Saturday, August 7, 2010

No wonder I’m exhausted!

It’s been over 6 weeks since I last documented my struggle with ITP, or, more optimistically, my experience of life with this autoimmune condition. A lot has been going on over this time, most of it seemingly in slow motion, despite its obvious urgency, because of my lethargy and general sense of exhaustion.

The major event that I’ve struggled through – with the physical support of a few good friends, and the moral and financial support of my family – has been the move from my two bedroom inner-city apartment to a much smaller one-bedroom place in a nearby residential suburb. I’ve exchanged the constant roar of traffic, beeping car alarms and sirens with the sounds of lawn mowers, leaf blowers and planes taking off and landing (under the flightpath of Australia’s busiest airport), as well as raucous calls from wattle birds in the street’s flowering bottlebrush trees.

Thank goodness for all the help from my friends with this move, as I was almost incapable of any action, thanks to the constant, daylong headaches, shakiness, palpitations and just sheer exhaustion. I’m very grateful to them all!

At my last doctor’s appointment before my move, she referred me for a CT scan to check for any physical damage to my pituitary gland. We already knew from blood tests that it wasn’t producing enough of the hormones ADH (which controls kidney function), ACTH (makes the adrenal glands release cortisol) and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). So the adrenal and thyroid glands weren’t getting the message to produce their own hormones, and I was getting no energy.

Early this week I had the CT scan, and to everyone’s relief, my pituitary gland, and all the rest of my brain, is physically fine. No visible damage anywhere – no tumours or lesions, nothing. Phew! So, all the lethargy, etc, etc, are yet another score against the prednisone. To be fair, that medication has kept my platelets at 50 for the past three weeks, despite all the stress.

Adrenal Exhaustion

What I do have are the classic symptoms of adrenal exhaustion or adrenal fatigue. (Other names include non-Addison's hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia and hypoadrenalism).

Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:
• excessive fatigue and exhaustion
• non-refreshing sleep
• sleep disturbances
• frequent urination, especially at night
• overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stressors
• craving salty and sweet foods
• feeling most energetic in the evening
• low stamina, slow to recover from exercise
• slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
• difficulty concentrating, brain fog
• poor digestion
• low immune function
• excessive sensitivity to cold
• food or environmental allergies

We already knew I had food allergies, thanks to the single gene for coeliac disease I possess. Low immune function is not surprising, since the prednisone is deliberately damping my immune system to prevent it destroying the platelets. However, it’s not much fun that it’s apparently suppressing the pituitary and/or the adrenals and thyroid.

Treating Adrenal Fatigue

Since the adrenal fatigue is complicating matters, slowing down the gradual reduction of the steroid dose my doctor and I have been aiming for, as well as generally making life pretty miserable, we are working to reverse it. First up, my Chinese herb formula has been reworked to include larger doses of adrenal stimulating herbs.

Meanwhile, as we wait for the herbs to kick things along, my doctor is continuing her research into hydrocortisone as a replacement for prednisone. Basically a natural steroid, hydrocortisone has a slightly different action from the corticosteroids, but it can also cause some problems in the changeover period, so we are proceeding cautiously.

Heavy Metals, Pesticides, Plastics Residues, Mould?

Other possible causes or contributing factors for my general lack of oomph could be heavy metal contamination - such as mercury from amalgam fillings in teeth, or eating too much fish and seafood; pesticides; plastics residues (from plastic water bottles, takeaway food containers) or mould toxins.

There is a method of ‘detoxing’ the body to remove these contaminants that is widely used in the veterinary and agriculture industries, and has long been recognised by Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s a series of naturally-occurring minerals, zeolites, colourfully described as “nature’s sieves”.

The honeycomb-like structure of negatively-charged zeolite particles enables them to attract and electro-chemically bond with toxic minerals and metals such as lead, copper, aluminium, cadmium, nickel and arsenic, which can then be excreted safely from the body. However, like all detox treatments, taking zeolite drops can be a strong therapy that an already exhausted system might find overwhelming, so that’s another path we’ll be treading cautiously.

Other medical applications of zeolites include stimulating the immune system, treating osteoporosis, and the healing of wounds and surgical incisions.

On the Bright Side

BottlebrushThe best thing about the past few weeks (apart from all the support I’ve received), is that my new balcony faces north. All-day sun in the middle of winter! (On the sunny days, of which we’ve had several). I can sit out with a drink and a book, watch the birds in the trees or just lie back in my canvas chair and soak up the rays! Nothing like sunshine for lifting the mood!

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