Dec. 2, 2014
When I first met Nicole McPherson, she was desperate—desperate for a life without the constant digestive issues that plagued her, and desperate for relief from excruciating menstrual pain each month. You see, for years Nicole had been careless with her diet. As a naturally thin person with a high metabolism, she never paid much attention to healthy eating. Although her digestion was not great, she could get by.
It wasn't that Nicole was uninformed about her body and its systems. In fact, she is a biomedical researcher with a background in clinical research. However, a busy work schedule and the day-to-day race of life distracted her from her own health, and she ignored the warning signs that her body sent her—until those signs were too severe to be pushed aside any longer.
After a trip to India, she contracted a severe stomach virus, one that took a full six months to work its way out of her system. At the same time, work stress increased and the drama of a property renovation took its toll. Nicole's body finally returned to normal after the virus—but she began to realize that "normal" was not good enough. Normal was too painful.
Nicole joined a CrossFit gym and discovered the Paleo diet and lifestyle. She understood its ancestral health background and its emphasis on whole living, so she began live by those guidelines.
"It cleared up a lot of digestive issues," she says. "As well as brain fog and tiredness and things like that. I loved Paleo—I was really on board."
However, a year after beginning her Paleo diet, Nicole began to develop other symptoms. The pain during her menstrual cycle became horrible, and her fatigue got worse. It seemed her Paleo diet was falling short.
Desperate, Nicole visited doctors, following the route of conventional medicine, but no one was able to completely resolve the symptoms that troubled her.
"I did a lot of my own kind of troubleshooting with supplements," she recalls. "I've probably spent thousands of dollars on supplements over the last couple of years, and none of those really helped."
Nicole is not alone. I see many individuals who suffer from chronic, unexplained health issues attempt to boost or improve their body's function using supplements. Occasionally they see improvement; more often, the costly purchases end up in a kind of supplement graveyard in the bathroom cabinet.
After her failed attempts to find the source of the problem, Nicole turned to Paleo-style medicine. She visited a female doctor with Paleo leanings but soon found that the doctor's foundation was still in conventional medicine. Nicole's progesterone was low, so her next stop was a gynecologist who diagnosed her with PCOS and recommended surgery and a topical cream to boost progesterone. However, the benefits of the cream disappeared after just two months of use. She felt like she was right back where she started.
One day, Nicole happened to hear me speak on a Robb Wolf podcast, and she thought, "I have to get in touch with this guy. He seems to get it."
The first test that I recommended was a 4-point saliva test. Nicole had just 16 points of cortisol for the day—a drastically low count. Ideally, she should have double that amount.
"At this point, I just could not get out of bed in the morning," Nicole remembers. "My boyfriend would say, 'Let's go get coffee and breakfast,' and I just did not want to get up. I couldn't even cope with going to the gym, even if it was just for a light workout."
The feeling of being dragged down, of lacking energy to the point where moving seems like an overwhelming task, affects many people. This feeling points to a cortisol problem, as well as to an issue with the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
Nicole had been supplementing with a topical progesterone cream before we met, and interestingly, the numbers on the lab work were normal whilst she continued to suffer the symptoms of low progesterone. My theory is that topical creams supersaturate into the subcutaneous fat and eventually lead to the downregulation of internal production and sensitivity.
Organic acid testing of her urine found several problems, though, most of which could be easily resolved with targeted supplementation. With a little guidance from me, Nicole found supplements that matched her unique needs.
The test revealed that her body required supplemental L-carnitine, a micronutrient essential for fat burning. Low levels can affect body composition and energy levels. Three markers in Nicole's Organix profile indicated a need for additional CoQ10, an enzyme vital to energy production. A look at her methylation revealed insufficient folate.
Organic acids testing is an amazing tool for pinpointing the root cause of chronic health complaints like Nicole’s. More often than not the result shows small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) which causes malabsorption and an uncomfortable bloated sensation after the afflicted person consumes carbohydrates.
The Paleo diet, the testing, and the supplements were all key factors in her recovery. But for Nicole, the most important test was the stool antigen test.
A stool antigen test checks for antigens, which are pathogenic organisms, bacteria, or parasites residing within a person's bowels. Nicole had Blastocystis hominis, a smoldering gut infection contributing to her fatigue and joint pain.
Once I discovered the infection, I suggested that Nicole combat the bug using artemisia, a broad-spectrum antiparasitic and oregano oil.
Nicole began checking her blood glucose levels consistently. Although she started with high numbers, the levels are gradually dropping with the use of the supplements and the pursuit of proper diet and exercise. It is normal for blood glucose to be slow in returning to recommended levels, and the damage done by years of unhealthy eating and overindulgence in carbs and sugars and it does not happen overnight.
Busy people must find an exercise schedule and style that is effective without adding yet another source of stress to their lives. A little strength training, a daily swim, a fun dance class, a walk, or some light aerobic exercise can be a good start. Some people need a flexible type of exercise that they can do wherever they are, while others benefit from a structured class that forces them to take a break and focus on improving their bodies.
Guided meditation played a major part in Nicole's recovery. "I love Headspace. I discovered it a year ago and it took me a while to get used to it; but now I use it pretty much every day for at least 15 minutes." Headspace provides regular meditations, guided sessions, or SOS sessions for particularly stressful days. These sessions build emotional resilience so that users can better handle the negative experiences and the drama of everyday life.
A few weeks after her results came back, Nicole had her new supplements on hand. With a targeted plan based on thorough testing and a fresh commitment to her Paleo diet, she renewed her pursuit of better health. Soon, her energy and digestion improved, making her feel like a new person.
"I'm three weeks into the parasite treatment and I've totally noticed a difference with my digestion," says Nicole. "It's a lot better, and I never realized how bad it was before."
After her 60-day program, Nicole will go through the retesting process to ensure that the infection is gone and that all her levels have returned to the acceptable range. "I went so long without testing," she says. "It's really powerful to have a complete picture of what's wrong with you. And it's so nice to know that you're not going crazy and that there is a reason why you aren't feeling great." With testing, meditation therapy, and targeted treatment, Nicole is well on her way to a new, more pleasant, and much healthier normal.
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