A couple of years ago, I was having dinner at home, the night before a minor operation to remove an ovarian cyst. I received a call from my gynaecologist, who would be performing the operation, to say that there were some issues with the pre-op tests and that the operation would have to be postponed. The issue was that my platelet levels were well below average, so low at that point that had they operated, my blood would not clot fast enough, or at all, and I would run the risk of losing a dangerous amount of blood. Low platelets is a symptom of a number of horrible diseases and illnesses, leukaemia being one of the worst, and with my history of bad bruising and low blood pressure, the dots were joining to a worrying conclusion.
Following that, was a long period (2 years) of hospital visits, moving from one specialist to another, countless test tubes of blood drawn for a variety of tests, trying to get to the bottom of this irregularity. We soon ruled out any of the major illnesses which was a huge relief, it appeared that everything else showed up to be perfectly normal in the tests, all but my platelet levels. This rare blood disease is called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, ‘idiopathic’ meaning there was no evidence of what was causing it, it’s an irregularity with no known cause. The symptoms that can occur are red blotches on the surface of the skin, regular nose bleeds, heavy menstrual flow, and spontaneous bleeding. I had none of these side-effects, however I have always bruised really easily and badly, finding huge purple-blue patches that would swell even, so large that you’d think I’d remember how I’d have got it, but I rarely could. The range for normal platelet levels was 150-500 units, and my average was at around 55, however it would fluctuate. In no real danger, I was merely told to check my blood regularly, and try not to get into any serious accident, otherwise there would be complications. I could literally quote that, and was hardly comforted by the vague warning. There was such little information about this, and all the shrugs and dismissals started to get on my nerve, because I was told that in the case of an emergency; an accident that might require an operation or in the event of internal bleeding, I would have to be pumped with a heavy dose of steroids. The alternative, I was told, was to be on a daily dose of mild steroids – just in case. Needless to say I was not happy with that conclusion. There was too much grey area and I felt an unnerving lack of control and disconnection with my own body. How could there be nothing I could do, and how could they not even try to come up with a solution that might alter my situation, as opposed to dealing with the symptoms when that day comes. I felt so helpless.
I was 21 at the time, with intentions of crossing oceans by boat, climbing snowy mountains and being as freely adventurous as I had been longing to be after graduating. The last thing I wanted was to be held back by an unknown illness and the fear of ‘what if’, and mostly I didn’t want to burden my parents with that worry either. When I eventually had to operate to remove the cyst, I had to take precautionary measures to boost my platelet levels, which involved a daily 3-hour platelet transfusion in the week leading up the operation. I remember taking that time to contemplate my situation, and I realised that there surely was something I could do to avoid this – some way that I could help my body to strengthen and overcome this imbalance. So I made a decision.
With a lot of support and guidance from my family, I was encouraged to look into the connection there may be between my diet and ITP. As I said, this was a rare disease, with very little scientific information out there on the topic, let alone anything about manipulating platelet production through diet. However, I repeatedly came across the topic of fasting and short-term dieting specifically to alter the gut biome (the ecosystem of bacteria in our gut). There were many case studies showing the effects of what is known as ‘intermittent fasting’ on controlling and sometimes completely reversing the symptoms and presence of illnesses such as cancers and auto-immune diseases. I have had a history of auto-immune disease in the past and therefore the connection between that and ITP did come up in discussion with doctors. As the immune system in adults is housed in the small intestinal lining just below the stomach, our diet has a great impact on the state of our immune system. I figured that if this imbalance was auto-immune related, it’s quite likely that I’m eating something that is disturbing the balance of bacteria in my gut, compromising my immune system, and causing the ITP.
So I figured if I could find what it was that was triggering this imbalance, I could reverse or at least control it, without the need of steroids. That’s what lead me to the first fast I did, followed by a week of a strictly raw food diet. Despite my doubts in the method at the time, I was driven by the curiosity to understand my own body and the influence of my diet on it. I took a ‘before and after’ blood test, and was happy and relieved to see a positive change in the results. Not only did my platelet levels improve after my first ‘detox’, but they were within the average range for the first time in the two years of testing since I’d discovered the presence of the ITP. My doctors were less enthusiastic, and considered the test to be an anomaly. I wasn’t fazed by their response, and although I could understand their doubts, I was sure enough in this discovery that I could return some control over my body and my health, and I felt empowered by this. There’s a lot I still don’t understand, I’m no scientist after all, and I know that the doctors are making their judgement from a place of knowledge and experience, but I’m determined to take matters regarding my health into my own hands, as much as I’m able. I have not stuck to a raw-food diet but I have continued to do regular fasts and detoxes, since. My platelet levels have continued to fluctuate, and although they haven’t returned to that desired level as far as I’m aware, there’s always an improvement in the ‘before and after’ tests that I do.
Last week I completed my third detox, or as I’ll now refer to them; seasonal cleanse. It’s something that I know I’ll continue to do throughout my life, partly because I’m sure of the positive affect they have on my platelets, but also on my health and wellbeing in general. For this reason I encourage anyone to incorporate a regular fast/detox into their lifestyle, always referring to guidance of experienced health nutritionists and doctors if you feel the need. I’m not against that whatsoever, I simply think it’s important for us as individuals to take some responsibility regarding our health, and not to rely wholly on doctors and western medicine all the time. It’s a personal view and there’s no right or wrong on this matter, but if we build the connection and communication between mind and body, we’ll know when our bodies are sending us warning signals, and our instinct and the availability of knowledge out there, should help us to understand these signals and find a natural solution.
Food is our fuel, it is our medicine, both preventative and curing. We need to care a whole lot more about the quality of the food we use to fuel the beautiful, intricate system that is our body. Incorporating a regular detox and fast into our lifestyle is just one way in which we can improve our health and quality of life. I have found that it encourages more long-term, healthier eating habits and has helped me gain an appreciation and respect for my own body. I hope to encourage others that may have had a similar experience or share the same curiosity in their own health, to act on this curiosity and to empower themselves with the knowledge that is not only out there but also found within. In doing so, we grow closer towards living a healthful and happy life.