Monday, December 30, 2013

Movie Monday 12/30

We are enjoying the holidays, visiting family out of town (yes, again! third time this month). I seem to finally have the yeast overgrowth under control, though I am still on Diflucan. However, the first day after we arrived here, I got a killer sore throat and congestion - usually the starting signs of a long, difficult crash that often ends with bronchitis. I'm not feeling completely crashed - a bit low in energy - but I do still have some congestion and a cough is starting. I just hope I can make it back home without things getting much worse. A long day spent in an airport when crashed is torture.

Anyway, with everyone home for the holiday break and now visiting my father-in-law, we have had a little time for movies:

Before Christmas, we watched The Holiday with our sons. My husband and I had seen it before, but our sons hadn't. It's a fun, sweet holiday story with a great cast. Kate Winslet plays a British woman from a small town who wants to get away to help herself recover from a toxic relationship. Cameron Diaz plays a young woman in LA who creates movie trailers for Hollywood production companies and just broke up with her long-time boyfriend. Both women want to get away from their lives, and they connect on a house-sharing website and agree to switch homes for two weeks. Their homes and their lives are very different, so lots of fun ensues. Of course, there are love interests to help heal their wounds: Jack Black plays a sweet music composer who works with Diaz's character in LA, and Jude Law plays the adorable brother of Winslet's character. We all enjoyed it - it's a nice modern take on the holiday movie.

Here at my father-in-law's house, we all watched The World Is Not Enough, a James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan. It is the typical Bond movie, with a complicated plot, cool gadgets, and lots of fast-paced action and explosions. I'm not a big Bond aficionado myself, but my husband and sons said this wasn't one of the better ones. I agree that Brosnan isn't the best Bond - he didn't seem to have that classic Bond confidence and unflappable calm. But it was an action-packed movie that everyone from my 15-year old son to my 88-year old father-in-law enjoyed, so if you like action, it's good for a little escape from reality.

In between, we have been watching lots of The Mentalist (season 5) and Modern Family (season 4), two DVD sets that we gave our sons for Christmas, both excellent, as always.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Movie Monday 12/23

With my college son home and the holiday break in full swing, we were able to watch some movies this weekend.
Both boys were occupied with friends in Friday night, so my husband and I watched Frozen Ground, a very creepy movie about a serial killer in Alaska. If tension and suspense keep you up at night, it's better to skip this one! It was an excellent movie and very well made, with an outstanding cast. Nicholas Cage plays the state trooper heading up the investigation, and John Cusack is chilling as the psychotic killer who is a loved member of the community. Vanessa Hudgens gives a surprisingly emotional performance - far different than her role in High School Musical! - as a prostitute who was beaten and raped by the killer but managed to escape. The movie takes place in Alaska in winter, so it is a very dark setting and a darker theme, especially when we found out it was based on a true story. It was gripping and compelling, with nail-biting suspense, and thoroughly chilling.

Saturday night, our younger son had friends over, so we watched Arbitrage with our 19-year old son, a movie we'd seen previewed on the DVD we watched the night before! This one is free on Amazon Prime right now. It was another suspense movie but of an entirely different sort. Richard Gere stars as a wealthy business man who seems to have it all - good looks, a beautiful wife (played by Susan Sarandon), a loving family, and a thriving business. He's on the cover of Forbes, and is closing a deal to sell his business for over 400 million dollars. Then things begin to slowly unravel, after he is in an accident and his various lies come back to haunt him. "What a tangled web we weave..." It's a good movie with a great cast and a complex plot that keeps you guessing.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Symptoms of and Treatments for Yeast Overgrowth

Yes, I am still here! Sorry for the long silence here at the blog. As most of you know, I have had a very difficult fall and have been severely crashed for much of the past 3 months. With the holiday season on top of that, I just haven't had any time/energy at all for writing (my book blogs and commercial writing have been neglected also!). But I am back now - back to feeling pretty good and back here on the blog.

As it turned out, much of my suffering the past three months was due to yeast overgrowth, a fact that I didn't figure out until about a month ago. I wanted to share my recent experiences with you in the hopes that perhaps it might help some of you.

Yeast (aka candida) are a type of fungus that normally live in small amounts in your mouth and digestive tract. Problems occur when the yeast increases and/or good bacteria in your gut that normally keeps it in check decreases. One common cause of this yeast overgrowth is taking antibiotics - they kill off all the bacteria in your system, including the good stuff that lives in your digestive tract, allowing the yeast to take over. This is what happened to me this time. Back in September, I took 5 days' of Zithromax for bronchitis. Under normal circumstances, such a small amount of antibiotics wouldn't bother me (especially since I take probiotics every day - see below), but ever since I was treated for Lyme disease (over 3 years of antibiotics every day), I've had occasional flare-ups of yeast overgrowth.

For those of us who have ME/CFS, we don't even need antibiotics to cause yeast overgrowth. Since immune system and GI dysfunctions are an integral part of our illness, yeast overgrowth is a very common occurrence, though one that is often missed or not diagnosed.

How did I know I had a problem with yeast overgrowth? Well, it took me many weeks to figure it out, even though I've experienced it before. My symptoms included fatigue that was much worse than usual and severe flu-like aches all over my body; in fact, the aches these past few months were some of the worst I have experienced in my 12 years with ME/CFS. Increased brain fog is also common with yeast overgrowth. At one point, I looked back at my records and saw that of the past 60 days, I'd only been well enough to leave the house 14 days. That's far worse than is normal for me. For a long time, I assumed that the virus that triggered my crash initially (and started my bronchitis) was the reason for the prolonged crash.

I finally figured out that yeast was responsible when I noticed that my tongue hurt, especially when I ate certain foods (anything bitter, sour, or sugary). The light bulb finally went off at that point, and I ran to the bathroom mirror. Sure enough, I had active thrush on my tongue. Thrush is one sign of a yeast overgrowth - when you stick your tongue out, it looks like a whitish or yellowish fuzz on the back of your tongue and mouth. It generally makes your mouth hurt or feel sore, as mine was feeling, though sometimes it's your throat that feels sore - something easily excused by "normal" CFS symptoms!  While I usually get thrush in my mouth when I have yeast overgrowth, some people get vaginal yeast infections or an itchy feeling around the vagina or anus.

So, what do you do about it? Well, I should have gone directly to my doctor, but instead I tried to treat it myself first (and lost another month to the couch!). There are lots and lots of herbal remedies and supplements that can help, as well as dietary changes, but I wasn't making much progress with those approaches. They definitely helped, but I found that if I had even the tiniest bit of sugar, my symptoms returned. I finally went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago, and she prescribed an anti-yeast medication (the two most common ones are Diflucan and Nyastatin). This time, it had gotten so bad that it took me a full 10 days on Diflucan before I finally began to feel better...and then it was like someone had flipped a switch!

Here are all the remedies that my son (who is currently being treated for Lyme disease) and I have tried for yeast overgrowth:

* Probiotic: Probiotic are the healthy bacteria that normally live in your GI tract; they also affect the immune system, so it's a good idea for anyone with ME/CFS to take them daily and to double the dose when you are on antibiotics (always take it at least 2-3 hours away from antibtiocs so the meds don't kill off the good bacteria). I take New Chapter All-Flora (dairy free), 1x/day normally and 2x/day during a yeast flare-up; my son takes HMF Forte brand, which was recently rated as having the highest amount of active bacteria.

* Saccharomyces Boulardii: This is a specific type of probiotic that is most effective against yeast. Ever since my Lyme treatment, I take it every day (as does my son). I am now taking it 2x/day until I get the yeast under control.

* Phytostan: This supplement blend was recommended by a Lyme treatment guide that I read, but it seems to have been discontinued just this week. Its main ingredient is caprylic acid, plus other anti-yeast ingredients, so I found an alternative that seems to be comparable, NOW brand Candida Support. My son and I are both currently taking it 2x/day. (NOTE: Phytostan has been discontinued but there are lots of anti-yeast supplement blends available)

* ADP (emulsified oil of oregano) and/or Olive Leaf Extract: Both of these herbal supplements are potent anti-fungals, antivirals, and antibacterials. Our Lyme doctor recommends ADP, and we have taken Olive Leaf for years when exposed to a virus. One potential problem, however, is that both of them could possibly kill off good bacteria while also killing off yeast. Currently, we both take one or the other 1x/day.

* Grapefruit Seed Extract: Another supplement recommended in Lyme treatment guidelines to prevent overgrowth of yeast. We both take it 2x/day for now; I will probably stop once I get this under control again.

Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar:  This is NASTY tasting stuff! My son tried it once and said no way, but I took it every day for a while, until I started the Diflucan. Lots of websites recommend this for yeast - I have no idea if it helps, but it seemed to at the time. 1 Tbls diluted in water, 1x per day as needed.

Tea Tree Oil:  Another herbal remedy I've read about - you can add a drop to your toothpaste (and brush your tongue, too) or add a few drops to a cup of water and gargle/rinse your mouth with it. Again, pretty nasty tasting, but it did seem to help, especially if you have active thrush in your mouth.

Avoid Sugar, Refined Carbs, Yeast, and Alcohol: OK, this is the one that's been the toughest for me, and I still can't convince my son to try it (even though his Lyme doctor told him at the last visit that sugar is like poison for him!). People with ME/CFS already avoid alcohol (since it makes OI so much worse), but the rest has been tough for me. However, I did find that it helped. That's when I finally went to the doctor - when the yeast seemed to be improving and even a single bite of something sugary would make it flare up again. I miss my square of dark chocolate at night! (not to mention fruit). Just like you see when you bake something with yeast, yeast literally feeds on sugar, so this can be an important step in difficult cases.

Diflucan or Nyastatin: These are prescription medications and are often necessary when yeast overgrowth has been present for a long time or is stubborn. Like I said, taking Diflucan finally flipped the switch that got me back on my feet, so I am grateful. I have been on it for 16 days so far and still can't eat sugar without a flare-up, so I will probably need to stay on it a bit longer. My son has been on it for years, as part of his Lyme treatment (and I took it every day when I was being treated for Lyme, too). I know people who were totally incapacitated by Lyme disease even after their treatment, until they took an anti-yeast medication and were magically better. I highly recommend seeing your doctor sooner rather than later if you suspect yeast overgrowth or have signs of thrush or yeast infection.

Here is a general overview on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of yeast overgrowth. And here is a far more complex article on yeast overgrowth that might be helpful specifically for those with ME/CFS. This ties in with methylation issues which are very, very common in people with our illness. This is a complex topic for another day, but we have been investigating this in depth because it is certainly a huge factor in my son's illnesses...and after reading this article about the connection between methylation and yeast, I am now wondering if it might be critical for me as well. If you like, skip past all the details about methylation and focus in on the "Recommendations for reducing yeast overgrowth" at the bottom. We haven't tried many of these yet, though I plan to.

So, that's been my recent experience - another of many examples where I thought I knew all about a topic and then I found out I had a lot to learn! I hope this is helpful.

And, please, let me know if you have some tips or remedies for yeast overgrowth that I didn't mention here. I am still relying on Diflucan at the moment and still unable to eat any sugar (plus my son is constantly battling yeast overgrowth), so any information is greatly appreciated!

* P.S. Please see my later post on Timing of Supplements as to when to take the anti-yeast supplements and probiotics. I had it all messed up at first!

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Invisible Illness

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. We spent most of last week in my hometown, Rochester, NY, visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As you can imagine, it was exhausting, but I did enjoy seeing everyone. It took us 11 hours on the road to get there Wednesday (with a stop at the Lyme doctor who is sort of but not exactly on the way), then there was a BIG family gathering each day with a different branch of the family. Then, an 8-hour drive home on Sunday (most restful part of the weekend!)

Anyway, I managed OK while we were gone by resting a lot at my dad's, but I am still not doing well overall. I've been struggling with yeast overgrowth for months now. I think I am finally getting it under control (I promise a post on all the remedies I've tried when I am feeling better), but this week I have still been feeling pretty horrible, especially in the second half of each day, with sore throat and severe flu-like aches. Each afternoon and evening has been a major struggle for me, both physically and emotionally.

A couple of times this week, I have been reminded of why ME/CFS is called an Invisible Illness.

The first time was on the phone with a family member who'd been in Rochester with us. She remarked on how great my son had seemed, so full of energy that he must be doing much better. In fact, as most of you know, my son has been much worse the past six months (and this relative knows that), and I explained that on the day in question, he'd spent all morning and afternoon in bed because he felt so terrible after playing with his little cousins the night before. He was in such bad shape that morning, he was lying on the floor, until he decided to just go back to bed. But, by late afternoon, he had rested enough to be able to play football and laugh with another set of cousins...and THAT is what everyone saw. Invisible.

This week, even though I was feeling awful and knew I shouldn't, I went to my neighborhood book group Wednesday evening. I'd tried to rest as much as possible all day, but I was still not in good shape. I figured I could manage just sitting on someone's sofa for a couple of hours and talking, but I was wrong. The aches quickly deepened, my orthostatic intolerance flared up, and brain fog began to set in. After an hour, I was feeling horrible. I tried pulling my feet up on the couch and sitting cross-legged (for OI) which helped temporarily, but my symptoms continued to worsen. I was slumped way down, with my head against the back of the sofa, and began to have trouble concentrating and speaking. When I went to the bathroom, I had trouble walking normally and had to shuffle along slowly.

So, of course, I figured it must be obvious to all my friends and neighbors around me. Nope. When I mumbled that I needed to go because I was having a bad day, a close neighbor/friend who has health problems of her own was surprised: "Really?" she asked. By this point, I was ready to curl up on the ground and burst into tears, and I was stunned to realize that no one could tell. How is that even possible? Invisible.

My husband often says that no one outside of our household can possibly understand or even imagine the bizarre life that we live. People only see us when we are well enough to be out; no one but our immediate families are there to witness the days or weeks spent lying prone. It's been months since I've been well enough to manage the grocery store - my husband had to go again tonight to restock. It makes me feel lonely to realize what an isolated world we sometimes live in, that even among close friends and family members, our suffering - even when severe - is often invisible.