Editor’s note: Diane Dawber is a founder of the Health Pursuits Reading Group. A Lovefraud reader suggested the following contribution on alternative health strategies. Please remember that Lovefraud is not a medical resource, and if you are suffering from symptoms like those discussed below you should consult a doctor.
Adrenals and PTSD
By Diane Dawber
In 1996, a small group of mostly professionals, felled too early by chronic illnesses such as Fibromyalgia (FM), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), asthma, arthritis, etc., started studying together to see what they could do for themselves since the medical system did not have much to offer. With books recommended by the few doctors who were studying nutrition, environment, diet, etc., they read, tried out the strategies, discussed results and compiled data.
After spending a million dollars on diets, supplements, therapies, etc, they have narrowed down to some strategies that are cost, time and results effective. All the original members, as well as many others, are using these strategies and they are so much better than they were 15 years ago, despite all being in their sixties. The group is now incorporated as a Canadian not-for-profit, Health Pursuits Reading and Research: MEND. The goal is to help as many people as they can, despite no funding other than memberships. Diseases receive funding. Political action receives funding. Getting well doesn’t rate.
I myself was the worst case of FM my Toronto doctor had ever seen. After 25 years as a teacher, in 1990 I was disabled and totally unable to be active in my career. I was in terrible pain 24/7. I could check my email once a week with difficulty. I could lift only a pound without repercussions. I couldn’t sit or stand or walk for 5 minutes without worse pain. Plus, I have contradictory reactions to opiates like codeine. I was so chemically sensitive that I couldn’t read a newspaper or go downtown without headache and nausea from fumes. I thought my life was over.
The worst thing was that doctors took one look at my file and saw that my mother had committed suicide when I was 8, and a string of other unpleasant events through the rest of my life. My illness must be psychological. Just didn’t want to work. The hypnotherapy doctor told me that I was just showing off when I got a Masters degree. You can read the horror story in my book, Lifting the Bull (Quarry Press, 1999), which I assembled page by painful page as the reading group and I explored the alternate medical universe.
In 1995, I started working with Dr. Kathleen Kerr and Dr. Lynn Marshall at the Environmental Health Clinic in Toronto. Dr. Kerr recommended books on nutrition, diet and environmental clean-up. We learned of other books from the few similar doctors. I got rid of chemicals and mold. I did the IgG allergy testing and changed my diet to eliminate problem foods. I had blood testing to identify some deficiencies. I had osteopathic treatment for biomechanical problems.
Now I’m 65 and today I cleaned up the house, did errands, went to my exercise class, made a big batch of soup, walked for an hour, worked in the garden, did emails and other writing — all without pain or fatigue.
One particular nutritional area of study has proven most useful. That is adrenal function. Adrenals mediate allergic/stress responses, in other words, PTSD. When a situation provokes an adrenaline response, blood vessels narrow, blood pressure goes up, rational thought is suppressed in favour of ‘flight or fight,’ glucose dumps into the blood stream driving up blood sugar, fluids are lost, digestion either stops or empties — you get the picture. This is not a good state in which to make decisions about anything — from what to eat to what do with your future.
Adrenaline spikes, you get a buzz, and then what? Adrenaline must be processed by our bodies. Then the adrenals need to make more. After many such episodes, the nutrients the adrenals require to function may become deficient so they cannot respond as well. Then when an incident provokes an adrenaline response, you become extremely fatigued and have lots of other symptoms. Uzzi Reiss’ book, The Natural Superwoman, has a good chapter on adrenaline, explaining different stages of adrenal wear and tear. (Research cortisol as well.)
The biochemical elements that are used in processing adrenaline are being studied. Many years ago, Dr. Jonathon Wright wrote a newsletter on adrenals in which he stated that B5, B6, magnesium and salt were nutritional supports for adrenal glands. There is also a supplement made from the actual ground-up adrenal material from ovine, bovine or porcine sources. In our group, we discovered the work of Dr. Lendon Smith and Dr. John Kitkowsky, in Lendon Smith’s book, Feed Your Body Right. Their olfactory test has proven to be a useful tool in figuring out what nutrients we need and how much; and monitoring the balance. We found, using the olfactory test, that we are very individual in our supplement needs. Our research in this area is on-going.
Myself, I had been taking 1000 mg of pantothenic acid (B5,) 700 mg of magnesium, 120 mg of the special B6 (pyridoxal 5 phosphate or P5P) as well as one of the ground-up adrenals supplements daily. I found that I was not having the overwhelmed, hitting-bottom feeling that signals much stressed adrenals, but I wasn’t feeling very perky either. With 500 mg more of B5 and 50 mg more of P5P, things improved dramatically. Using our nutrient test kit, I checked to make sure this was not driving something else down and sure enough riboflavin, B2, also needed an increase. Since doing these things, I no longer need the ‘ground-up adrenal’ supplement, which pleases me as it indicates that I am coming closer to healing my adrenals. I also notice more tolerance of all the different types of stressors as you will see enumerated below.
One stressor for me, which no one picked up until just two months ago, was my ribs. My 11th and 12th ribs on the left were jammed up under my 10th rib. This was probably caused by a childhood fall. I was a free-range child with my mother very ill and then gone, so I had some nasty falls — on my back from a hay loft, on my chest when my sister and I were playing cowboys and she tied me up and another on my middle when standing on a large log that rolled. The effect on my digestive, respiratory and adrenal system of having these ribs poking my innards can only be guessed. Fortunately, my osteopath finally was able to figure it out and release them. I’m now having the fun of stretching out very old scar tissue.
Members of Health Pursuits Reading and Research would define stress on a wider basis than most:
- Air-borne exposures such as chemicals, molds, pollens and danders;
- Water-borne exposures such as bacteria, chemicals, hormones, lead, asbestos, chlorine, fluride and varying mineral content;
- Food reactions including IgE (anaphylactic symptoms) and IgG sensitivities (non-anaphylactic, inflammatory symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain), and inability to digest some foods such as gluten (wheat family grains) or casein (dairy products);
- Deficiencies of crucial nutrients whether macronutrients such as protein or essential fatty acids or micronutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin C, B vitamins or minerals;
- Movement difficulties such as poorly-integrated reflexes, scars from surgeries, injuries or birth trauma, genetic malformations, as well as
- Life events or situations (which are more commonly viewed as stress).
When you add in the natural hormonal variations of the female body, especially as it approaches big changes like pregnancy or menopause, then you can see this is a big complicated task to manage.
A member of Health Pursuits Reading and Research did a brilliant thing recently. She has PTSD (from abuse) and was having anxiety attacks lasting 5 hours or more. She decided to try our nutrient test kit at the beginning of an anxiety attack to see what nutrients would become deficient. She did this and took the items indicated. The anxiety attack was gone in about half an hour. She has repeated this strategy in order to hone in on her specific requirements when anxiety does attack. A complication is that different combinations of stressors can trigger the anxiety attacks.
This member had a long history of relational trauma from first family to later partners and an equally long history of psychological therapies to deal with these. Like so many members of our group, she did not begin to realize the effect of other factors until she joined us four years ago. At that point, she began by using our nutrient test kit to monitor, at first almost daily, her nutrient requirements. She also started to investigate her food sensitivities, finding a big difference in the effect of some foods, e.g., she is quite sensitive to poison ivy, and foods like cashews and mango, which are related, cause trouble. Gluten and dairy were also found to be problematic. Then there was the damp, moldy basement of her home. A death in the family, the realization that her home was not a safe place for her and possibly stress from sudden release of stored toxins with the improvement of nutrition — all caused a temporary slide into dysfunction. From a women’s shelter, she was still able to arrange to sell her home, buy another one and move within a few months.
Once in a non-moldy home, other stressors revealed themselves. Hormones were out of balance, so testing and supplementation of estrogen and progesterone with bioidenticals were a relief. Paint, renovation materials, traffic fumes, oil furnace fumes — all caused reactions — anxiety reactions, which she was at first unused to relating to chemicals. Through it all, she maintained her nutritional program, adjusting it as she (and we) learned more. She tried to deal with the dietary issues too. These are difficult because reactions to chemicals and other stressors can make food cravings worse. I myself become very hungry when exposed to petrochemicals as at a gas station. Then she did the experiment with the anxiety attacks.
Now she is back in her circle of family and friends, has a stable relationship, runs her own business, works out with a friend, and walks and plays with her new puppy — all of which continue to pump in the positive neurochemicals that help her keep well. She is a fan of movies with humor and fun as well to keep her spirits up. She is quick to cancel events that are overload items and to use groups like Weight Watchers, Al-Anon, as well as help-phone lines to bridge the gap as the nutrients take time to heal the basic problems.
To work through the issues, you can go to our web site www.healthpursuitsgroup.com, the content of which is our whole basic workbook. For more detailed help, you can then go to our blog at http://ddawberblog.wordpress.com. That is what we can supply for free. Hard copies of our book on diet are available for $20 and our whole test kit costs $185 (which a group of people could share since it is reusable for at least 2 years as many times as wished.)
When the dominos fall, prying up just one is difficult and will not make it easier to lift the others. Action on as many dominos as possible is necessary. Awareness of the possibilities, observation and patience in trying strategies will help you succeed.