Christine: Pfeiffersches Drüsenfieber (Mononucleosis)

Einführungstext: Petra Müller, Initiantin von FOOD MOVEMENT
Erfahrungsbericht & Foto: Christine Syrad, Reikalein

Es freut uns sehr, euch wieder einen Erfahrungsbericht zeigen zu dürfen. Wir verdanken ihn Madlen Witzig, von der wir bereits einige schöne Rezepte für den HEALTHY FRIDAY zeigen durften. Madlen hat Christine via Sobre Mesa kennengelernt und hat Christine von FOOD MOVEMENT erzählt. Nachdem sie Christines Geschichte mit Pfeifferschem Drüsenfieber und ihrer Ernährungsumstellung erfahren hat, lag die Frage für einen Erfahrungsbericht für FOOD MOVEMENT offenbar auf der Hand – danke vielmal fürs Vermitteln, liebe Madlen!

Christine ist in Japan aufgewachsen und hat in England und Italien studiert. Deshalb ist es ihr leichter gefallen, ihren Erfahrungsbericht auf englisch zu schreiben. Ich werde den Bericht jedoch sobald wie möglich ins Deutsche übersetzen – ich halte euch auf dem Laufenden.

Ich nehme mit allen Personen Kontakt auf, die einen Erfahrungsbericht für uns schreiben. Wenn immer möglich telefonieren oder skypen wir, eher selten ist ein persönliches Treffen möglich. Aber mit Christine hat das geklappt. Da sie im Februar eine Tochter geboren hat und die Zeit mit ihrem Kind noch auskostet, war sie zeitlich flexibel genug, mich sogar bei mir zuhause in Thun zu treffen. Was für ein Luxus, vor allem aber: Was für eine Freude!

Ich habe Christine sofort ins Herz geschlossen. Sie ist eine geistreiche, gescheite, lustige Frau und coole Mutter. Während sich ihr Töchterchen auf einem Deckchen auf der Wiese in unserem Garten selbst beschäftigte (wie erfrischend, Christine ist total entspannt und das Gegenteil einer „Helikoptermutter“), konnte Christine mir ihre Krankheits-Odyssee erzählen.

Immer wieder sind wir jedoch abgeschweift, weil wir uns beide nicht nur leidenschaftlich mit Ernährung und Kochen und Essen befassen, sondern weil wir die Liebe zum Bouldern, Klettern und draussen sein teilen. Das war uns beiden noch nie passiert, dass wir jemanden kennenlernen, der sich ebenfalls in BEIDEN Welten bewegt – normalerweise ist es entweder das Klettern ODER die Ernährung.

Nach drei Stunden regen Austausches waren wir uns einig, diesen Kontakt aufrecht erhalten zu wollen, wir haben uns noch viel zu erzählen!

Ganz herzlichen Dank, liebe Christine, dass du diesen wunderbaren Text für uns verfasst hast. Ich bin mir sicher, dass du für viele Menschen eine Inspiration sein wirst. Und ich kann es kaum erwarten, an einen deiner Fermentationskurse zu kommen, deine Müsterchen, die du mir mitgebracht hast, schmecken unglaublich lecker!

/ / /

I never imagined persistent illness would be part of my destiny (then again, who does?), since growing up in Japan I remember taking not even a handful, more a pinch, of days off of school and on those rare occasions relying on sleep and hydration to bring me back to working order. Then, all I did was hop on a plane and land myself in a university in the UK. That’s all it took to shake up my near-perfect health track record. Colds, sure, but also bronchitis, tonsillitis and finally mononucleosis, all within a year of becoming a UK resident. Of course, the general student lifestyle was to blame to an extent, but what I hadn’t realised is that while I had boarded a plane to get to where I was, my gut had been subjected to a rollercoaster ride without my realising it.

My diet could not have morphed into something more different to what it was back in Japan. That’s not to say I possessed flawless consumption habits, I was, after all, a teenager with the freedom to spend my own money on junk food, but there were certainly components I was ingesting thanks to my mother that acted as my bulwark against immune system uprisings without my knowing. It took me a good seven years to link my cascading health problems to this initial fountainhead.

So, what became of the ever ill Christine after her first year of university? I’d like to say she’s a thing of the past, but in reality, I am in maintenance mode much of the time. The Christine that existed prior to the Big Gut Upheaval (“BGU”) seems like a mythical creature to the current me. I do manage to keep up a semblance of health control through various means and since it’s thanks to the BGU and all its complications that I’ve uncovered my passion for integrating traditional fermentation methods into my daily kitchen practice, I’m by no means sad about my situation. If anything, since it made me review my eating habits, I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been, ironically.

Let’s rewind to the time I got mononucleosis. It’s not exactly uncommon among teenagers, but it is unusual to have doctors send a patient home with antibiotics and no blood test despite them begging them to poke a needle in their arm. Oh, the antibiotics. This was the nuclear bomb that hit my immune system, without a doubt. 56 huge Amoxicillin pills to be taken within a week. This is what I consider the starting point of the aforementioned BGU. I won’t go into the details of the side effects I had to deal with, suffice to say they were intimate and an unwelcome cherry on top of my sick-as-a-dog-sundae. When I finally emerged from the darkness four months later, I was already in Italy enjoying my Erasmus year. A month in, my glands were swollen again and the brain fog was pretty debilitating. No worries, I’ll just do lots of running to keep myself healthy, I told myself. Another month wooshed by and I felt like I was in the film Groundhog Day. Month after month I found myself battling the same symptoms, albeit a little milder than those of the first attack.

It wasn’t until I went to the hospital in Turin that I got the medical attention I’d been so desperately asking for in the UK. Turns out all that running was the worst thing I could have been doing since the Epstein Barr virus can cause your spleen to swell up and high impact sport can result in a rupture. I was taken seriously for the first time since my initial outbreak and was sent home with co-codamol (woohoo!) and antivirals. That was it, no more illness. I was cured! Mononucleosis, like chicken pox, never comes back. End of story.

I wish…turns out that in rare cases it can come back and in even rarer cases it will result in an autoimmune response. Now, had I simply continued to lead a well-balanced lifestyle I might not be writing this. As you might have guessed, my balance was way off kilter for a while and that’s why I can add “Epstein Barr tamer” to my circus CV.

For an overachieving people pleaser like myself, reaching astronomical levels of stress due to an unwillingness to admit defeat is not unknown. Being too dutiful is another character trait flaw that’ll land you in my situation, but I’m Japanese, what does one expect? Working from 07:30 to close to midnight for 6 weeks to try to meet an impossible deadline and in the process giving up all forms of leisure activity and eating takeout pizza doesn’t sound like a good idea, right?

The day after the deadline I was due to fly to Japan. A 12-hour flight awaited me so I thought I’d catch up on all the running I’d been missing out on and went for a 15km run. As soon as I boarded that flight I thought my glands were going to fill the entire cabin. I had awakened the dragon. I was now facing a second monthly visitor – the Epstein Barr tornado that consisted primarily of brain fog so bad I could barely keep track of who I was and sleepiness that saw me do nothing but sleep, hydrate and pee for 34 hours at a time. Yes, 34, not 24. In between bouts I’d try to de-stress by jogging, but that always backfired as soon as my body felt the stress of upping my pace a little. As an avid runner, skier and climber, I’m not exaggerating when I say I thought my life was over. I don’t want to throw about the term “depressed” lightly, but I was really on the precipice of something truly dark.

The optimist in me just carried on and felt reassured by the fact that I was in Switzerland a First World Country known for its medical prowess. Initially I thought nothing of the money I was throwing at various doctors to get to the bottom of my symptoms. Until I had heard for the umpteenth time, “Ms Syrad, the only option is to cut out your tonsils”. Since my swab results had always come back as viral, not bacterial, I was skeptical and good thing too, since a colleague of mine warned me of the effects of firing your immune system’s body guard in the middle of a viral war. She had had that done and the virus simply started wreaking havoc with her lungs instead. A cautionary tale for anyone whose doctor insists on taking out your tonsils when you’re plagued by a virus rather than bacterial infections.

A year into my life with a crippled immune system I turned to the internet. And not just to googling my symptoms ad infinitum and scouring every forum you could possibly imagine, I went ahead and paid a lady in the UK to give me suggestions on how to manage an unruly Epstein Barr tenant. I mean, I knew that the virus would live within me forever, but I didn’t want it holding raves on a monthly basis as it was affecting my ability to work, but more crucially, my ability to enjoy life. This lady calls herself a specialist in the rare phenomenon of repeated bouts of mononucleosis, I had hit the jackpot.

But I was an impatient 23 year old looking for a quick fix, so being told to watch what I eat and cut out half of my favourite foods, like cow’s milk, blue cheese, black tea, mushrooms and sugar almost propelled my depression to the next level. She also recommended I take African immune-balancing herbal pills. When I finally came to terms with all the perceived sacrifices I’d have to make, I gave it a go and found my symptoms improved. Unsurprisingly, this awakened an interest in the effect of food on the body beyond the overused mantra of “you are what you eat”.

At precisely the right moment in my life, Sarah Wilson, whose blog I had been following for a while by then, decided to try giving up fructose to see whether this might help her manage her Hashimoto’s disease. Without knowing whether this would yield results or not, I decided to copy her. I had read the little information that was out there on the topic and was convinced it would do me good. Let me tell you, the realization that you’re completely addicted to sugar is a tough one to swallow. It was far harder than I had expected it to be so I started with a modest goal of one month.

A month went by and my symptoms came and went again, on time, but with less gusto than before. I found that in general I had more energy, could think more clearly in general and was getting better quality sleep. It would have been silly to ignore these benefits, even if my illness was still sticking to its schedule. I extended my goal by a month and my swelling skipped its usual appointment with my glands. Ok, another month, I said. Halfway through the next month I got sick again, but the symptoms were slightly milder and I had gone six weeks, not four, of being symptom-free. The experiment lived on until sugar even started to taste repulsive to me (most commercially produced sweets contain way more sugar than your taste buds even know how to handle). Within a year the frequency dropped to once every three months. Going from twelve to four times a year was no laughing matter.

This is how my personal and very internal crusade against fructose took off. I devoured all the literature I could get my hands on and started making my own desserts with rice syrup and funnily enough, the proponents of this theory were springing up like weeds around me, helping enforce my belief in pursuing this gastronomical sacrifice. The addiction, by the way, still hasn’t gone away and I believe it never will, so while it has got easier to say no to ice cream, I do give in from time to time and am reminded of its hold over me. I am, however, happy to report that I haven’t had a bout of mononucleosis for a good two years now and that’s despite eating some fructose on occasion.

All’s well that ends well, said Shakespeare once, but that was before he knew that 25 year-olds can harbour massive polyps in their intestines without their knowing. I knocked on the proctologist’s door thinking I had developed stage 4 hemorrhoids overnight. A disconcerting amount of pain and blood needs to be present for a young woman to pluck up the courage to go and have the tail end of her intestine checked. Within a month I was put under the knife? and the polyp was extracted and declared benign. Hallelujah. I was told I’d need to have a colonoscopy every year or two to keep an eye on the situation.

Is there a more compelling way to be thrust into the world of gut health than having photos of your large intestine land in your postbox? I somehow doubt it. This brought me full-circle back to the BGU and got me wondering whether the polyp was just bad luck (a very valid possibility) or my cumulative actions had enticed it into existence. For this modern-day Alice in Wonderland, this was arguably a less “attractive” rabbit hole to stick my head down, but it turned out to be most worthwhile and is the reason I am now a self-professed fermentation geek.

As soon as held my breath and dove under the surface to check out the underside of the mircobe iceberg, I knew it was time to start learning to navigate this world as best as a layman can. I quit my job in banking and went home to Japan for a couple of months to absorb as much inspiration and information as I could through producer visits and, happily, through plenty of eating. Experiment after experiment has brought me to a point where I believe I can offer really tasty healthy food (palatability is non-negotiable) along with the corresponding information on the health benefits, which, since we are dealing with nutrition, will be different for everyone. I don’t claim to be able to put together a prescriptive diet for each and every person I try to introduce fermentation to. I do, however, firmly believe in the importance of keeping our microbiota well-fed and balancing its composition of microbes in our favour to ensure a well-functioning immune system.

Luckily, scientists who are far more qualified than I am are currently uncovering the details of how exactly this works and we all stand to benefit from their findings.

I believe you don’t need to rely on doctors or become one yourself to take your general health into your own hands. There are situations in which a doctor will be the only person able to save you or alleviate your pain, but we rely on them too heavily for situations that are out of their control. They are experts at managing symptoms and well-established illnesses, but they cannot be held responsible for controlling every aspect of your genetic makeup or the behaviour that may have led to your current situation. They cannot get to know you better than you know yourself and that’s simply not their job, they were not trained to control the stress factors in your life and force you to eat what suits your palate and gut best. These are matters we as individuals have the power to invest our time, energy and money in (whether you have overflowing means or modest ones) and that is the message I hope to get across in introducing people to the magic of wild fermented food.

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