It’s that time again…when I give you my wellness project-style year in review!
Until rereading last year’s recap, I had nearly forgotten the mindset with which I entered 2019. I had just gotten back a comprehensive stool test (the kind we talk about in this podcast episode) and it uncovered all sorts of bad actors. The lions and tigers and bears of intestinal foes.
I began the year thinking the following twelve months would be spent slowly tackling each of them one by one with medication and supplements. But as I began to despair about the long road ahead, I also thought that perhaps there was an easier way, albeit a grosser way, to turn my microbiome right side up again: a stool transplant.
SIBO Made Simple, my podcast (and forth coming book) pretty much dominated my year professionally. And with it was a constant stream of medical opinions and new ideas. When I did an interview on FMT (fecal microbial transplants), it sounded like a perfect solution—not a brown, but a silver bullet. I had even begun surveying friends to see who would be my best option for strong, diverse donor poop!
That rabbit hole led me to a new practitioner who ran a donor bank in Portland, Oregon. So I decided to see her as a patient while I was out west for a SIBO conference. She put my mind at ease about what my stool test had uncovered and suggested that instead of going on another killing spree I find other ways to quiet my immune system and begin encouraging a better ecosystem.
The method for doing so was not FMT, as I had imagined it would be. Rather, she suggested another experimental therapy that I knew very little about and would become a behind the scenes focus for me throughout the second half of the year.
I’ll give you the full details below along with four other practices/therapies that I incorporated into my health picture to move the needle on my thyroid antibodies, gut health and general inflammation in 2019.
As I mentioned in last year’s post, my thyroid antibodies have been the number that’s plagued me since all these wellness experiments began. Despite everything I’ve changed about my life and all the detoxing in the process, they’ve remained inexplicably high.
I was relieved to listen to a podcast episode with Dr. Michael Ruscio who said that he thinks anything below 500 is a clinical win. And yet, I’ve only dipped below that number a few times in the past 5 years.
Every time I uncover an issue with my health—the SIBO, the parasites—I think I’ve found the missing link. The one thing I can fix to make my body stop attacking itself. But each time I tackle one successfully, the antibodies persist.
As I learned this year from chatting with several practitioners on the podcast, it’s possible that after years of suffering from systemic inflammation that my immune system no longer knows how to turn off. Removing bad actors may help there be fewer things to attack, but there needs to be a larger scale retooling to get my immune system to stop attacking indiscriminately in the first place.
Enter Helminth therapy.
The idea is to re-introduce certain types of worms into your system. The first scientific papers on this concept—that worms may help with allergies and other inflammatory responses—emerged in the 1970’s. More recently, the journalist Moises Velasquez-Manoff published a book in which he chronicles his experience traveling to Mexico to obtain hookworms for treating his autoimmune disease.
My practitioner mentioned that she had worked with several Hashimoto’s patients like myself with chronically high antibodies and seen great results from introducing small doses of hookworm. She suggested, if I was game, that I could try it before FMT. Any positive changes in my immune system would only help the transplant “take” better if I still wanted to try it down the line.
I had a few reservations, of course. Mainly the ick factor. While poop was not not off-putting, at least it was a known evil. But worms traveling through my body? Creepy.
My doctor assured me though that they were microscopic and if I started small, the side effects would be minimal. Also, that I could kill them at any point with an anti-worm medication.
Long story short, I decided to give it a go. I bought crypto-currency to purchase NA hookworms on the internet (this is not FDA-sanctioned as a therapy). When I successfully obtained them, I transferred the small clear vial of liquid to a Bandaid and stuck it on the bottom of my foot. Within 24 hours, a small red dot had appeared where the worms entered and I had welcomed 4 new friends into my digestive system.
If you’re wanting to learn more about this process, I am VERY lucky to have the foremost expert on helminth therapy on the podcast this week to give you a more detailed rundown of what this process entails, the conditions it can help, and things to be careful of. I’ll also be sharing more specifics about my experience in an in-depth post in 2020.
For now, though, I’m 4-months in from the initial inoculation (in late July). At first I saw my antibodies peak, but my last blood test revealed that they had fallen to 400. Whether this is the worms or one of the other practices below, I can’t be sure. But I’m going to do a second dose in the New Year and see how it all adds up.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you know my obsession with our new sauna blanket is REAL.
Ordinarily I am pretty anti-wellness trends, and even more anti-wellness trends that are expensive. But over the last few years, Charlie and I fell in love with going to HigherDose for infrared sauna sessions in New York City. The first time I tried it was a few days before my period, and for the first time pretty much EVER, my first day of bleeding crept up on me without so much as cramp or a pimple to warn me.
I was shook in the best possible way, and decided to make an effort to go every few weeks as a way to detox heavy metals, get my lymphatic system going, and as a side perk, make my skin extra glowy. I’d like to say I was semi-consistent about it, but really it’s hard to do anything that regularly in this city.
So for Charlie’s birthday in October I decided to get him Higherdose’s new sauna blanket.
It has all the benefits of a normal infrared sauna—the detoxification, the increase in blood flow and circulation, and the lowering of cortisol levels—but in a much more compact package that you can use every day at home.
The blanket looks like a sleeping bag with a wide opening at the top so it doesn’t feel too claustrophobic. It rolls up easily, so you just wipe it down after each use and in our case, slide it under the bed. I’ve been using it 3x a week and have noticed a huge improvement in my mood, sleep, skin, and general inflammation. My face and body feel less bloated and puffy, and my pants are even fitting better.
If the worms had nothing to do with my antibody reduction (and it indeed might be too soon for that), I am absolutely convinced the sauna blanket is what moved the needle.
Intense cardio is not always the best choice if you have a hormonal imbalance or an autoimmune condition that forces you to conserve energy. And one of the reasons why I love my sauna ritual is that it allows me to sweat out all the bad stuff without any effort. I literally just sit there and catch up on my favorite podcasts or watch a movie.
Which can’t hurt on the stress front either (sunglass face emoji).
I began 2019 with a decadent trip to Paris. The vacay was a dream, and also a sign of how far my diet had come in a year post-SIBO. I was able to eat most of the things I wanted with very few (dramatic) intestinal consequences.
That was, until I returned stateside. Almost immediately my system started to have a meltdown. I was back home, back to my routines. And after a month of eating butter as a major food group, I was happy to be cooking my usual (semi-low FODMAP) comfort food and getting my ass in gear at daily pilates classes. It seemed like all of my choices were virtuous and healthy on paper—certainly more so than my wine and macaron-fueled behavior of the previous weeks—and yet, there I was every afternoon huddled in the fetal position, deep in the viscous cycle of diarrhea-constipation.
What had happened? Was the stress of being back at work throwing my whole gut off? Did I unknowingly get a parasite overseas? Or was I just one of those people with chronic SIBO that had somehow been spared a relapse for a few months?
Many people in a similar boat may have never found out the answer to that question. And I wouldn’t have either had it not been for a bodyworker that I saw for some unrelated lower back pain. What she told me was that my vagus nerve was completely compressed. All those front-body crunches thanks to my new pilates routine had thrown off my alignment in a way that was preventing my body from dipping seamlessly in and out of rest and digest mode. On top of that, I had created so much rigidity and tightness that my intestines were being impeded even further. And I’m sure post-vacation stress certainly didn’t help matters…
To dig myself out of the physical rut I’d gotten myself into on the pilates reformer, I began seeing a visceral manipulation specialist, who works the internal cavities of the body with small, gentle movements. Delia at Manual Therapy NYC had such a subtle, targeted and slight touch it sometimes felt like she was not doing anything. But within hours of that first session, I felt like a new person. The next morning, I was back to my old self from the month prior like none of the recent misery had ever happened. It felt like witchcraft.
I continued seeing Delia once a month into the spring. She was able to peel back the layers of my body in ways that no one had before. We worked on physical traumas from decades earlier—like a bad horseback riding fall that severely bruised my tailbone—things I barely remembered, but my body was still holding onto.
After I did this work, I was never the same. I could finally eat bigger quantities of FODMAP’s with impunity. I was moving through the world freer. It seemed to be the missing piece that created the new normal I had been after for over a year. I now go once every three months–or when I’m feeling off and needing a tune up.
Over the summer, I posted this IGTV video of how to use gua sha for thyroid health. It stemmed from a longer conversation I had on the podcast with my long-time healer touch point, Acu Heidi. For those wondering what the practice is all about, definitely listen to this conversation about Chinese Medicine.
As part of my daily morning and evening routine, I began using gua sha on my neck and face. It feels glorious.
Like all self-care practices, the ones you’re going to stick with are the ones that bring you equal parts joy and healing. Gua sha (and the sauna) were two of the biggest discoveries for me this year that I genuinely love.
I use the wildling beauty tool created by Britta Plug, who is an amazing resource for techniques to depuff your face and work on fine lines. It’s a great substitute for chemical-ridden Botox. You don’t have to invest in a fancy stone tool, of course. As Heidi demonstrates in our video, if you’re just working on your neck, a simple ceramic Chinese soup spoon works!
Lastly, another area of exploration for me this year was at-home testing kits. I tried Paloma to test my thyroid numbers and Modern Fertility to see where my egg reserves stood for my age group. I loved both experiences. The third test I tried was Viome, which gives you a comprehensive overview of where your gut microbiome stands.
While most tests (including the one I wrote about for The Wellness Project book) will tell you a breakdown of how many different species you have and how the ratios stack up to other demographics, Viome’s information is even more specific and actionable.
Instead of numbers of various species, they focus on how those players are actually performing. You can have a total normal or above average amount of a certain bacteria, but if they are inert and not functioning properly, it doesn’t really matter. Viome then uses this information to give you specific food recommendations for what ingredients are your “superfoods” and which need to be minimized or avoided all together.
After a 6-month period of intensely annoying customer service snafus, I finally got my results and found them very interesting. The food list mostly lined up according to the low FODMAP diet, which perhaps shows that even though my SIBO is gone, I might be having bigger issues in my microbiome that are preventing me from metabolizing high FODMAP foods properly. And my kryptonite foods were even more interesting: corn, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, cashews and LOBSTER.
I’m going to give their diet a try (in broad strokes) and retest early next year to see if anything has shifted.
Despite these findings, my digestive system seems to be running smoothly. Perhaps it’s the worms. Perhaps the saunas. Perhaps just the peace of mind that these new practices bring.
ONWARD: 2020 Resolutions
I will keep you posted in the New Year as all of these new additions to my life continue to evolve. In the meantime, my theme for the coming year is going to be all about continuing my low waste initiatives and detoxing a few more big things from my home.
One item that’s been on the to-do list for a while is OUR MATTRESS. It’s an expensive one, but also an item that we spend more intimate time with than any other in our home. So it’s time. After doing a lot of research and asking friends for advice, I decided to go with Avocado mattress.
Their mattresses are organic, nontoxic and extremely comfortable (according to everyone I know who has one). I’ll be doing a more in-depth post on all-natural items for the home and will give you my feedback once I’ve gotten our new mattress.
Alright, that’s all from me in 2019. Stay tuned for one more healthy holiday recipe, the annual round-up of Feed Me Phoebe favorite dishes of the year, and a final podcast episode before we greet the new year!
With health and hedonism,