The sinus headaches went away, but all of a sudden I was breaking out in hives and itching so badly I was scratching myself raw. I went to the doctor and he told me I would have to switch everything to fragrance free and do an elimination diet to try and figure out the culprit.
Well, I did this... sort of. I really didn't want to give up coffee though. But soon I realized that every time I touched coffee I broke out in hives. Well, isn't that FABULOUS. So I stopped drinking coffee. Yet, I still had a few issues and we are working on those still. The interesting part was... my blood results.
The doctor thought perhaps I had an autoimmune disease. But those tests all came back normal. The only thing that made my doctor pause was my iron levels. They were high. He almost let it go, but as we were talking he decided to just order a few more tests, just in case.
Well, good thing he did.
We found out that I have a genetic blood disorder called hemochromatosis. I know, hemo...what? Basically I store more iron than most people. Over most of your life no one will notice it. It isn't until you are about my age that it moves into the high range. I have just been storing extra iron every year and it eventually added up until it was reaching dangerous. By dangerous I mean cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, diabetes... and so on. Don't worry. My levels aren't that bad, yet. All the iron is trying on my organs and makes things very difficult. I am more susceptible to food poisoning and it will likely be severe.
So, I have been given a list of foods I cannot eat. Don't feel too sorry for me, yet. Mostly they are the organs of any animal, green leafy vegetables like spinach, and prune juice. There is more, but you get the idea. Poor me, huh? What no kale? I can never have a meal of liver with a side of kale and some prune juice?? Oh yeah, no cooking in a cast iron. I have to avoid high levels of vitamin C and the worst... alcohol. I can have an occasional glass of wine, I guess, but really I would rather not get cirrhosis of the liver.
I was also told that I could basically eat chicken. Just chicken. Avoid beef, bacon, etc. So that got me thinking... Why? I started looking into iron absorption and all that jazz. All iron from animal sources are more easily absorbed by the body. Plant based iron not so much. I also learned that it is better to have your iron on the lower side of normal.... not low, of course, but on the lower side, because it is easier on your organs.
I was faced with a life of eating dry chicken breast and I was not happy. I realized that I would much rather not eat meat at all, especially since it seemed that was the best way for me to go since the iron sources would be easier on my body.
It as also shortly before all this that I had noticed something very odd going on. I have been gluten free for nearly 6 years. I would get violently ill every time I so much as looked at a piece of bread. But I had not had one flare up in over a year. I mean being gluten free is not always full proof. Things happen and it will cross your path when you least expect it. So I started taking the wheat communion at mass. Nothing. And then I thought... I am going to go for it. I am going to eat a piece of bread!
And I did.
And I didn't get sick.
Nothing. Not even a tummy pang or a brain fog.
It was beautiful and I gained like 10 pounds. It was worth it... well, maybe.
So here I am with this whole new avenue of food open to me. Foods I have not been able to eat for over half a decade. And then BOOM. You can eat chicken.
Since all this happened I have been researching plant based foods and have transitioned to a vegan diet. You see, I found out that the Paleo diet was the worst thing I could have been eating. All that meat was playing havoc with my iron levels.
To top all this off we had also found out that my husband had hypertension. It was time to make a change.
The transition has not been as hard as I thought it would be. I actually feel like I have a lot more options open to me and more interesting food! We are still working out the kinks, of course, but I am feeling so much better. Everything has lightened and become so much more enjoyable. My depression and anxiety are gone, I have more energy (and considering I can't have coffee anymore that is huge), and I actually think we might save money every month on our food bill!
Hemochromatosis is not curable. It is something I will live with the rest of my life. Eventually, when my levels get too high, I will have to give blood. Yes, that is right. Blood letting. I am picturing myself laying in bed in a frilly 19th century nightgown with a bowl beneath my arm as a doctor stands over me with a knife. Or perhaps I will just get some pet leeches. But there are steps I can take right now to make my life a better one and that will be a vegan diet.