Gastric woes

milkncheese.jpgObservant readers might recall me complaining about a bout of food poisoning back in June during ApacheCon week, which, along with a poorly-timed work trip, unfortunately managed to stop me attending ApacheCon altogether.

Turns out that that “food poisoning” never went away — four months later, I’m still having digestive troubles. However, I’ve been lucky enough to figure out a way to minimise it, which I’ll mention here for posterity (and Google).

So, basically, the symptoms were general stomach unsettledness, nausea, cramping, a sharp pain in the right side, and heartburn — all waxing and waning intermittently. (There were issues at “the other end” I’ll leave out, in the interests of good taste.) On top of that, my level of stomach “calmness” was way off — nausea from travelling in cars, buses, taxis etc. became an issue.

Thankfully, it didn’t interfere with work much at all — since I work from home, it was pretty easy to deal with. But it certainly put a damper on trips like ApacheCon, or BarCamp Ireland… it became quite difficult, in particular, to travel any kind of distance during the daytime. (Luckily my ability to partake in pints of Guinness during the evening was not affected, however. ;)

I did the usual thing of visiting my local G.P., and was referred to a gastro-intestinal specialist — that’s all still going on, slowly. But fortunately, in the meantime, I had a breakthrough in terms of dealing with the symptoms.

Initially, the waxing and waning of symptoms seemed pretty random, but after a week or two, a pattern emerged — on a normal day, it’d typically be worst at about 11am in the morning, then ease off before lunch, then worse again after lunch. During and after dinner, it’d be fine, and the evenings were almost symptom-free. On an empty stomach, there was similarly virtually no problems whatsoever.

Of course, having a link with quantities of food makes sense for a GI illness. But it eventually occurred to me that the symptoms were increasing and waning in time with specific types of food, in fact. The pattern of symptoms were tracking my drinking of milk, in cereal, and in tea or coffee, delayed by about 2 hours. Now, I’ve always been a total omnivore — I’ve never suffered from allergies, had any issues digesting food, or suffered travel illness. My sea legs were rock solid; one trip to the Great Barrier Reef saw myself and C being the only tourists not to vom over the sides despite some heavy waves. Also, as an Irishman, tea is the core component of my diet, and tea with milk at that; and dairy is similarly at the heart of Irish cuisine in many ways, plenty of milk, cheese, and butter. I was raised on the stuff, and love it!

But the signs were pretty solid, so I gave up dairy for a week or two to try it out. It took a week to “clear out” initially, but since then, the results have been fantastic; some of the symptoms (the sharp pain, cramps, heartburn) are almost gone, and levels of the others (nausea, stomach ‘unsettledness’) are way down most of the time. If I eat something that contains milk, cheese or whey — such as a packet of crisps recently — I can tell within 10 minutes, since the pain in my right side “twinges” noticeably. It really is astounding.

The wierd thing is, this came out of nowhere. A week before that bbq, I was glugging milk without a single issue, and feeling perfectly fine; I’ve never had issues with dairy. Then all of a sudden, it just hit me, seemingly after a short bout of food poisoning, and it still hasn’t gone away.

Talking to people, though, it appears this is more common than one might think; I now know of several people who’ve become lactose intolerant, suddenly, in their 30s.

Anyway, the core issue is still there, but while the wheels of medical science grind on, I at least have pretty good control of the nastier symptoms again. yay.

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  1. Posted November 6, 2006 at 15:08 | Permalink

    Hi Justin. Yep, it’s surprisingly common. Thankfully, packaging in the U.S. now is required to note any dairy ingredients or even processing on equipment used for dairy.

    I’m happy to suggest cookbooks and ideas for traditionally-animal-milk-based foods like cheese and ice cream (I’m a vegan). Email me if you’re interested.

  2. Shawn
    Posted November 6, 2006 at 16:34 | Permalink

    I’ll have to say, earlier this year I went through almost the exact same experience. Changes how you look at food.

  3. Posted November 7, 2006 at 13:26 | Permalink

    thanks Jamie! — thankfully the lovely C is an excellent cook, so my cuisine certainly hasn’t suffered much at all ;) About the only thing I miss is the occasional chocolate or ice cream.

  4. Posted November 7, 2006 at 14:24 | Permalink

    A good cook makes all the difference, glad to hear you have one too :)

    A lot of dark chocolate is dairy-free. Green and Black’s has several kinds and we try to keep some around at all times. You know, in case of emergencies.

    There’s good ice cream out there too. Some like Rice Dream but to my taste it’s too beany. I like most flavors of Tofutti; lately I’ve been having their vanilla with Soyatoo’s Soy Whip “whipped cream” and Santz Cruz’s chocolate syrup, plus fruit, to make little banana splits. When we’re feeling creative we whip something up in the ice cream machine. We got Jeff Rogers’ book Vice Cream for a bunch of recipes, and have been playing around with our own too. Last week we made a vanilla-tea ice cream that really rocked.

  5. Posted November 7, 2006 at 15:01 | Permalink

    thanks for the tips! I’ll keep an eye out.

    Green and Black’s dark chocolate really is great ;)

  6. bennymack
    Posted November 7, 2006 at 15:07 | Permalink

    Could it be gallstones?

    The pain symptoms you describe seem to coincide with the reaction to eating any sort of fat when one has gallstones. The gallbladder reacts to the fat by attempting to do its job which is impeded by the stones and acompanied with a pain in the side.

  7. Posted November 7, 2006 at 16:08 | Permalink

    hi bennymack —

    I dunno — I don’t really have any of the other typical symptoms, and my doc hasn’t mentioned it (yet). Having said that, I haven’t had an ultrasound test, so there’s probably still a possibility — I’ll see what the specialists think…

  8. Posted November 7, 2006 at 22:14 | Permalink

    Glad you’ve found out what it was. You’d probably not got as far as milk on the elimination diet by now so kudos for a quick discovery.

    I’d suggest you keep with the medical science lactard diagnosis process though, just in case it’s something more sinister.

  9. Neil
    Posted November 8, 2006 at 21:04 | Permalink

    I had a similar thing happen to me about 6 years ago, except the symptoms increased over a period of a couple of months during which I’d been pretty stressed-out. For the next year or so I had various tests and…er…examinations but nothing was discovered. In the meantime I had started trying to eliminate various types of food and it was only after I switched to goats milk for an extended period of time and kept away from all things dairy-related did I track the cause down and everything went back to normal.

    I’ll never be able to stop eating stuff like chocolate and desserts though – I just have to suffer the consequences! One other piece of advice – if you’re anything like me….don’t touch a Baileys :-0