Category Archives: Gallbladder

Castor Oil – The Best Thing You Never Knew You Needed

I was reminded the other day how many people don’t know about all of the cheap and easy old-timey remedies that people used to rely on, like castor oil.  Many of these remedies have been used for centuries, simply because they work.  Castor oil is one such helpful substance that really does fix just about everything as well today as it did in it’s first recorded use 3000 years ago.  Really, if it’s been working for 3000 years, chances are it’s going to keep working.

Castor oil - picture by Pete Markham from Loretto, USA

Castor oil – picture by Pete Markham from Loretto, USA. This bottle is from the light-keepers house at Split Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota.

There are internal uses for castor oil, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest them simply because this isn’t a gentle plant – it’s a kick in the pants (literally).  Castor oil taken internally is a laxative strong enough not only to induce bowel cramping and diarrhea, but even to induce labor contractions in pregnant women.  I actually used it to induce labor for myself recently and I can honestly say the castor-oil cramps were almost as bad as the labor pains. Eek!   Not a lot of fun, but if you’re impatiently waiting for a baby it does work. The reaction is so strong that castor oil is even reputed to have been used by fascist mobs in Italy in the 1920s as a form of intimidation (I would be intimidated).  Essentially these mobs would force feed their victims castor oil and turn them lose to have an agonizing and embarrassing bout of violent diarrhea. This, I suppose, made the victims then comply with whatever it was the fascist mob wanted in the first place. Ummm… Yeah. So don’t use it like that please.




While I’m obviously not a big fan of internal use in all but the most dire circumstances, topical use of castor oil is a miracle strong enough to make it a necessary part of every medicine cabinet.   The uses for topical castor oil are threefold:

  1. Digestive – Castor oil over the liver and abdomen helps to treat constipation, inflammatory bowel, liver congestion, gall bladder disease, bowel adhesions, lymphatic congestion, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and  even infections in pelvic organs such as bladder and vaginal tract. For anyone looking to cleanse the liver or eliminate gallbladder sludge, this is a necessary.
  2. Skin – Topically castor oil can help with bacterial or fungal skin infections, rashes, acne, boils, abscesses, age spots, sebaceous cysts, warts, preventing stretch marks, ringworm, skin keratosis, swollen lymph nodes and eczema. It takes redness out of rashes through a strong anti-inflammatory action and softens even the most resistant skin, so it’s also a great natural beauty tool.
  3. Pain – Topical castor oil can also be used to mitigate or relieve internal pain and inflammation from many causes.  This includes uterine cramping and abdominal pain related to the menses, joint pain and inflammation from arthritis, bursitis or tendinitis, muscle and ligament sprains, pain due to fluid retention in extremities, painful lymph nodes, even pain from appendicitis (although you still need to get to the ER post haste)

So – let me say this a different way. TOPICAL castor oil can help with:

  • Constipation
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Abdominal pain and inflammation
  • Adhesions after surgery
  • Lymphatic congestion
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver detox
  • Gallbladder sludge
  • Gallstones
  • Pelvic infections
  • Menstrual cramps or pain
  • Fungal infections
  • Acne
  • Boils
  • Abcesses
  • Age spots
  • Eczema
  • Stretch mark prevention
  • Keratosis
  • Rashes
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Muscle and ligament sprains and strains
  • Painful lymph nodes

The reason for it’s dramatic success in so many areas is simply the size of the primary molecule, ricinoleic acid, which comprises about 90% of the oil’s volume.  Ricinoleic acid is strongly anti-inflammatory and is a small enough molecule to penetrate into the deepest layers of the skin as well as into the lymphatic channels.  This penetration and effect is even better if you use heat on the area being treated. I recently had to have a C-section to deliver my little girl (the same one that was induced with castor oil – as it turns out her head was bigger than my body could handle).  Castor oil topically over the C-section scar has helped it to soften and heal and really helped with the initial post-labor pain.

The best news is that 8oz of organic castor oil will run between $5 and $10 depending on how fancy a store you like to shop in.  That 8oz will last most of your natural life because there’s really only so much you can use at once. Stay tuned for instructions on how to do an at home castor oil pack – both the conventional instructions, and my own much lazier method. 🙂

The castor bean plant, also called Palma Christi, or Palm of Christ.  Possibly because of its hand-shaped leaves, possibly because castor oil is as close to a miracle as I’ve ever seen.



Fiber for Gallbladder Sludge and Detoxification

Fiber is about the least sexy thing I could choose to talk about, but in terms of helping your body to eliminate toxins it’s at the top of the list and fiber for gallbladder sludge is essential. Especially helping to eliminate fat soluble toxins like hormones, bile salts and cholesterol residues that often make up gallbladder sludge. In fact, fiber is one of the key ways to help your body eliminate sludge from the gallbladder as long as it’s used correctly.

The Basics about Fiber:

Fiber comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and  forms a gooey sponge in the gut that grabs toxins and also feeds gut bacteria.  Insoluble fiber is unchanged by water and acts as an irritant to the gut wall, helping it to move correctly. Insoluble fiber can also ferment in the gut and act as a food source for your good bacteria. In terms of fiber supplements that means if you mix it with your drink and can’t tell it’s there, it’s soluble.  If you mix it with your drink and it adds some texture or grit, then it’s insoluble.

Soluble and insoluble fiber have slightly different uses and functions in the body, but for the purpose of this article I’m not going to differentiate.  I just want you to get fiber and lots of it.




General Benefits from Dietary Fiber:

  1. Detoxification – As your body eliminates toxins in the liver they are excreted into your intestines in order to pass out in your stool.  Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.  Often we reabsorb these toxins, sometimes on purpose as is often the case with hormones and bile salts (both frequent components of gallbladder sludge) and sometimes by accident. If there is fiber in your intestines the fiber binds to the toxin and will not let your body reabsorb it. This means fiber for gallbladder sludge, detox or weight loss (which is a kind of detox) is absolutely essential.
  2. Regularity – This is the part of fiber that most people know about.  It keeps your bowels regular and easy. This also is important for detoxification, simply because the more effective your bowels are, the more of the toxins from your liver are able to be released.  The slower your bowels are moving the more likely it is that toxins will be reabsorbed. Fight your constipation the simplest way, with fiber. Just make sure you drink lots of water every time you take a fiber supplement because without enough water they can cause constipation instead of relieving it.
  3. Hormone Balancing – Most people don’t know that one of the most important mechanisms of hormone balancing is elimination.  Hormones are just signals and in order to end that signal when we don’t need it any more, you eliminate those hormones just like you would a toxin.  If fiber isn’t there to catch the hormones in your intestine then often you will pull them back in to your blood stream in a misguided attempt at being thrifty – we are the ultimate hormone hoarders.  Fiber binds to hormones just like it does to bile salts and pulls them out of your body, helping to maintain your natural hormone balance.
  4. Blood Sugar Stability – This is tragically overlooked.  The simple act of adding fiber to a meal helps your body to more effectively regulate and moderate the sugars that are coming in with that meal.  Given that diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, this simple step seems worth it.  Fiber supplements or fiber-rich foods like flax seeds can also be added to foods like mashed potatoes that have a high glycemic index to help to moderate their effect on your blood sugar.

    Lentils are great sources of dietary fiber and fiber for gallbladder sludge and other detox is absolutely essential. Picture from wikimedia commons, by Hohum.

    Lentils are great sources of dietary fiber. Fiber for gallbladder sludge and other detox is absolutely essential. Picture from wikimedia commons, by Hohum.

Fiber for Gallbladder Sludge

Fiber for gallbladder sludge is almost essential.  When you’re working on eliminating the sludge it’s always a coordinated effort of liquefying bile, increasing bile flow through the gallbladder to flush the sludge out, and fiber to grab the toxins from the sludge and pull them out of the body so you don’t end up having to detoxify them back through the gallbladder. For more about the other steps of eliminating gallbladder sludge see this article as well as these helpful steps towards boosting liver performance. Fiber is essentially a large floppy molecule that acts like a sponge, catching the toxins that are released and holding on to them so that your body can’t reabsorb them.  Fiber itself isn’t absorbed into your blood, it stays in your gut so it’s only available for use if you’ve eaten it recently – you can’t stock up the way you can with some vitamins and nutrients.  For that reason fiber with every meal is important.

The average American eating the “standard american diet” (or SAD diet) gets between 12 and 15 g of fiber daily.  The recommended daily allowance is 25 g and if you’re working on detoxification, weight loss or gallbladder sludge then it may be  a good idea to get even more than that. Spreading fiber out through out the day so that there is always some in your gut to bind to toxins is extremely helpful. Also as you’re increasing the fiber in your diet it’s extremely important to increase slowly and to add water proportionally because otherwise fiber can be constipating, which is pretty much the opposite of what we want.

For the next week try to count the grams of fiber you take in on a daily basis just to see where you are starting from.  If your fiber intake is too low then one of the best things you can do is add more high fiber foods into your diet or even a fiber supplement if you can’t add the foods.  I try to shoot for anything between 30-50 grams daily.  I don’t always make it, but I always try. Foods like nuts, beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dark chocolate (woohoo!!!) are all high in fiber. Fiber for gallbladder sludge and any other kind of detoxification is absolutely essential.



Is the gallbladder cleanse safe for gallbladder sludge and stones?

I hear questions all the time about cleanses – especially is the gallbladder cleanse safe for people with sludge and stones? The answer, as usual, is *sometimes*. Let’s go over the cleanse, the effects and results, what to expect and also who it is and isn’t safe for because it certainly isn’t safe for everyone and the gallbladder cleanse does have some risks. For other options for gallbladder sludge and stones there is a detailed post on that here.

The Gallbladder Cleanse

First off, it’s best to use some expert guidance to help make the gallbladder cleanse safe for you.  I would highly suggest working with a practitioner or at the very least getting a good book that can explain all of this in much more detail.  I like The Liver and Gallbladder Miracle Cleanse by Andreaz Moritz. It’s a nice overview of what is going on in your body, and detailed instructions about the cleanse. These directions are taken from that book.

This is a great book that will help you to determine is the gallbladder cleanse safe for you as well as to walk you through the steps.

This is a great book that will help you to determine is the gallbladder cleanse safe for you as well as to walk you through the steps.

6 days of prep followed by 16 to 20 hours of actual cleansing.

You will need:

  • 6 1L containers apple juice – if intolerant to apple juice can buy food grade
    malic acid at wine making shops. Use 1 tsp malic acid in 32 oz water instead.
  • 4 tbsp Epsom salts dissolved in 3 8 oz glasses of water
  • ½ cup cold-pressed EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 2/3 glass fresh grapefruit juice (pink) or fresh lemon and orange juice combined
  • 2 pint jars, one with a lid.




Prep: Days 1-5
Drink 32+ oz apple juice daily for six days. The malic acid softens the gallstones and makes their passage smooth and easy. May have bloating, diarrhea. Drink the apple juice slowly throughout the day away from food. Be sure to rinse your mouth out to avoid acid damage to your teeth. Avoid cold/chilled foods – room temp or warm foods only. Avoid animal products, dairy and fried foods, avoid overeating. Also avoid medications and supplements that are not absolutely necessary

Day 6
Drink all 32 oz apple juice in the morning. Eat only light food and simple. Steamed veg, rice, no fats or oils. No liquids other than water after 1:30 pm
6:00 pm: Mix 4 tbsp Epsom salts to 24 oz water
Drink 6 oz of the epsom salts mix now – chase with lemon water to take the taste out of your mouth. It tastes gross and this is the start of your actual cleanse.
8:00 pm:  Drink 6 oz Epsom salt mix
9:30 pm: If you haven’t had BM then do water enema to trigger colon release
9:45 pm: Wash and juice your grapefruits and remove pulp. Mix ¾ glass of juice with ½ glass olive oil in pint jar and shake hard to mix this (vile) brew.
10:00 pm: Drink the oil and juice concoction in one go if you can and immediately lay down. Lay with your head higher than your abdomen or on your right side with knees to chest. Meditate on your liver and try to lie still for 20 minutes – may do castor oil pack at this time as well. Go to sleep if you can. You may need to wake in the night to have bowel movements. In rare cases may experience nausea or vomiting during the night – this can be normal.

Day 7
6:00 – 6:30 am: Upon awakening (but not before 6 am) drink the third Epsom salts mixture. If you’re thirsty when you wake up you can drink a glass of warm water before the Epsom salts
Rest, read or meditate – it is best to stay in an upright position
8:00 – 8:30: Drink the fourth glass of Epsom salts
10 – 10:30: You may start freshly pressed juice at this time. Half an hour later you can eat light food. By evening or the next morning you can start light food.

Day 8 – 10
Continue on light, clean foods. Also can be helpful to continue 6-8 oz apple juice daily for the following week to continue to soften any gall stones that are continuing to move
*in case of nausea, vomiting headache try coffee enema, liver support, hot water with lemon.

What to Expect with the Gallbladder Cleanse

Putting the question of is the gallbladder cleanse safe aside for the moment, it is clear that it’s not especially pleasant. Anyone who has had any internal experience with Epsom salts can tell you it’s not one easily forgotten. They taste vile and your body clearly rejects them swiftly via horrible, liquid bowel movements.  Now – will this clean out your bowels like they’ve never been cleaned? Yes. Yes it will.  Again, will you enjoy it? Probably no. The actual cleanse itself is really asking your body to do some serious work.  The malic acid in the apple juice is meant to soften up any small stones and help them to pass more easily and the Epsom salts, in addition to flushing the pipes, will also help the bile ducts to dilate and open so that more sludge and stones can pass through. It is not uncommon to experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and general ickiness.  If you actually had larger stones in the gallbladder then it is also possible to force one into the bile duct and induce a medical crisis – we’ll talk about that more in the Is the Gallbladder Cleanse Safe section.

Effects and Results from the Gallbladder Cleanse

Aside from not feeling terribly well on the actual day of cleansing, many people report feeling fantastic after the cleanse – literally like they have been cleansed or lightened somehow. The bowel movements during the cleanse will often contain bright green residues that area actually bile sludge or tiny stones finally encouraged to come out of the body by the oil and citrus mix.  This causes the gallbladder to contract strongly, hopefully purging the entire gallbladder contents into the intestine.  This is exactly what you’re after with this cleanse – we want to see these little green residues. It means that either your bile is flowing strongly and was able to rise to the challenge of the oil mixture, or that your gallbladder contracted strongly and discharged old sludge and debris. Either of those options are good.

Essentially we’re looking to eliminate a build-up of fat soluble toxins that are bound to the bile and accumulating in the gallbladder in the form of sludge. This will long-term help your overall liver processing, aid your body’s ability to digest fats and generally contribute to well-being. Also if you’ve been having symptoms of gallbladder sludge then this should help to reduce some of those.

So Is the Gallbladder Cleanse Safe for Gallbladder Sludge and Stones?

The most accurate answer to that question, is no.  I’ve heard a number of horror stories of people starting the gallbladder cleanse only to push a stone into their ducts and end up having an emergency surgery to remove the gallbladder.  Most of the people doing the cleanse were trying to avoid exactly that outcome, so that’s not thrilling.  If your gallbladder has sludge but no stones then typically that makes the gallbladder cleanse safe for you.  If you actually have stones, then this is probably not a good idea. If you haven’t really been to a doctor and don’t know if you have sludge or stones or just poor digestion, then I honestly wouldn’t suggest it – just because there is a chance you do have stones and could push one that’s a little too big into a place it can’t get out of – hello emergency surgery! 

This is a gallbladder with some serious stones - you don't want to get one of those stuck in your ducts anywhere.

This is a gallbladder with some serious stones – you don’t want to get one of those stuck in your ducts anywhere.

I know everyone wants to hear that the cleanse is perfectly safe and harmless, but it isn’t.  This is a powerful tool and if it’s used incorrectly it can be harmful or even life-threatening if you can’t get to the ER. There are risks to the gallbladder cleanse and shooting something out of your gallbladder that gets stuck is one of them. Also you have to be prepared for the dehydrating effects of the Epsom salts – the diarrhea they give you can be quite watery and contribute to a severe loss of fluids if you’re not careful to replace them.  Outside of that the whole process can be reasonably unpleasant – the diet is great, the apple juice is fine, but the cleanse itself is pretty vivid. That’s not a reason not to do it, it’s just important to be prepared.  For some more gentle options for dealing with gallbladder sludge and stones look here, and for help supporting liver function in general look here. The gallbladder cleanse can be a fantastic option with fabulous results, the you have to be sure that you’re a good candidate and that you have enough knowledge to make the gallbladder cleanse safe for you.



Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Natural Remedy for Gallbladder Sludge and Stones

A loyal reader Letty asked me if I had any solutions for gallbladder sludge and stones – which is a great question.  This is an issue that troubles so many people, especially women and many make the tough decision about having surgery, partly because they don’t know about other options. First let’s talk a little bit about gallbladders in general and then we’ll get to why they get sludgy and what you can do about it.

What Is A Gallbladder Anyway?

Your gallbladder sits tucked underneath your liver under the bottom of your rib cage on the right side of your body.  Your liver manufactures bile, which helps you to digest fats and also helps you to eliminate fat-soluble toxins. This bile passes through a duct, which is a narrow tube, into your gallbladder.  Your gallbladder helps to reabsorb water from the bile to make it stronger and more concentrated. Your gallbladder also holds this bile and stores it until you eat something fatty.  When fatty foods enter your stomach your stomach releases signaling molecules that tell you gallbladder to contract, and as it contracts it squeezes that concentrated bile through another duct into your small intestines to help with digestion. For this system to work properly three factors need to be in place.

  1. Your liver has to be in good working order
  2. Your gallbladder has to be free to contract (not filled with sludge and stones)
  3. The ducts between liver and gallbladder and gallbladder and intestines must be clear from obstructions, which are usually sludge or stones.
Gallbladder location and connection to liver- natural remedies for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Gallbladder location and connection to liver- natural remedies for gallbladder sludge and stones.

What Happens in a Gallbladder Attack?

When people have a gallbladder attack it is usually an event they won’t forget for a while.  What is happening is that your gallbladder gets the signal to contract to squeeze out bile, but something is in the way – usually either sludge or stones.  The sludge or stones can be in the gallbladder itself or they can be blocking one of the ducts.  Either way, when the gallbladder squeezes down on something like this, it hurts.  It hurts in a really vivid way. Usually people report severe pain after eating that can cause sweating, nausea or even vomiting.  A lot of time people will take themselves to the ER because it’s really easy to confuse this type of pain with heart attack pain. Your body keeps squeezing to try to dislodge the sludge or stones, which just keeps hurting, and a lot of times the only thing that really makes it feel better is morphine (or surgery).

Why are the Sludge and Stones There In The First Place?

If you are actively losing weight, if your body has a lot of fat soluble toxins to deal with, if your diet is higher in fat than it should be or if you’re going through hormone fluctuations then sometimes there is just more fat than there is bile.  What can happen in this situation is that the fat and bile bind together to form a sludgy, gluey substance that gets thicker and stickier and eventually clogs up the gallbladder and ducts.  Within that sludgy mixture stones can begin to form and grow and the stones can also block ducts – sometimes requiring emergency surgery if they’re blocking a duct completely. Essentially the sludge is just thick, heavy fats that your body couldn’t deal with properly.

How Can I Get Rid of Gallbladder Sludge and Stones Naturally?

The key to getting rid of sludge and stones is doing four things at the same time.

  1. Increase bile production – Stimulate your liver production of bile or actually take bile salts to make sure that lots of bile is flowing through the gallbladder and intestines.
  2. Liquify and Move the Bile – Keeping the bile liquid and moving quickly so it can start to wash out the preexisting sludge and stones.
  3. Shrink the Stones – If there are stones there, then we have to make them smaller so that they wash out easily. If you suspect stones I would suggest making an appointment with your doctor to see how many there are and how big they are.
  4. Dump the Bile – Once bile gets dumped into your intestines it’s out of the gallbladder, but a lot of times we reabsorb that same bile from our intestines to use again, because we’re just hoarders by nature. In this scenario you have to make sure as much bile as possible is actually leaving your body.

Increasing Bile Production – Choleretic

Increasing the amount of bile produced to help your body flush out gallbladder sludge and stones. Substances that do this are called “choleretics” and fortunately there are some great options out there, and lots of them are foods.  My favorite foods that increase bile production are artichokes – you can actually feel your saliva production increase when you eat them, and that same response is happening with bile. Young beet greens and possibly the beets themselves help too. Herbal bile flow stimulants include chamomile, chicory, blessed thistle, and many of the bitter herbs.  In terms of finding products, I love digestive bitters before each meal (right now I’m addicted to some from Urban Moonshine – their citrus bitters are the bomb!) Another great way to go is Standard Process A-F Betafood, which makes everything nice and simple, or Panplex 2-Phase from ITI which is a strong digestive complex with ox bile in it.




Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Liquify and Move the Bile – Cholagogue

Choagogues promote discharge of bile from the system – keeping it moving downward out of your liver and gallbladder and into your small intestines. In terms of naturally eliminating gallbladder sludge and stones this is key! Again, all of your bitter foods will stimulate bile flow so adding raw bitter greens like arugula and some of the bitter lettuces or dandelion greens will help. In terms of supplements the digestive bitters are a great idea here too, or liver support products.  Some of my favorites include Milk Thistle from Gaia herbs, Lipotrophic complex from ITI or Livaplex from Standard Process.

Shrink The Gallstones

Shrinking gallstones can be tricky naturally, just because we can’t actually break things up, we have to just slowly dissolve them from the surface. This is a long prospect. Essentially we need things that are acidic enough to leech calcium out of stones – but be careful because they’re usually also acidic enough to leech calcium out of your teeth so rinse your mouth out with water after you take them so the acid doesn’t stay on your teeth. My favorites are Standard Process Phosfood liquid – it’s super sour but works great to start shrinking stones.  Apple cider vinegar before meals is a great strategy too.




Dump The Bile

We want to prevent the bile that your body is dumping into your small intestines from being reabsorbed. This means binding it to something like fiber so that you can’t reabsorb it at all.  Fiber a couple of times per day between meals (with lots of water to also help you flush things through). I really like Fiber Plus powder from Orthomolecular because it’s a good blend of soluble and insoluble fiber and tastes great (apple cinnamon) plus it’s a high dose in every scoop. There are also gallbladder cleanses but they aren’t safe for everyone.  You can read more about gallbladder cleanses here.

Now hopefully you have a better understanding of what you’re trying to do when you’re cleaning out liver and gallbladder sludge and stones, but if you have any questions or comments just leave them here and I’ll get back to you.  The natural methods do work, but if a stone gets lodged in a duct then that is actually a medical emergency and requires emergency surgery so go to the ER if you need to.. Don’t worry – if that happens you won’t miss it.  It’s excruciating pain and often jaundice.  Otherwise, naturally eliminating your gallbladder sludge and stones is a great way to go. In general incorporating more of the gallbladder and liver friendly foods into your diet would help almost everyone.



Finding Your Food Sensitivity

I am a huge believer in the food sensitivity problem, largely because finding and eliminating a food sensitivity has literally changed my life. That sounds really cliché, but it’s actually true. Just keep reading and I’ll explain.

What is a Food Sensitivity?

Food sensitivities are a little bit mysterious, but one thing we know for sure is that it isn’t an allergy in the conventional sense.  If you eat a peanut and swell up and have to go to the hospital, that isn’t a food sensitivity. That’s a food allergy and it’s pretty easy to spot (just look for the ambulance and the disgruntled school nurse wielding an epi-pen.) Food sensitivity is allergy’s sneakier, tricksier second-cousin.  Your immune system is reacting to a food, but it’s not reacting in a huge dramatic way that gives you a clue to what’s happening.  It’s also not reacting immediately so you can put it all together in a nice simple way, like peanut + me = badness.  Instead, it’s a vague, ambiguous process that can’t be identified through normal means – you have to actually be your own science experiment, and god knows that’s fun.  Actually, I’m a bit of a geek, so I do *love* any kind of science experiment.

Eating a food that you’re sensitive to create a slow-moving background level of inflammation that just keeps your body irritated enough to make whatever else might be going on worse.  Everybody’s body has a weak spot – some place where they’re most likely to break down – and that’s where the low-level inflammation from a food sensitivity hits.  It just creates inflammation that people say is just “normal” for them, or just “aging” or something that’s “in their family.” Uh-huh.  So – here’s my story:




I grew up being a bit of a (read: ENORMOUS) tomboy.  The things I liked doing were all a little rough-and-tumble like hiking and camping and building things and riding horses and skiing into trees and dancing for hours on end. When I started having joint pain pretty young I just assumed it was because I road-tested my body and that it was “normal” (did you spot the dead-giveaway?) Yep. It’s also “in my family” to have joint pain, so there’s that.  Here’s the thing: when joint pain starts at around 6 years of age, it’s only going to go downhill.  By the time I got out of med-school I was having pain that made me feel like an 80-year-old woman and to shuffle when I first got out of bed.  It may occur to you that this isn’t, perhaps, “normal.”

Me, being a tomboy. Before discovering my food sensitivity Me, busy being a tomboy. This was before discovering my food sensitivity.

I had a great patient at that time and I was happily telling her all about how to discover her own food sensitivities at home, which involves the being-your-own-guinea-pig thing.  We’ll talk about it in a minute,  but it is a little involved.  Anyway, I’m explaining all of this to her and she looks me dead in the eye and says “this is the hardest thing anyone has ever asked me to do. Have you done it?” After which there was a pause, then a somewhat reluctant “no” from me.  The bottom line is that she agreed to test her food sensitivities if I would test mine.  Sigh.

So, I did.  As it turns out when I eat wheat I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck – but not until the next day.  So the day I eat wheat I feel great and have no troubles at all, then the next day I wake up and can hardly move. I’m achy (like 6/10 pain), stuffy, puffy and swollen and pretty darn irritable. If I stay away from wheat I actually don’t have that.  Huh.  Huge thanks to that patient, by the way, to whom I owe a lot of health.

Could I have a Food Sensitivity?

Yep, you could.  Pretty much everyone could. That’s the strange thing about food sensitivities. It can be a food you were raised with, that you’ve always eaten, that has always been a favorite and it could still be causing you a tremendous amount of trouble. Here are some general symptoms and conditions that I’ve seen associated with food sensitivities (not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination):

  • Pain of any kind including arthritis, neuralgia, fibromyalgia, gout.
  • Mood disorders including depression, anxiety, mood swings, and OCD.
  • Behavioral disorders like ADD, ADHD, oppositional-defiance, outbursts and anger issues.
  • Digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, indigestion, gallbladder sludge and stomach pain.
  • Hormone issues like hypothyroid, PCOS, irregular cycles, low sperm count, diabetes.
  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus, hashimotos thyroiditis, Behcet’s, psoriasis.
  • Skin problems like eczema, hives, itching and acne
  • General issues including allergies, fatigue, weight gain, and swelling.

Finding Your Food Sensitivities (or, Being Your Own Guinea pig)

Guinea Pig (pretend), just like you.

This is actually a pretend Guinea pig, but since you will only be a pretend Guinea pig too, it seemed appropriate. If you really want one of these, you can buy it here.

Testing your food sensitivities is a simple process, but it does take some work – mostly in reading labels. Here’s what you do:

  1. Eliminate: Eliminate the food you’re testing COMPLETELY for 14 days – this means read your labels because wheat, corn, dairy and soy are in all kinds of things that you wouldn’t suspect.
  2. Challenge: Enjoy the heck out of the food you’re testing for a day.  If you’re testing wheat then have wheat day. Eat some waffles and pasta and a great french bread with a ton of butter.
  3. Observe: Like any other good experiment you have to be a careful observer. After your challenge day, take the food you’re testing back out of your diet for three or four days and watch to see what happens in your body.  For most people, the fireworks start the day after challenge day, but sometimes it’s even more delayed than that. Your body will tell you clearly if you’re sensitive to something.
  4. Retest: This isn’t actually necessary, but if you’re like me you’ll go through exhaustive mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you aren’t actually reacting to that food (my big rationalization was that I actually got a flu, which coincidentally started the day after wheat day.) So if you don’t believe the reaction the first time, then after your observation period, have another challenge day.  This time, believe your body when it tells you it’s sensitive (I could rationalize one well-timed flu but two is too much).

What Should I Test First?

The big four food sensitivity foods are:

Wheat (but it’s good to test Gluten too), Dairy, Corn and Soy

And those are in everything so read your labels!! Look in weird places like soy sauce (which has wheat), and salad dressings (which have everything).

The next most popular foods to react to are:

Nightshades (tomato, potato, peppers, eggplants), Citrus (lemons, limes, grapefruit), Beef and Chocolate

The great thing is that you can eliminate and challenge one food at a time or if you want to do it all at once you can just eliminate everything and go down to a really simple diet and then re-introduce foods one at a time.  This is a choose-your-own-adventure type of experiment.

I would highly encourage anyone who is having health problems to start testing themselves for food sensitivities – it truly does make all the difference in the world. For me, I went from a roughly 6/10 daily pain level to a 1-2/10. That is pretty freaking awesome – especially since I don’t have to take any drugs or supplements to do it.  As a side bonus, my allergies dropped down to almost nothing – I don’t take allergy medications except for the occasional mold-mix on days when Austin is literally covered in mold.