  But somewhat, a little safer.  

The scientists are convinced a person cannot get an anaphylactic reaction due to airborne peanut protein alone.  This is an issue that has concerned me.  I travel by air, bus, and train.  And I have been supremely terrified of stories of apparent anaphylactic reactions due to 'airborne' peanut dust.  I have personally limited my travel.  I have been a disciple of The Fear.  

But most recently, I am a disciple of the wisdom of my Microbiome.  I have been completely obsessed with my microbiome recently.  Have you ever heard of Kim Chee?  I have eaten three jars of it in the past week.  It's a normal thing for me now to consume half a jar of kimchee for breakfast.  Why?  Because that spicy fermented cabbage is teeming with probiotics that could theoretically alleviate my allergies!  I buy insane amounts of probiotics and consume them with reckless abandon!  A few weeks ago I bought 16 ounces of highly concentrated probiotics that were supposed to last a month.  I drank 'em down in 4 days.  I read about the studies of very young children fed huge amounts of probiotics: their developing immune systems could easily be conditioned to stop being allergic to peanuts.  Probiotics are awesome.  They seem to have a positive impact on my mood, my ability to concentrate, and a healthier feeling in general.  But I remain allergic as all heck to peanuts.

I am not giving up!  I am going to keep trying!

I intend to keep consuming ridiculous amounts of probiotics, regardless of whether they help my peanut allergy because I feel better when I do this.  It's not going to be the magic cure that ends my severe allergy.  I appreciate the addition to my toolbox, another helpful aspect about my life that I can control that can help keep my asthma and eczema from flaring and crippling me.

The link between my Microbiome obsession and "Airborne Peanut Reactions" has a name and it's Tim Spector.  He's the scientist in the articles who recently wrote a book about the fabulous human microbiome called "The Diet Myth."  He is also the scientist who did the heavy lifting and took a close look at all the scientific research, and concluded that the heavy peanut protein molecules needed to cause a reaction cannot become airborne.  

I have always been skeptical of people who claim that their 'peanut anaphylactic reaction' is due to airborne peanut proteins.  The reason for my skepticism is my childhood.  I grew up in the 1980's.  My dad was the Vice President of an airline.  He flew all over the world all the time.  He flew me all over the world, a lot.  Well, maybe not all over the world, but to the USA and the Caribbean frequently.  I started having anaphylactic reactions to peanuts when I was about 4.

I wasn't as allergic then as I am now.   Scientists and laboratory people describe the antibodies in my blood as being 'thermonuclear.'  Level 5 or level 6.  Actually the last time I was tested in 2011, the laboratory had to dilute my blood serum with saline, and even then it maxed out as a level 6.  It used to be 5, but it is now currently 6.  That's the worst this allergy can get. 

When I was a kid my allergy was maybe half as bad as it is now to peanuts.  And this was in the days when peanuts were served as snacks.  Every flight.  I remember having asthma a lot when I was flying in planes with my dad.  I remember taking a lot of Benadryl.  I remember being very itchy.  But I never had an  anaphylactic reaction when I was flying as a kid.  And I was in a lot of pressurized cabins with over 50 people opening up packets of peanuts and eating them around me. And I had asthma attacks too.  Because people liked to light up and smoke cigarettes after eating peanuts.  It was the 1980's and it was very popular to smoke cigarettes on airplanes.  I had a rough childhood.  It was kind of like a nightmare at times.  I'm very happy that things have changed.

 For me personally, the evidence does not suggest peanut allergies can be transmitted in the air.  For that reason, I have remained skeptical of people who claim that they have 'airborne peanut allergies.'  

If you are a person who believes in airborne peanut anaphylactic reactions,  I do not mean to invalidate you.  Just because my personal experience and current science doesn't show this to be true does not mean that it cannot be possible.  
Who knows, maybe there will be some more scientific research in the future and it will show in some cases that a little bit of peanut proteins can become airborne.  That is the cool thing about science!

Science is always changing and learning, amending itself, and adapting to the latest advances....
Just like my Microbiome!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Going Gluten Free to Fight Allergies

People often suggest that I abstain from wheat and gluten to improve my asthma, eczema, and allergies.  I hear this from talking to people in-person and on social media.  And you know what?  Why the heck not?  I've got nothing to lose, and it's fun to experiment and see what works for allergies.  Starting yesterday, this week I'm taking the plunge.  This week I will be gluten free!

Some motivating factors involved with my decision: high pollen counts, terrible eczema, and bad asthma.  I am super allergic to alder pollen and the current warm weather has got the alder pollen count super high.  And that is making me super miserable.  Wednesday through Friday, the skin on my hands broke out in horrible looking eczema.  I'm using Flovent and Flonase like crazy.  I'm using my rescue inhaler more often than I should.  My eyes and face itch.   My head's foggy, and my sinuses feel like sore rocks behind my cheeks.   I just took half a Bendryl.  It's not even 4 in the afternoon.  Benadryl stopped making me drowsy years ago.  Mostly because I've been eating it like Tic-Tacs since I was 3 years old.  The allergy life.  Damn pollen.  

This weekend, I am pleased to report that despite my horrible allergies, I went hiking through an alder forest!  I hiked 2.7 miles up 1350 feet to check out beautiful Lake 22.  All last week I have been guzzling probiotics and eating lots of healthy fruits and veggies.  I have been using my steroid inhalers religiously every day.  And at the top of the trail, looking out over the pretty lake, with ice floating in it, I ate half a bagel.  A wheat bagel.  Later I felt sick and got the runs.  And that got me thinking, maybe I should take a break from wheat/gluten for a little while.  

I believe it is healthy to switch up your diet.  I was eating wheat/gluten several times a day, and I was wondering if this could be adversely impacting my allergies.  Going gluten free feels very stylish and fashionable.  I feel very trendy and pleased with myself.  I even feel slightly less bloated.  Last night to prepare for my gluten free week, I bought a brown rice bread loaf at Trader Joe's.  

I'm not going totally overboard.  I'm still planning to eat soy sauce and crackers that have been made in a facility that also makes wheat.  But I'm cutting out wheat bread, pasta, and baked goods.  I will allow small amounts of wheat.

Yesterday's day one gluten free menu:  Breakfast: scrambled eggs with cheese.  Snack:  2 mandarin oranges.  Dinner: 1 medium size bowl of Pho.  I was very tired last night and went to sleep at 9:30 PM.  I never do that but my allergies were bad, so I hit the hay early like an elderly person.  

I woke up at 6:30 AM today, and did my meditation practice.  I noticed my eczema was bad on my neck and forehead.  It hurt.  It was burning.  I put topical steroid cream on the afflicted parts of my skin.  

Day two's gluten free menu:  Breakfast: 1.5 peices of rice bread with butter, 2 oz cashews, and 1 apple.  The rice bread has the consistency of a sponge.  It's like eating a sponge.  With butter.  I microwaved it for 30 seconds and the consistency is slightly improved.  And it's got a rice flavor.  I'm not sure I like it, but it's definitely gluten free! 

 Lunch:  leftover beef jerkey and potato chips from the hike and a cup of tomato soup.    

Around 3 PM I decide I need a snack.  I go to Trader Joe's and buy some mandarin oranges, and then I buy some asparagus to eat later.  I also buy a box of Trader Joe's "Soft-Baked Snickerdoodles -Peanut, Tree-Nut, and Wheat free."  I eat a couple of cookies.  They were delicious.  Light.  Fluffy.  So good.  I eat another cookie.  I am in heaven.  There is a party in my mouth.  I end up eating the entire box.  Hmmm.  Not my best choice of the day.  At least there were only 12 cookies in the box.  I eat a carrot and feel somewhat healthier.  

Well, so far so good.  Will I make it an entire week?  Will I send my allergies into remission?  Will I experience improvement in my eczema?  Will I drive my loved ones insane with my new self-imposed dietary restrictions?  Will I be even more ridiculously inconvenienced than I currently am? Okay, obviously the answers to the last two questions are yes.  I hope this experience will increase my compassion for people with wheat/gluten allergies.  I'll be blogging with an update in a few days.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Peanut-Tainted Cumin Made Me Sick! Hungry Boyfriend Saved My Life!

I finally figured out what happened after my boss called me today in hysterics.

"Denise!  Don't eat any cumin!  I heard on the radio it all contains peanuts!"

I thanked her.  I told her that I appreciated her letting me know.  I told her I was avoiding cumin.  After we hung up, I experienced a Eureka moment of insight:  I hadn't been vigilant about cumin avoidance last night, and that was the likely reason for today's violent eczema flare up.

It all started last night with a late night visit to the local taco truck with my boyfriend.  I ordered a chicken burrito, my boyfriend ordered tacos.  I was responsible about my peanut allergy when ordering my food, I asked the cashier and the cooks if they used peanuts 'en Espanol.'  They said they didn't, so I thought I would be safe.  But you know what?  I didn't ask about cumin.  And Mexican food uses cumin.

What's so bad about cumin?  The FDA discovered peanut proteins in cumin and products containing cumin and issued a massive, massive recall.

People with severe peanut allergies are being advised to avoid all cumin.

I started asking the cumin question about food I could eat last week, but I failed miserably to remember to ask it last night.

It is completely exhausting to remain perfectly on guard and vigilant about everything I eat.  I get hungry.  Food looks good, and smells great.  Blood sugar gets low and my brain shuts down.  And then I have the lapse in judgement.

Unbelievably, despite the fact that I have been hospitalized over 30 times for severe food allergies and asthma, I get complacent.  I'm around other people and I forget that I have this invisible disability, and I forget how some food can make me very sick.

Back to the story, my boyfriend and I take our entrees home and I sit down in the living room and he goes into the kitchen to put his tacos on plates.  While he's putting hot sauce on them, he turns and the plate of open face tacos flips off the counter on to the floor.  Not the kind of floor you could eat food off of.  His dinner was ruined.  Poor guy!  He was so bummed out.

I told him that I was really sorry that happened, and then, being the awesome girlfriend I am, I told him he could eat half my burrito.  He said okay, and then made something with melted cheese and then he sat down next to me.  We cut the burrito in half and he got the slightly larger half.  And this is how he accidentally saved my life.  I probably would have gone into anaphylactic shock had I eaten the whole thing.  It was a yummy burrito.

About 5 minutes after eating my half-burrito my stomach starts to hurt really bad.  It hurt with this very specific kind of pain.  It's very alarming because I only get it when I eat food I'm allergic to.  It's different than the other kinds of stomach pain like heartburn.  It's hard to describe, but it's like I can feel the food I have eaten disrupting my molecular structure.

I have this helpful app on my phone called "Why Risk It"  It has a helpful list of all the symptoms of anaphylaxis.  Stomach pain is one of them.  I was on edge, I knew it could be the start of a reaction.  I waited to see if other objective physical symptoms occurred.  I was waiting for my asthma to kick in, my face to swell up, hives to start appearing on my body.  45 minutes went by and none of that happened.  I was in the clear?  I took a couple Benadryl and then went to sleep with my Epipens easily accessible inches away.

At 4:45 I woke up and my hands were on fire. Warning: the next part is gross so you might want to skip this paragraph.  The skin on the top of my hand was oozing clear liquid and I could see the layers of my skin trying to separate.  My skin became pale and red.  An angry inflamed rash appeared.  Accompanied by searing pain.  Tiny little cuts started bleeding along the entire rash on the top my left hand.  The pain started to become really itchy, like I had hundreds of mosquito bites.  Blood started replacing the clear liquid.  The skin on my hands was literally burning from the inside.
The eruption of this violent rash is what is known as an eczema flare, when my immune system turns on me.  This is what happens sometimes when I unwittingly eat a tiny, tiny amount of something I am allergic to and I do not go into anaphylactic shock.

I'm doing sort of better than this morning. I was a trooper and went to work.  I still have itchy patches on my scalp, forehead, neck, and under my ears.  My hands are doing better.  I treated them with steroid cream. One of the side effects is thinning of the skin, and my hands look like they are 90 years old.  I have grandma hands.  But the rash and the bleeding have gone way down, and it only hurts a little to move them to type.  I am able to accept the pain and continue on with life.  I am grateful.  Not everybody can do that.

My stomach and abdomen still hurt.  My body feels sick from all this inflammation.

And I'm mad at myself for letting this happen.  And I'm also mad at food because it turned on me.  I ate an apple for lunch, oranges and toast for breakfast.  Haven't had any dinner.  I'm fed up with having a body that requires me to eat. I'm upset with my body for being so broken.  Why should I eat food if it makes me sick like this?  These are temporary issues.  All of this stuff will pass.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you pass along the information about the cumin contamination recall to everyone you know affected by peanut allergies.

For the next few months: warn everyone you know affected by peanut allergies to be very careful eating in restaurants that use cumin as a spice!  I learned that the hard way.

And I am very grateful that my sweet boyfriend ate half that burrito. He saved me!  Even though I am in pain and miserable today, it could have been a lot worse.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Peanut Allergy is Contagious Through Organ Donation!

I used to have a little red heart on my driver's license.  The small heart indicated I was an organ donor.  In the event of my death, my organs were to be distributed to people who needed them.  I was happy about this.  It was to be my final act of compassion to heal people with my spare parts.  I can't say that I was looking forward to it, but I liked the idea of donating my organs to sick patients desperately needing them.  I would be dead, sure, but at least I could be useful to others in a healing way.  

When I had to get my license renewed, I had the little red heart taken off.  I want to donate my organs to people who need my help, but I do not want to give them my peanut allergy.  Which organ recipient will get my allergy?  No way to tell.  I don't want to play 'peanut allergy' Russian roulette with someone else's life.  I want to end people's suffering, but I don't want to give them my level 5+ food allergy.  Avoiding peanuts in this society is really hard, inconvenient, and it can be frightening.  It is a real pain in the ass, and I don't want to give this to someone else.  

Here are some interesting links to articles detailing how transplanted organs (and bone marrow!!!) can spread peanut allergy:

There are lots and lots of science articles like this.  It seems like the donor not only gives the recipient their organs and a second chance of life, but also their anaphylactic food allergy, and a drastically changed inconvenienced life of avoidance and fear.  

I'm going to go with what the science says.  I don't think it's a good idea to donate my organs.  What if the recipient of my organs really liked to eat at Thai restaurants?  That would really suck for that person if they got my allergy.  No Thai restaurants ever.  I don't want my organs being responsible for making someone else's life suck.  My peanut allergy is going to end when I die.  I'm not giving this the opportunity to live on in someone else.  

I think that I am making the compassionate, responsible decision.  I am basing my decision on science.  But it still kind of sucks.  I would like to donate my organs, but it wouldn't be ethical to give people my disease.  

So if you are reading this post and you don't have a deadly peanut allergy: rejoice!  Rejoice at the freedom you have to help people with your organs after you die.  Take a look at your driver's license, make sure it has that little red heart, and just to be on the safe side, send a 'just-in-case' email to your loved ones and next-of-kin and joyfully proclaim your compassionate intention to donate your organs to help sick patients who need them and are suffering.  

I wish I didn't have this unpredictable, deadly disease, and I wish I could be an organ donor.  I hope that you will consider donating your organs if you can.  Thank you for reading, and please share this post and subscribe to my blog.