Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Causes vs. Treatments

Recently I was telling someone the story of how I figured out (slowly) which foods make me sick. When I talked to doctors about the problems I was having (i.e., feeling terrible every time I ate), I found it odd that none of them suggested possible causes. Instead, they suggested possible treatments (almost invariably the suggested treatment was "eat more fiber," the standard recommendation if you have irritable bowel syndrome).

A year or so ago, [redacted] thought he had restless leg syndrome. He talked to a psychiatrist about the symptoms (insomnia coupled with an urge to move or kick his legs when he'd lie down in bed) and the doctor said yes, that sounds like restless leg syndrome and prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for it, to be taken before bedtime. It helped but only somewhat. [Redacted] had noticed that the RLS cropped up around the same time that he had started running, and thought they might be somehow connected. Eventually it dawned on him that it wasn't the running itself, but the fact that he used an inhaler before he ran (since running aggravates his asthma). Inhalers contain stimulants. He stopped hitting the inhaler, and the RLS went away.

"Restless leg syndrome" turned out to be the equivalent of my IBS "diagnosis." Be wary of diagnoses that include the word "syndrome." Your nebulous syndrome may have a direct cause.


  1. ew i've been diagnosed with IBS. but all they said to me was take prevacid, although it's not at all related to the upper part of the GI. no real suggestions or insight into how i could feel better...i basically diagnosed myself with gluten intolerance (i'm neg for celiac) and that made me so angry, because i spent time going to the gastroenterologist, sitting there, waiting, paying the out-of-pocket fees...

  2. That was my exact experience. So bullshitty. If someone is having digestive problems, seems to me STEP ONE should be doing an elimination diet or at least keeping a food journal. Fancy GI docs did not suggest that at all.

  3. I used to have IBS myself, for more than a decade it went away when I stopped eating out at very much except at much much better places. Recently heard that they found probiotics to be as good and effective for anti anxiety use as valium (still in experimental phases). The digestive system is like a small brain, connected to the larger one through the vagus nerve. In my experience, IBS is also connected to anxiety, manifesting itself physically, but I also have found certain foods can treat mood and anxiety as much or better than medicines, and certain foods will aggravate anxiety and the digestion also.

  4. It's no panacea, but but I think starting with diet is an absolutely smart thing to do. Everyone's familiar with the adage "You are what you eat," but I watched this documentary _Forks Over Knives_ recently, and found it incredibly persuasive.

    Elisa, your distinction between causes and treatments made me think of the documentary, because that's the question that kinds of gets the ball rolling.

    They've found that changing diet can not only treat the symptoms of various diseases (heart, cancer, etc.) but can also actually reverse the effects of the disease itself.

  5. We just watched Forks Over Knives last night on Netflix. I'm obsessed with food/source/consumption/economy documentaries lately.

    E, I hope things get more comfortable for you! <3

  6. M and B, I will look for that documentary. I've read that when primitive, pre-industrial cultures adopt Western diets, they start developing diabetes and high blood pressure, etc., really quickly, and if they revert to their former diet, they can reverse the effects and the onset of disease.