Health: The Journey of a Lifetime, A Story in Four Parts

This is the third of a four-part blog post, describing my own health journey.

I’d always had my own health bugaboo—migraines. In 2005, a friend suggested eliminating gluten from my diet and then adding it back to see whether it helped. I’d already shifted to sprouted-grain bread. But going off gluten altogether made a difference in the severity and frequency of the headaches.

Around this same time, I did lots of cod liver oil and butter oil (which is made from the cream of pastured cows eating fast-growing grass in the spring and fall). I began eating liver. I made my own stocks—from whole chickens with chicken feet and heads (when I could get them) and from marrow bones for beef stock. I stopped drinking orange juice and began eating oranges when they were in-season in Florida.

A nutritionist suggested eliminating coffee and also suggested a licorice extract to support the adrenal glands. An interesting thing about this latter suggestion—and one that I keep in mind when working with herbs and clients—is that it’s easy to overdo something like an extract. I was not keeping to the exact recommended dose; I was taking a little more than I should have because I never measured out precisely the amount to take. The next time I went for an annual physical, I had lost about 10 pounds (which could have been from going off gluten) and seemed to be treading into hyperthyroid territory. The nurse practitioner referred me to an endocrinologist.

But the endocrinologist completely ignored the information I gave him about my dietary changes. It was as if he’d never studied the effects food has on a person. “Oh, you’re a writer,” he said, glancing at my notes before setting them aside. I didn’t go back to him. I stopped taking the licorice and at the next physical, the test was “normal.”

(Side note: Thyroid tests are notoriously useless; even MD’s have said as much. A person can be within the parameters of what is considered normal on the test and still not be well, or have a borderline condition in which they are producing too much or too little thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is simply an indicator that something else is amiss.)

For a long time, I was fairly obsessed with what I would and would not eat. In time, I have mellowed. There are still things I will not eat and things I will not eat much of when I’m visiting people (e.g., meat from a warehouse club when I’m visiting family…some of it has been marinated and it’s really more the possibility of ingesting MSG that concerns me than the meat itself, though that, too, is a concern, given where it’s coming from. It ain’t grassfed, baby!) I am more particular about meats and eggs and how the animals were treated than I am about whether every fruit I get from local farmers was or was not sprayed.

Maybe the best couple of steps I’ve taken to enhance my health in recent years were leaving a job that required a two-hour commute—longer when there was traffic—and throwing off the habit of daily news watching. Ironically, that happened around the time of the debate of the Affordable Care Act. My frustration level rose and rose because no one got at the underlying issue: health. I do not feel any less knowledgeable; the news may change from day to day, but much of human behavior and human nature stays the same.

This withdrawal from a daily news habit kind of coincided with my interest in plant medicine. So even though I gave up a daily commute, I still commuted once a week to Charlottesville for herb school (I feel lucky that I was going against all the northbound I-95 traffic coming into D.C. and Northern Virginia). I have seen changes in myself and in others who take tinctures or make infusions of herbs.

There is something otherworldly about the ability of most plants—especially our common weeds—to support our overall well being. This should come as no surprise. Plants have been around a heck of a lot longer than we have and they have witnessed changes on Earth—changes that affected their own evolution, so why would they not be able to help us with ours?

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