The Non-Invincible, Unlucky WFPB Dietitian

Prelude to Article

I thought long and hard before deciding to post this article. The main reason behind my reluctance is that it contains personal information to which the world now has access.  The main reason I decided to post it is that I believe it is important for me to be transparent.  I am part of a Plantastic Life team that promotes a WFPB diet as the best chance to avoid chronic diseases.  I still believe in this message, even though my strict WFPB diet did not offer me protection from a recent illness.   This illness will require me to take medication, at least temporarily. (Ughh!)   I plan on using a WFPB diet during my road to recovery.

This illness reminded me that there are exceptions to every rule.  Just as a two-pack a day cigarette smoker can live to be 100 years old, a strict WFPB dieter can be stricken with an unexpected disease.

Luck plays a big role in all our lives.  Most would agree that the 100 year-old two-pack-day smoker is lucky and a sick WFPB dieter is unlucky. 

The science says that the more your diet is dominated by fruits, veggies, whole grains and beans, the better your chances are of avoiding our most common killers.

But even if you follow a WFPB diet, exercise regularly, and avoid bad habits, you are not guaranteed great health because no one can guarantee that you won’t suffer some bad luck.

I think what happened to me had to do with luck more than anything else. I’m hoping my WFPB diet, and a little bit of good luck, will pave the way for a great recovery.

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The Non-Invincible, Unlucky WFPB Dietitian

“I don’t get sick; I eat right” is something I’ve said on more than one occasion – usually as a wise-ass remark to a Standard American Dieter (SAD) who was complaining about being sick.  I never meant that I couldn’t get sick, but most people probably interpreted it that way.

Although I did not get sick during my first six years of following a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) Diet, I wasn’t foolish enough to think that a healthy lifestyle would make me immune to illness.  Even if I was so foolish, I would have been dispelled of that notion after witnessing strict WFPB dieters who fell victim to cold and flu bugs.

In late December of 2014, I suffered flu-like symptoms for about four to five days. I rested as much as possible and drank copious amounts of water.  I ate only when hungry, which wasn’t often.  I lost ten pounds during that time. But once I recovered, I resumed my life and regained those ten pounds rather quickly.  This experience was strong evidence that I was not invincible.

More evidence came on December 24, 2016.  Fatigue, fever, chills, body aches, involuntary muscle contractions, insomnia,  and dyspepsia (lack of appetite) were the main symptoms.  I treated this bug the same way I treated the bug from 2014.  The results turned out quite different.  Most of my symptoms were gone after ten days except for my involuntary muscle contractions, insomnia, dyspepsia and poor appetite.  After three weeks, I lost 20 pounds!  This got my attention.

So I made an attempt to overcome my poor appetite by focusing on eating more calorically dense plant foods, like nuts, nut butters, avocados, bread and dried fruit.  I also drank green smoothies that contain kale or spinach, spring water, some pomegranate juice, a pear, a banana, strawberries and beets.  I noticed that I seemed to have less pain after drinking a smoothie than after eating solid foods.

I typically exercise every day, but I have not done anything since Dec 24, 2016 for fear of accelerating weight loss.

Time to See a Doctor

A few days went by and my dyspepsia persisted and I had no success at gaining weight.  So I decided that it was time to make an appointment to see my primary care provider.  Before doing so I took a stool sample for a fecal occult blood test and mailed it out to the Lab listed on the pre-paid envelope.

I met with my Primary Care Provider (Physician’s Assistant) on Wednesday, January 18, 2017.  After sharing my information and after a physical exam, she suggested that I have a battery of blood tests done.  Once she received the blood work and fecal occult blood test results, we’d decide where to go from there.  She said that if the results did not show anything, the next step should probably be a CT scan.

I contacted the Doctor’s office on Friday, January 20 to find out if the bloodwork had come in.  It hadn’t, so I had to wait until Monday before contacting the office again.

Dominic Goes a Bit Crazy

I did what everyone tells you not to do, I constantly searched the internet to self-diagnose.  I knew this was a mistake, but I couldn’t help myself.

Over the weekend of Jan 21 and 22, all my symptoms got worse.  I even added a new one – rectal pain.  Prior to this symptom, I had already come to the conclusion that my illness was a grave one – advanced colorectal cancer. The addition of rectal pain augmented my diagnosis.

I did not come to this diagnosis lightly.  I spent hours on-line investigating my likely malady.  Although I reviewed many different possible diagnoses, I inevitably came back to “colorectal cancer”.

My frame of mind was pretty fragile at this point, so I decided to reach out to my brother.  I told him my plight and I explained to him that I chose him as a support team member.  I mentioned that I hoped that my prediction was wrong and that I wouldn’t need any more support members in the future. I would be thrilled if my brother, in a few months, called me a jackass for overreacting to my symptoms.  This conversation helped me and I’m grateful for how my brother came through for me.

The Diagnosis

On Monday, with great relief, I learned that my fecal occult blood test came back negative.  However, blood tests revealed that I had high levels of thyroid hormones.  My diagnosis was Hyperthyroidism, which was my Physician Assistant’s initial guess.

Although I was exhibiting classic symptoms of Hyperthyroidism, that diagnosis didn’t explain my GI symptoms until I found an article that explained the various effects hyperthyroidism can have on the gut.  I also discovered that anxiety often accompanies hyperthyroidism.  That may explain my inability to stop searching the internet for answers.

There was a bright side to being wrongfully convinced that I was dying from colorectal cancer; it made my real diagnosis seem not so bad.  Being diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism not only meant that I didn’t have cancer, but it meant I had a definitive diagnosis.  It meant I didn’t have to continue the torture of “not knowing”.

Next Step – Endocrinology

I was lucky to have been scheduled with an endocrinologist who did not get annoyed with all of my questions regarding different diagnostic tests and treatment options. In fact, she gave me her email address in case more questions popped into my head when I got home.  I was impressed with how quickly she responded to the several emails I sent to her.

Good News

The results of various blood tests and a Nuclear Thyroid Scan are pointing to Thyroiditis rather than Graves Disease.  This is the best news for which I could hope.  On February 1, 2017, I received this message from my endocrinologist:

“Mr. Marro,

Uptake scan consistent with thyroiditis!. You should be ok in a couple of weeks. Let’s wait two weeks to recheck the levels.”

I imagine there will be at least a few more blood tests to track my thyroid hormone levels.  Sometimes with subacute thyroiditis, levels go quite low before normalizing.  We’ll see how it goes. More good news is that my weight has started to climb back up.

Probably Caused By a Virus

The endocrinologist thinks that all this was probably initiated by a virus.  It’s unlikely that it was due to consuming too much iodine.  I explained to her that a small amount of dulse is my only daily source of iodine.  Dulse does not contain excessive amount of iodine as compared to other seaweeds. If you are a seaweed lover, you might want to check out this earlier article.

Final Message

In retrospect, I think I erred in not contacting my primary care provider as soon as I discovered my 20 lb weight loss.  For some reason I thought that tweaking my already healthy diet was going to make all my crazy symptoms disappear.  Perhaps subconsciously, I thought that I didn’t need a doctor because it wasn’t possible for an active, whole food plant-based dieter to get sick enough to need a doctor.  This was a mistake I plan not to make in the future.  I hope my sharing this will keep some of you from making the same mistake.

Stay Healthy and Strong!

Comments

  1. Sorry to hear this but glad you are on the road to recovery! Even though the WFPB diet didn’t prevent the illness, imagine what it could have been like on a SAD diet. Thanks for sharing and see you soon!

  2. Dom —

    OMG, you shook me up when I read the sentence where you had diagnosed yourself with advanced colorectal cancer. Wow, I can only imagine the worry and stress that you had to be experiencing the past month. So glad to hear that your primary care doctor and endocrinologist have diagnosed the problem and that you are on the road to recovery. Will keep you in my thoughts and prayers for a total recovery. Hope to see you at the next pot luck dinner.

  3. Elaine DeLuca says:

    Dominic,
    First of all, I’m very happy that your problem has been diagnosed and that it is not cancer. Please don’t beat yourself up. This way of eating does not make one invincible; it increases the probability of being healthier. Also, I do not think luck is involved. All of the plant based doctors say that sometimes medical treatment is advised. You tried the wait and see for a while but this doesn’t work, then it’s time to consult a doctor. Think how long you have been on this plant based eating and there has been only two illnesses. Also, the dulse should be fine according to Greger if you use no more than a tablespoon a day. Both of us are wishing you the best.

  4. Hi Dominic, Thanks for sharing this perspective and personal story. It is a very helpful reminder not to take our good health for granted even when we do everything possible to sustain that condition. It is also a reminder that many lifestyle or environmental factors beyond our control can arise and change our lives in very short order. I also appreciate your after analysis about how you tried to deal with and manage the changed condition yourself for a period, and the outcome. I so relate to your anxiety during this time! As a retired academic science librarian, I have access to all the search databases and science journal articles. I can’t rest until I have solved “the puzzle.” Your story is a good reminder that you didn’t have the best information to go on until you got your blood test results. Symptoms can lead to so many different diagnoses! I’m so glad yours came out with something that can be managed and is relatively well-understood. Meanwhile, as I searched your website, I didn’t see any mention of anxiety and how to cope with that. Perhaps you already follow a program of conscious “relaxation” exercises or activity, such as meditation in one of its various forms. I am a believer in Dr. Ornish’s 4 pillars of health. You clearly noted 3 of them in this post: good diet, exercise, loving community (support from your brother and your team.) Perhaps in a future post you could address the role of relaxation/meditation in health? It is in times of illness or other stress that we really need some “tool” to keep that anxiety from escalating our “dis-ease.” Glad you are in recovery mode now. Hope that continues and helps you feel good.

  5. So important you shared this. It is not “LUCK.” It is genetics and epigenetics. Keep us posted!

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