Monday, February 24, 2014

Movie Monday 2/24

We had a busy week last week, but the good news is that everyone is doing pretty well health-wise! My time has still been filled with medical related to-dos, but I do hope to find time to write here this week and bring you up to date on our crazy dietary adventures and other topics.

Meanwhile, it is Movie Monday!

We only had time for one movie this week. On Friday, after a long week, we rented Red 2 with our 16-year old son. He'd already seen this one with his friends at the theater, but he's been wanting to share it with us for a long time. He is a huge fan of the original movie, Red, and we enjoyed it, too. If you missed that one, it was a gem - an action movie with a great sense of humor and an all-star cast, about a group of retired government assassins whom are targeted by the CIA because they know too much. Red 2 is the sequel, with a few of the original cast members (John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, and Helen Mirrin) who are once again pulled out of retirement...this time to both save themselves and the world. It was good but not as good as the original. There is still plenty of action - LOTS of shooting and fighting - and a sense of humor, but it just wasn't quite as entertaining as the first one. We enjoyed it - it was good for a bit of fun Friday night fluff - it just wasn't excellent. Best for action buffs or fans of its all-star cast (this one also included Catherine Zeta Jones, Mary-Louise Parker, and Anthony Hopkins, who, as always, plays insane perfectly).

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Movie Monday 2/17

Finally - I have a little time to write a Movie Monday post!

We've seen a few movies the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, with both sons at home (and lots of snow days) and my husband out of town, the boys and I indulged in two 80's/90's classics, both featuring Robin Williams, a favorite of my sons (and mine!)

First, the boys and I watched Good Morning, Vietnam. If you've never seen this classic about the Vietnam War, it is well worth the time! Robin Williams stars as a radio disc jockey assigned to the military's Saigon radio station in 1965. He's a total cut-up (a perfect time for plenty of Williams' free-form zany improv), but as he begins to settle in and gets to know both the locals and the young Americans being sent into the jungles to fight, things take a more serious turn. Both boys liked it, though I don't think they expected its serious side. It's a warm, touching, and very funny film.

In our Robin Williams' double-feature week, we also watched Good Will Hunting, another classic that they'd never seen. This is another one to go back and watch if you never have or an excellent movie to revisit after about 15 years, as I did. It was the movie that propelled both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to stardom (my sons loved that backstory - how Ben and Matt in real life were best friends from South Boston who wrote this movie, sold it to Hollywood, starred in it, and have been ever-rising stars ever since). In the movie, they play two best friends from "Southie" (South Boston, a blue collar area). Matt's character is brilliant but gets into a lot of fights, frequently gets arrested, and works menial jobs. At one of those jobs, as a janitor at MIT, he solves an unsolvable math problem left on a blackboard and draws unwanted attention to himself. After yet another arrest, he is teamed up with an MIT math professor and must go to court-ordered therapy with the math professor's old friend, played by none other than Robin Williams. This is a more serious role for Williams, without his usual manic energy and improv; it's a wonderful movie overall. Both of my sons enjoyed it, and I was glad to have watched it again.

Fast-forward to a totally different environment this weekend, with our older son back to college, our younger son on a school-sponsored ski trip, and my husband and I alone - a truly rare occurrence! We treated ourselves two 2 newly released DVD rentals that we have really been wanting to see:

Friday night, we watched Ender's Game, a movie we had hoped to see in the theater but missed (as usual). Ender's Game is a favorite book at our house, one that my husband lent to me more than 25 years ago when we were first dating and that our older son read a few years ago and loved also (he did get to see the movie at the theater when it came out!). It's a classic science fiction story (originally published as an adult novel but more recently marketed as YA) about a young boy named Ender who is recruited by the military to attend a special battle training school in space. Earth was previously attacked by an alien species, the Formics, and narrowly defeated them. This time, Earth's leadership has a new strategy: to train young kids/teens in the latest battle technology, building on their superior dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and other skills honed by playing video games. It is an amazing, thought-provoking book about the morality of war, and the movie adaptation was very well-done. We both enjoyed it very much. I hope they make movies of the rest of the series (which we both read decades ago)! (NOTE: This is a movie about war, but most of the violence is high-tech video game-type stuff).

And on Saturday night, Ken and I watched another movie that our oldest son had seen with his friends at college and recommended to us, Captain Phillips. This is the movie based on the real-life story of Captain Phillips, a commercial cargo ship captain whose ship was boarded by Somalian pirates. Wow. It is a compelling and engaging story, with suspense and tension right from the first scene to the last. Tom Hanks does a fabulous job as the captain, as does his counterpart, the Somalian "captain" of the pirate crew who are being forced to hijack ships by a powerful warlord in their country. The movie shows you their perspective and the lack of choices the Somalians have, but your sympathy remains with Captain Phillips and his crew. Interestingly, I read that none of the Somalians starring in this movie were professional actors - they were all recruited from among real Somalian citizens...and they all did an amazing job with their roles. It's an excellent movie, but be prepared for plenty of tension.

So, we've watched some really great movies the past two weeks, both old and new. Have you seen any good movies lately?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Extreme Yeast Battles & Timing of Supplements

I wrote previously here about our - both my older son and I - recent battles with yeast overgrowth. I am doing much better now, as I mentioned in my recent post on our sugar-free diet, but my son, who has been on antibiotics for over 3 years (so far) for Lyme disease, is still in terrible shape. Through the whole 2-month long winter break, he has been mostly incapacitated - totally exhausted, no energy, severe cognitive problems, and increased Lyme symptoms (herx reaction). We tried a lot of things, as indicated on my yeast post, but nothing was helping. In fact, we stopped all antibiotcs - both prescription and herbals - last week, and he still kept getting worse. He is supposed to move back to campus tomorrow for the spring semester, but that seems impossible at the moment.

So, this morning, we consulted again with a biochemist/registered dietician whom had helped our son before - in fact, she helped him improve enough to start college last fall. She has a Master's degree in biochemistry and is unbelievably smart when it comes to all these complex biochemical processes - methylation, infections, immune disorders, mitochondrial dysfunction - all that big mess of interacting stuff that we with ME/CFS and Lyme disease deal with every day.

We learned a lot today, as we always do when we meet with her, including some things for the yeast overgrowth that I've been doing wrong. A lot of it has to do with WHEN he takes certain meds and supplements - I had that all messed up! Here's a summary of what we learned about timing:
  • I knew to separate probiotics from antibiotics by at least 2-3 hours. We take probiotics before breakfast and before dinner and antibiotics (both herbal and prescription) at lunch and at bedtime.
  • Caprylic acid, Grapefruit seed extract, Pau D'Arco (all common ingredients in anti-yeast supplements) also have antibiotic properties and also must be taken well away from probiotics. We have been taking all of these along with our probiotics, effectively killing off the good bacteria before it has a chance to do any good! These will all move into the lunchtime meds box.
  • Activated Charcoal (important for detox, especially in people with Lyme and other infections experiencing herx reactions) acts like a sponge, absorbing whatever it comes across. I was also putting this into the same medicine boxes with the probiotics and the anti-yeast stuff, further rendering his probiotics useless! She suggested he take 2 charcoal supplements an hour or two after eating lunch (and taking lunchtime meds).
  • Chlorella - also intended to help with detox - is similar to the charcoal, so I switched it to the same 1-2 hours after lunch, plus more with dinner meds.
  • She also recommended taking most of the energy support supplements with breakfast and lunch, early in the day when he will get the most use out of them. This includes cognitive support, magnesium, acetyl-L-carnitine, and CoQ10.
  • She suggested grouping all of the fat-soluble meds together at dinnertime, along with the omega-3 fatty acids (we use krill oil capsules), so multi-vitamins (one at breakfast and one at dinner), vitamin D3 (we were taking them multiple times a day - now they are all in the dinner meds).
  • We also switched all the milk thistle into the dinnertime meds (they also help with detox and with liver function).
I spent all day today figuring this out and re-doing his weekly medicine boxes (and changing some of mine, too).

To help our son get "unstuck" and past this horrible incapacitated state he has been in, she also suggested some drastic changes for this coming week:
  • Super-strict anti-yeast diet: no sugar, no grains at all, no fruit except for 1 pear a day, no beans (a tough one for us - we eat a lot of beans!), only certain veggies (no starchy veggies, corn, or peas), and no legumes or nuts. Yeah, that doesn't leave much! Especially for a 19-year old boy who normally eats lots of whole grains, bread, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, and peanut butter. He will basically just live on eggs, meat, pears, and certain veggies this week. He is seriously upset about this, BUT willing to try anything to feel better at this point. The idea is to remove anything that could promote yeast growth and eat a super-clean diet for a brief period of time to make a fresh start.
  • Keep up homemade lemonade for additional detox support (fresh lemon juice, water, bit of stevia, and electrolyte drops for sodium and potassium for OI) - 32 oz per day, which we've been doing all winter break.
  • Also, for this next week, stop everything that is antimicrobial (all the yeast supplements listed above, oregano, olive leaf, and antibiotics.
  • And, for this next week, eliminate supplements that support sulfur production (alpha lipoic acid and N-acetyl cysteine are the two she mentioned that he normally takes).
  • We're leaving in the 1 Diflucan a day, and if he's feeling better by the end of the week, we will add all the anti-yeast stuff back in (at lunch), switch to an alternating "cocktail" of prescription antifungals, and very gradually add the antibiotics back in, as he can tolerate them.
That's the short-term plan. Once we get the yeast overgrowth under control, then we will focus once again on methylation because it is clear from the way he is reacting to antibiotics that his methylation process is once again severely messed up.

It's a lot to absorb and a lot of changes to make at once, but we are hoping this will all help him get back on his feet. I only wish I'd contacted the biochemist back on January 1 for her advice, so we could have done all of this while he was living at home - the super-strict diet will be very tough to maintain on campus. I also feel like I wasted a couple of months (plus a lot of money!) by taking all those supplements at the wrong time of day. But regret does no good for either of us...moving forward and hoping for better days ahead!

NOTE: This super-strict diet was recommended specifically for my son and his individual health problems which include not only CFS and yeast overgrowth but also Lyme disease, bartonella, and babesia plus very severe methylation problems.

I am not recommending this diet for anyone else but was only sharing my son's experiences and what we are trying for him. Any changes to diet or supplements should be discussed with your own doctor.

For those interested in just a basic anti-yeast diet, this Candida Diet website has some great information.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Sugar-Free Life

As I explained here recently, my 19-year old son and I have both been battling yeast overgrowth. For me, it's a matter of past treatment for Lyme (finished 2 years ago!) still affecting me; for him, he has been on antibiotics (for Lyme, bartonella, and babesia) for over three years now and is no where near finished. As you can see from that earlier post, we have tried a wide variety of remedies. I was already on a sugar-free diet, but it was a hard sell for a 19-year old college boy! He felt so bad, though, that by January 1, he was ready to give it a try. Here are some of the challenges and successes we have encountered in going sugar-free.

I knew when we started out that Stevia was our substitute of choice. A recent study showed that it is actually effective in killing off Lyme bacteria in its biofilm form (I would link to the study, but they've removed the summary until it is officially published). This is huge news! So, Stevia is a two-for-one deal for my son: not only a natural sugar substitute but also helps against Lyme. However, I discovered it's not that simple.

Commercial sugar-free products rarely contain Stevia. So, not being picky about which substitutes were used (since we don't buy or eat many commercial sugar-free products anyway), I found a sugar-free brownie mix at the grocery store that is actually pretty good - even my husband and younger son didn't mind it. Having brownies greatly reduced my son's feelings of deprivation! Our store only had one brand of sugar-free cookies, and they were OK, but my son thought they weren't good enough to bother with.

I was eager to try some sugar-free baking, but I quickly learned that you can't just leave out ALL the sugar in baked sweets, like cookies or brownies (my son's favorites). Sugar adds more than sweetness - it affects volume (substitutes like Stevia tend to be far sweeter than sugar and require much less to sweeten), browning, and texture. It's chemical reaction, and you can't just leave the sugar out. I have tried! I did find one website with mostly sugar-free cookie recipes (the author uses a tiny bit of brown sugar plus Stevia). We tried the chocolate cookies, and they were OK but not great. The texture isn't quite cookie-like; they are very crumbly (I might try adding a couple of egg whites next time as binder and extra liquid). My son actually gobbled them up - he was so desperate for cookies! But I found the bitter aftertaste of the Stevia a bit off-putting. A friend of mine recently told me she bakes sugar-free using unsweetened applesauce (they have hypoglycemia problems) - I'm not sure how the yeast would react to the fructose in the applesauce but might try that.

My son's #1 priority was ice cream, his favorite sweet treat. We quickly learned that all sugar-free ice creams at the grocery store contain sorbitol, a sugar substitute that is fine for some people, but some - like my son and I - have rather severe GI responses to it! Our first bowls of sugar-free ice cream sent us both racing for the bathroom. Even my son isn't willing to put up with that for ice cream. We were very fortunate to discover that our local dairy (that makes the BEST ice cream in the world!) makes a sugar-free ice cream with no sorbitol. They are normally closed during the winter, but I sent them a desperate e-mail message, got a very kind, quick response, and made arrangements to stop by their office (in the middle of a snowstorm!) to pick up 3 quarts of sugar-free vanilla. With that on hand, my son can have brownies with ice cream (his favorite), a root-beer float made with diet root beer (again, we don't drink enough diet pop to worry about it), and even crumbled sugar-free peanut butter cups with ice cream (his own invention). He is much happier.

The sugar-free chocolate category is another where we've been successful. Both Reese's and Weight Watchers make sugar-free peanut butter cups (my son's favorite), and they are both excellent. Whitman's makes lots of sugar-free chocolates, but they are mostly milk chocolate (which brings us back to the GI problems again, since we are both lactose-intolerant). Besides, I greatly prefer dark chocolate. Normally, that's all I eat in the chocolate department: super-dark, pure (no milk products) chocolate. Whitman's Pecan Clusters aren't too bad, their mint patties (dark chocolate!) are good, though I prefer my chocolate straight-up, without fillings. I found the Whitman's chocolate-covered caramels had too much of an aftertaste. My favorite is Weight Watchers Double Chocolate Mousse - sugar-free, dark chocolate, and quite yummy! I found them at our grocery store (though it took some searching).

It was difficult for us both to give up fruit and I have since learned that our bodies react differently to fructose than other forms of sugar, so we are both now having about one serving of fresh fruit a day. Alas, I could not get my son to give up his morning OJ - it was the one thing he refused to do. I tried Prop 50, a reduced-sugar brand that uses Stevia, but he didn't like that. So, I've at least cut him down to just a half cup of OJ in the morning. Our other compromise is Sunday morning pancakes, a long-held tradition in our family. I do make our pancakes with whole wheat flour and Stevia (though the buttermilk has some natural sugar in it), but in our house, we have always used real maple syrup, so he still has that on Sundays.

After being off abx (I had to take them twice in the fall for bronchitis) a while plus taking Diflucan, I am feeling much better. I am sticking to the mostly sugar-free diet because this last bout of yeast overgrowth was really bad, and I don't want to backslide, but I am cautiously adding in a bit of fruit and on occasional square of real dark chocolate (not much sugar in it anyway).

So, that's been our experience with eating sugar-free so far - the ups and downs! If anyone has any advice to offer, especially on baking sugar-free, I would love to hear it. What has worked for you?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

WEGO Health Activist Award Nomination

I was very honored to hear last month that this blog had been nominated for a WEGO Health Activist Best in Show Award! Unfortunately, between my own challenges and my sons' medical problems, I haven't had time to even tell anyone about it until now.

Anyway, the award nominations are open for voting now, so if you have found my blog useful, you can vote for me at this link.

And thank you for eight years of kindness, encouragement, and support!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Movie Monday 2/3

Another very busy, somewhat overwhelming week. Son #1 is still home from college for winter break - had a few good days last week and then crashed badly again. Son #2 was home for a few more days recovering from his recent knee surgery, then returned to school - he is doing great! We needed a win.

Anyway, before the flurry of Superbowl excitement (and actually flurries today), we took some time out on Saturday night to enjoy a DVD together:

We watched True Lies, a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 1994. My husband had seen it before and thought the kids would like it - he pitched it as an action movie with plenty of humor. He was right, and it was entertaining. The big man plays a spy in a top-secret government agency (their motto is "The Last Line of Defense"), but his wife, played wonderfully by Jamie Lee Curtis, thinks he is a boring salesman. Curtis' character is the classic ugly-duckling housewife - conservative hairdo, big glasses, staid outfits. She works as a legal secretary while her husband is off saving the world in secret. Of course, it all blows up (figuratively and literally) in farcical ways! There was a lot of gunfire, plus car chases and explosions, but the film is a lot of fun. The kids enjoyed all the action, and we all enjoyed the humor.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Saturday, February 01, 2014

I Used to Have a Social Life...

I went to a party last night! Nothing super-exciting, just a retirement party for colleagues that my husband was hosting for two friends from his group who are retiring. There are five people total in his group retiring in the past two months, so there have been a lot of these! I have missed all the others, but since my husband was hosting this one and I knew both guys, I made an effort to go and rested all day in preparation.

Even though it was my husband's work colleagues in an office lobby, I had fun! It felt sooo good to get dressed nicely and get out of the house and among normal people. I even polished my nails yesterday (a rare treat and a gorgeous deep blue) and put on make-up! I felt like a real live girl.

I am naturally a very social person, and I had forgotten how much I enjoy just being out among people, talking. I miss that kind of lively, regular interaction. I was healthy until age 37, and I used to be very busy socially. I was kind of a wild party girl in my teens and twenties and loved parties.

Thankfully, I sowed plenty of wild oats back then, so it's not so bad living a quiet life now. I lived in New Orleans when I first got out of college, back when I could easily stay out all night and then go to breakfast in the morning! And after we moved up here to Delaware, my husband and I loved to throw parties. Any excuse would do - we had dinner parties, hosted family holidays, New Year's Eve parties, etc. Our annual Mardi Gras party grew into the highlight of the year for friends - before I got sick, we'd have 50 or 60 people there each year! Now, we can only invite 10 or 12 of our closest friends, and even that is a huge undertaking for me...and pretty much the only party we host all year.

So something as mundane as the office party last night felt like a big deal!

Still, even though I was glad to be there, all the usual challenges persisted. First, of course, is simply that just about everyone else was drinking. That doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore, though I do miss having a flavorful beer or a glass of wine. I just chug down my water.

Then there are the many dangers of the buffet table. It was bad enough just being dairy-free (do you know how many typical party foods contain cheese, sour cream, or cream cheese? Pretty much all of them!). Now, with these yeast problems, I am also no-sugar, so that was an added challenge last night. I realized that almost all dipping sauces contain sugar - I looked down the row - BBQ sauce, honey mustard, cocktail sauce...guess I'll eat my chicken tenders plain! Thankfully, there were some delicious mini crab cakes and guacamole and tortilla chips, two favorites of mine.

The most challenging part of going to a party, though, is that everyone is standing up the whole time, even if there are chairs around. I walked in last night, and that's the first thing I noticed (with a silent uh-oh in my head) - dozens of people all standing and chatting and no chairs. I found a folding chair that I sat in much of the time, but that creates other problems. You can't circulate around to talk to people if you are sitting, and it's not much fun to sit alone in the corner. Some people that I knew did seek me out in my chair, but then you have the awkward situation with everyone else standing and you sitting, at eye level with their belt buckles (and worse!). It doesn't help that I am short to begin with.

At one point, I threw caution to the wind and walked over to talk to a few people I knew. I was enjoying the conversation, but within a few minutes I started to feel lightheaded and sick. The beta blockers help considerably by keeping my heart rate in the normal range, but I could still feel the blood pooling in my legs. I started the classic OI routine - moving my legs around, flexing my toes, moving from one leg to the other, trying to keep the blood circulating - but then I probably looked like I had to use the bathroom! I told my husband, I had a strange moment of looking around at the rest of the crowd in awe, thinking, "How on earth do they just stand around like this for hours?"

But, like I said, I did enjoy myself. It was nice to get out and break up the old routine for one evening, and I enjoyed catching up with people I hadn't seen in many years. I managed to stay from 5:30 until almost 8:30 (it helped that everyone sat down in a conference room for the last hour, while they feted the new retirees). I had fun, but the main emotion I felt as I sat down in my car to drive home was relief! It was so lovely to get home, make a cup of herbal tea, and take my usual evening place, lying on the couch....ahhhh!

The only problem is that even though I can't drink alcohol, I woke up this morning feeling hung-over! I will definitely need to take it easy the rest of this weekend, but it was nice to be reminded of my old self.