Food Intolerance

Last summer (2019, to be clear), I suddenly started experiencing some fairly significant stabbing intestinal pain.  It would come out of nowhere, leave me curled up in a ball wanting to die for a day or two, and then fade back out and disappear and I’d be fine for weeks before it would hit again.  It was accompanied by random diarrhea, extreme gas and bloating (also excruciatingly painful btw), and weird headaches and weird brief bouts of vertigo.  Though I didn’t actually put all those symptoms together as being caused by the same thing till at least several months in.  I’d previously had a diagnosis of diverticulitis, and worried that the intestinal pain was because of that, so I called the gastro specialist (several times), went into urgent care (twice), saw my regular doctor (once), and had a phone conversation with my rheumatologist.  CT and god only knows how much bloodwork and time later the diagnosis was: there’s nothing wrong with you that we can find.  Over the last several years I’ve come to highly dislike the phrase “well, your bloodwork is normal”, and this didn’t help with that.  We briefly thought that the intestinal pain might be caused by, or at least aggravated by, the methotrexate that the rheumatologist was trying for my  hand issues.  But nothing else seemed to be anything we could pinpoint.

It was November or so before I realized that clearly SOMETHING external was triggering the problem, food being the most likely, and easiest to track, culprit.  My brother had a severe lactose intolerance as a child, so I probably should have recognized the symptoms sooner, but who expects a new food intolerance at the age of 40??  I tend to eat a fairly boring diet, much the same thing over and over, but there is some variation.  I also tended to eat a lot of fast food for work lunches, supplemented by the vending machines in the break room.  The occasion where I wasn’t eating fast food for work lunches it tended to be pre-packaged meals from the grocery store rather than home made.  I attempted to start tracking what I was eating, but struggled to find a format that would work for tracking.  I carry my cell phone everywhere, so some sort of app seemed like the obvious solution, but none of the pre-done food tracking apps seemed to be what I wanted, and I hate typing out long lists of things or paragraphs on that tiny keyboard.  Late December I finally ordered a set of pocket notebooks, specifically I ordered a set of fancy ones that wouldn’t be ruined if they got wet.

January and February my hours at work always crash.  The downside to being part time in a department that basically requires good weather to get good sales.  But this year it was a good thing.  It made it ever so much easier to eat completely homemade, starting the week after Christmas.

Within two weeks of eating completely homemade my symptoms almost completely disappeared.

Then I decided to make myself popovers one day.  I love popovers, but they’re just fussy enough to make that I don’t actually  make them often.  Specifically using a mini muffin pan so that I could have popovers to eat all day.  Had 3 or 4 mini popovers for breakfast.  About half an hour after eating I had a mild vertigo moment, like I’d stood up to fast.  Then suddenly my head was pounding.  The headache faded back out quickly enough, I shrugged it off.  Had another 3 or 4 mini popovers for lunch.  Had another vertigo moment, and another brief headache.  WTF.  Then a couple hours later I suddenly developed severe gas bloating.  Ended up taking a double dose of GasX.  By supper time I was starting to notice some intestinal discomfort.  It wasn’t to the stabbing pain stage yet, but I could tell it was getting there.

The ingredients in my popover recipe: AP flour, milk, butter, eggs, salt.  I’d also grated cheese on the popovers before eating them.

The flour was the same flour I’d used to make the bread I’d been eating for the previous  couple weeks without any symptoms.  The butter was the same butter I’d been putting on my toast every morning.  Salt, well, if I was reacting to salt I was probably screwed, but since I’d been eating things with salt in them for the previous couple weeks without issue I was pretty sure I could ignore that too.  I don’t drink much milk, but I do put real cream in my coffee every morning, a fair bit of it too, I like my coffee light, I was pretty sure I could ignore the milk as a risk.  And I’d been eating the same cheese regularly for the previous couple weeks too.

Eggs.  I’d previously, several years ago, had a brief issue where eating eggs (of any kind) had given me some severe gas, but other wise no other problems with them, and that problem had faded back out in a couple months with no issues since.  But sure enough, the day after making popovers I had severe stabbing abdominal pain that took several days to fade back out.  My egg intake has always been variable.  I LIKE eggs, but sometimes I’ll eat them alot, and other times I’ll go weeks without eating any except as a possible ingredient in something.

The only good part of the problem being eggs is that eggs are one of the “major food allergens” that the FDA requires be explicitly listed on labels, including when the possibility of remnant traces could be present.  So while frustrating to avoid, due to eggs being a very common ingredient, it wouldn’t be impossible to avoid them at least.

I started adding back in the occasional processed food item to my diet once the reaction to the popovers had faded.  No gas, no bloating, no headaches.  Occasional, minor abdominal/intestinal discomfort, but it was really minor, I shrugged it off, it would probably take my system a while to completely return to normal.

Then I bought a package of Friendly’s Mint Chip Ice Cream.  Now there are some fancier ice creams that contain eggs as an ingredient, but Friendly’s isn’t one of them.  Friendly’s is pretty cheap ice cream infact, with alot of additives for texture and flavor and preservatives.  Half a bowl of ice cream later and I had a swing of vertigo and then a pounding headache, feeling flushed, as if my blood pressure had dropped and then spiked.  A check with my husband’s home blood pressure cuff confirmed that my blood pressure was higher than usual (though not in the range of needing immediate treatment).  I hadn’t thought to check my blood pressure with the previous headaches.  The next morning I woke up with stabbing abdominal pain that took a week to fade back out.

Fuck.

I put together a spreadsheet of the ingredients, and started working my way down the list of thing that were easy to test as individual items.  Its not dairy.  Its not soy.  Its none of the mint flavorings I’ve been able to try.  Its none of the chocolates I’ve been able to try.  Its none of the food colorings I can get ahold of.  None of the seasonings I’ve tried individually.  None of the cocoa’s or cocoa butters I’ve tried.  This leaves me with a fairly short list of texture, flavor, and preservative additives.

I bought a loaf of Italian bread with garlic spread from a local grocery as a treat to myself (I love the stuff, but have been known to eat half a loaf in a sitting, so I don’t buy it very often).  No eggs listed in the ingredients, possible traces of egg from things made in the same factory.  Either there was more than a trace of eggs, or I was reacting to some other ingredient in it, the reaction wasn’t as bad as the popovers or the ice cream, but it wasn’t minor either.  There was no overlap between the suspect ingredients in the ice cream and the garlic bread.

Bought a package of Pillsbury’s freezer biscuits (they’re just like the ones in the can, but you can pull out however many you want at a time to bake instead of having to bake the whole can, yes I can make biscuits, I was feeling lazy).  No eggs listed, not even traces.  I didn’t get any blood pressure swings or gas/ bloating from them, but I had stabbing abdominal pain from them for over a week.  Almost no overlap with previously suspect ingredients.  Or rather, the overlap is “natural flavor”, which isn’t helpful.

I have also confirmed that just egg whites will set me off, as will duck eggs.

I’m back to eating home made and whole foods (nuts, fruits, vegis, meats) as much as I possibly can.  While this is quite likely healthier than my previous diet it’s also frustrating as hell.  On top of dealing with the chaos that is 2020?  It has been hell.

The first allergist I saw was no help.  Blood work says you don’t have a food allergy, go back to your gastro specialist.  Gastro specialist says he can’t find anything wrong.  My regular doctor is sending me to a different allergist, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ll note that figuring out a food intolerance is not “essential”, which in the year that has become 2020 means I get to deal with it almost entirely on my own, regardless of anything else.  Thank god I’m not especially prone to depression.

Everyone who thinks that we need to shut down all “non-essential” services and businesses in order to survive a pandemic that has a tiny death rate can go fuck themselves.

8 Comments

  1. Ping from Mrs. S.:

    Feel free to ignore anything I might suggest, because I don’t have all the information. Have you considered that you might have more than one food intolerance trigger? You’ve found the eggs, great! Now what else is out there?

    With the reaction to the biscuits, you might want to revisit the thought of a lactose intolerance. Although you have no problems with cream and cheese, both of those things don’t actually contain a lot of lactose. Cream is mostly fat, and the cheese making process (except for cottage cheese) washes the lactose away with the whey. If you don’t have trouble with homemade biscuits made with milk, then the problem might be with a preservative or dough conditioner. If you have had trouble with homemade biscuits too, then it might have been the milk causing the trouble. The problem with the ice cream might be because it wasn’t all cream, but ice milk – lactose again. Watch out for sugar coatings on candies and medicines; those are often made with lactose sugar. (After cheese is made, the whey is often separated into whey protein concentrate, and whey sugar syrup then sold to make protein powders, sports drinks, and candies.)

    Another possible trouble with the biscuits is baking powder. Hubby has trouble with that mixing badly with his BP med.

    Other big food intolerance suspects are things like food colorings, MSG, nitrates in cured meats, potassium salt substitutes (if taking certain medications), and preservatives. Another blogger I read seems to have trouble with all purpose flour, because it is a mixture of wheat and barley flour. The barley flour bothers her digestive tract. Good luck finding what works for you!

    On another note, is yeast still unavailable in your area? I could send you a package. The grocery store & Sam’s club here have been stocking the big vacuum packs of red star instant yeast granules. I usually dump one into a quart jar, put on a nice tight lid, and store it in the fridge. 2 1/4 tsp = 1 packet. Of course with today’s high of 92, the yeast can stay in the fridge until the weekend when the weather is supposed to cool down a bit.

    Good luck!

    • Ping from Ruth:

      I was finally able to order in a 1 pound pack of yeast from King Arthur actually, along with some extra flour, and some other odds and ends to fill out the baking stash, but thank you for the offer! In the stores I’m finally seeing yeast by the packet, but still no jars.

      I’m fairly certain at this point that the additional problem(s) food is a preservative, or texture, or flavoring additive of some kind.

      Home made biscuits don’t appear to give me any issues, I made up my own homemade freezer biscuits last weekend and have been eating them almost daily since with no increase in issues. Milk and baking powder are in the ingredients for them. And I use KA’s all purpose flour for baking at home.

      Though I’ve wondered if the “enriched flour” thats found in many baked goods might somehow be part of the problem. Its been a common ingredient in several of the problem foods, but its not in all of them.

      Bacon (store bought, with nitrates) doesn’t set me off. I can chug gatorade, both red and blue, without issue.

      Its not soy (another very common ingredient in alot of foods), I can chug soy milk without a reaction. Its gross, but my digestion isn’t bothered.

      Right now I just want to get through the next month with as few symptoms as possible. If I can do that then I’ll look at trying something “new” again. Right now I can’t tell if I’m actually setting off my system again, or if its lingering digestive problems cause I didn’t give things enough time to rest before trying something new.

      I’d really love to get actual input from an actual doctor with a clue about narrowing down stuff like this, I’m running on half remembered conversations as a child and the fun and joy of trying to sort out info from the internet. Actual input from folks who’ve dealt with it themselves has helped, but what works for one doesn’t always work for the other. Its been a trip.

  2. Ping from Mrs. S.:

    You might be on the right track there with the “enriched” flours. The “enriched” flours try to add vitamins back in that were stripped by the bleaching process. Some of those are B vitamins. From past experiences with taking B-complex supplements, sometimes the vitamins themselves can cause stomach upset. (Just ask a pregnant woman whose prenatal vitamins upset her stomach even more on top of morning sickness.) Unfortunately, if it is the enriched flour causing problems, you will probably have to avoid all fast food with bread in it, because they’re not going to make their buns with good quality unbleached flour.

    Dough conditioner is another ingredient that bothers my husband. Something you may not know, commercial flours for food service, baking mixes, and other powdered food products are often mixed in mixing towers/silos. From one batch to the next, there may be residual trace ingredients left over that get mixed into the next batch without actually appearing on the ingredients list. A friend of ours owns a small family business that makes milk soluble cheese starter. He had to find a different location to blend, because either his starter caused a problem with a dough conditioner or the residual dough conditioner caused a problem with his starter. The owner of the mixing silo couldn’t afford to scrub the tower down completely between batches, so usually a blending plant will just stick to mixing the same kinds of powdered ingredients at one location. Any labeling of crossover of ingredients is usually limited to major allergens with a warning that the product may contain soy, milk, eggs, nuts, etc. It is sad to say, but you may never find out exactly which additive is causing the trouble, because it has been listed generically as a preservative, texture additive, or flavoring, or it doesn’t appear on the ingredients list at all.

    I’ll be praying you can stick with the healthy homemade diet till things settle down. Enjoy the fresh veggies from your garden while summer lasts!

    • Ping from Ruth:

      Thoughts of random crossovers had occurred to me, along with the ubiquitous “natural and artificial flavorings”, which is in EVERYTHING.

    • Ping from Ruth:

      I’m honestly to the point where I don’t care what it is and what it means I can’t eat in the future. I just want to know what it is so I can avoid it.

  3. Ping from bogie:

    Everything changes after you hit 40. I now have definite food allergies – to stuff I love and used to eat all the time; shellfish and coconut being a couple. Shellfish cause severe cramping and upchucking. Coconut causes severe cramping, bloating, diarrhea and other intense pains. The doctors didn’t figure this out, I did. The coconut thing came about suddenly and caused me to go to the doctor, who sent me to the hospital for an MRI. They found my entire digestive system (throat all the way down) was inflamed even though I hadn’t eaten anything for a couple of days from the pain, and was completely cleaned out from the diarrhea I had experienced.

    I have a tolerance issue to wheat, and have had for a long time. However, it doesn’t kick in until I’ve had “too much”, so I can get away with the occasional burger with bun (usually I don’t do any bread). It’s not the gluten, just wheat.

    Milk give me migraines after a certain amount (figured that out at age 25 after having migraines anywhere from 1-8x / month since pre-teenage years), but I am fine with cream in my coffee. Milk cooked within a recipe doesn’t really affect me – probably because that doesn’t hit the “tipping point”. I can have goat/sheep cheese without issues.

    Cheese made from cows milk is more iffy – there is a tipping point with harder cheeses that will throw me into bad headaches, but not migraines. Yogurt I am fine with and I eat a lot of that

    • Ping from Ruth:

      Well, I was fine eating an “all natural” ice cream which was basically milk, sugar, and vanilla, so I’m fairly confident of dairy not being the problem.

      Gotta love getting old I guess. I am glad its not an allergy, but at least most allergies can be tested for, so it would likely be easier to figure out at least.

  4. Ping from Ruth:

    Well, I’m fairly sure its NOT “enriched flour” perse, because I ate half a batch of biscuits from a mix that contained it without reaction. Which doesn’t mean that all such flours are equal and I’m not reacting to some other facet of a different one.

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