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Why is Chronically Ill and in Pain "Normal"?

by (8014)
Updated about 17 hours ago
Created January 18, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Hey Everyone,

I am constantly amazed by the number of posts where people go through laundry lists of symptoms/ailments and ask if Paleo diet would help, or who are already following a Paleo diet but want to tweak things to help improve/reverse these.

What stuns me most are the ones where people say things like, "I haven't had a period in four years," or, "I've been suffering from constipation/diarrhea for six years." Or even just people who are completely outside the Paleo world but deal with chronic headaches, joint pain, anxiety brain fog, fatigue.

It seems that so many people deal with health issues that, if it were me, I'd have looked into long before reaching the point where I could say "I've been experiencing 'X condition' for eight years..."

What is it that keeps people from seeking answers before they can count the amount of time they've felt bad not in months, but years? Is it that so many of these nagging (and even all-out debilitating) conditions seem to be so common that people genuinely think they're normal? If you're surrounded by family, friends, and coworkers who also live with constant pain, fatigue, and illness, is it possible to acknowledge the possibility that it's not normal? That just because something's common doesn't make it right, or normal, or acceptable? Is it that some people's health, digestion, and/or immunity, for whatever dietary and environmental reasons, are so compromised even from childhood, that they literally don't know what feeling good feels like?

I don't even necessarily care whether people connect it to their diet right away. My question is, regardless of what they think the causes are, why do so many people wait so long to address things that make their daily existence a struggle?

I realize there are millions of people who do want help and who do go to doctors and get tested for myriad things and unfortunately don't get answers. (Either because their case is quite complicated or because of ignorance on the part of some physicians.) And maybe they--against their better judgment and wishes--en up popping Tylenol every day, or using laxatives every night because no one's been able to find any other solution for them. My question is more regarding people who don't go to doctor after doctor honestly trying to help themselves. I'm asking about people who think "it's just the way my body is" when they have to pop whatever pills or miss two days of work a month from debilitating periods and such.

It's just interesting to me that people think nothing of popping antacids like candy at every meal, or thinking, "It's winter...time for me to buy stock in NyQuil since I'll be sick all the time." They don't question why they get sick so often, or why they need antacids every time they eat. My medicine cabinet is empty. I have one bottle of Excedrin that expired while still full. I can't tell you the last time I bought medication. (Supplements, yes. Pharmaceuticals, no. Haven't needed 'em. I'm not saying I'm indestructible, just pointing out that I feel like I'm on the other end of the spectrum -- I think not being in pain, digestive distress, and sick all the time is normal!)

**(Edited to bold one section and clarify because a couple of people seem to have missed it. Thanks.)

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41422 · January 18, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Amy- You asked yesterday about what to blog about, this is a perfect idea. Turning most folks' normal on their heads. Chris Kresser talked about it once on a podcast or in an article. Healthy folks tended to come to him complaining of all sorts of problems, while sick folks ended up in his office acting like all their malaise was normal.

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5201 · January 18, 2013 at 5:22 PM

I think this is an excellent answer. Also, many doctors will treat symptoms, not underlying causes.

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11683 · January 18, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Amy B, you're totally right. I owe you an apology. I didn't read that middle paragraph. And I agree with you, I do find it frustrating when people at work complain about their migraines or whatever, but don't try anything other than meds. They just complain that their doctors aren't solving their problems. I've long realized that I'm responsible for healing myself.

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11683 · January 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM

VB, yes I've had those tests - one SIBO and multiple stool analyses. Both normal. Except I have parasite which may or may not be benign (b.hominis) and which I took Flagyl last year to try to kill. I had perfect digestion until I developped an eating disorder at 19, and my gut's been messed ever since.

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8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Your analogy about the field is awesome. And also the alarm bells getting louder and louder. Great answer.

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8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:22 PM

My question was asked more in regard to people who *don't* seek professional advice and treatment -- the ones who self-medicate for years via aspirin, antacids, laxatives, whatever.

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8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:18 PM

You must not have read my post closely enough because I did acknowledge that millions of people *do* seek help and don't find the right answers, for a number of reasons.

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15400 · January 18, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Have you had a hydrogen-methane SIBO test or a comprehensive stool test?

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2904 · January 18, 2013 at 3:43 PM

I didn't know what feeling good felt like until I tried a Ketogenic diet for the first time.

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1191 · January 18, 2013 at 3:05 PM

No such thing that keeps people from seeking answers, just a bunch of reasons that keeps people from getting the right ones instead of a bandaid approach and "if it doesn't work (read: cover it up) learn to live with it".

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1191 · January 18, 2013 at 3:04 PM

No such thing that keeps people from seeking answers, just a bunch of reasons that keeps people from getting the right one instead of a bandaid approach and "if it doesn't work (read: cover it up) learn to live with it".

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9 Answers

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15400 · January 18, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Amy, there are two sides of this issue.

Here is the first one: the difference between healthy and sick is not quite as black and white as we think.

Imagine a beautiful green field. A couple of wilted, brown grass blades here and there, but, for the most part, it is green.

The next day you can see a couple more dark brown grass blades, but, for the most part, it is still green. Little by little the grass is turning brown. At some point you ask yourself - is it even green? Or is there more brown grass in this field?

The same with gray hair. First you have one gray hair. Then in a couple months you notice two, then much later more. If you would wake up one morning and your hair would turn gray - you would notice it right away, right? But subtle changes take years to spot.

I will share my story. I have always had little things going on here and there, but I always thought it was just me, my personal thing. When you are in your 20s, you are programmed to be healthy no matter what. Then, when you turn 30, you start hearing the alarm bells ringing. And when you turn 40 those alarm bells turn into loud sirens.

For six years I have been going to doctors, telling them - something is not right with me. But they looked at my blood work and said - no, you are perfectly fine. Fine? How can I be fine if I have this, this, this, and this? They would answer - it is a part of aging. So even if YOU know that something is not right there, if you don't have a paper stating - something is wrong - it means you cannot prove it.

I remember I went to a dermatologist at the Cleveland clinic. I told her my hair was falling out and I did not know why. She told me to take more biotin. Which, by the way, helped.

Here is my question then - WHY would I all of the sudden start losing biotin? Why is it not produced by my body?

In my lifetime I have been to many, many doctors. Not one, and I want to emphasize it - NOT ONE OF THEM told me that something was wrong with my gut flora.

If you are constipated they tell you to eat more fiber. Think about it - more fiber for SIBO patient?

If you tell them you are gluten intolerant, they tell you - not according to your blood test. The fact that you get very sick after eating grains means nothing to them.

So I no longer trust any of them. If I ever come across a good doctor who actually will be able to say something that I do not know - then and only then I will trust doctors again.

This does not include my dentist and my gynecologist - they are okay. Even though they do not know anything about Paleo or W. Price.

So to answer your question - 1. because chronic diseases do not come in one day, they come as gradual unnoticeable changes that you get used to overtime. 2. because doctors tell you that is normal.

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5201 · January 18, 2013 at 5:22 PM

I think this is an excellent answer. Also, many doctors will treat symptoms, not underlying causes.

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8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Your analogy about the field is awesome. And also the alarm bells getting louder and louder. Great answer.

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11683 · January 18, 2013 at 3:57 PM

What makes you assume people HAVEN'T tried to heal themselves in other ways before coming to Paleo?!! I've had chronic, severe IBS for 16 years. During that time I've seen over 60 specialists in areas ranging from naturopathy, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture, reiki, meditation, massage therapy, osteopathy, chiropractice, hypnoptherapy, cranio-sacral therapy, psychotherapy, along with a dozen gastroenterologists, blood tests, stool tests, breath tests, endoscopies, colonoscoipes, meds, diets, supplements etc. Paleo has helped quite a bit but I'm still in pain or discomfort every day.

So don't tell me I'm not trying.

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11683 · January 18, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Amy B, you're totally right. I owe you an apology. I didn't read that middle paragraph. And I agree with you, I do find it frustrating when people at work complain about their migraines or whatever, but don't try anything other than meds. They just complain that their doctors aren't solving their problems. I've long realized that I'm responsible for healing myself.

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11683 · January 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM

VB, yes I've had those tests - one SIBO and multiple stool analyses. Both normal. Except I have parasite which may or may not be benign (b.hominis) and which I took Flagyl last year to try to kill. I had perfect digestion until I developped an eating disorder at 19, and my gut's been messed ever since.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f
8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:22 PM

My question was asked more in regard to people who *don't* seek professional advice and treatment -- the ones who self-medicate for years via aspirin, antacids, laxatives, whatever.

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8014 · January 18, 2013 at 4:18 PM

You must not have read my post closely enough because I did acknowledge that millions of people *do* seek help and don't find the right answers, for a number of reasons.

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15400 · January 18, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Have you had a hydrogen-methane SIBO test or a comprehensive stool test?

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5650 · January 18, 2013 at 10:39 PM

it's wrong to think that just because people have to come paleo means that they've NEVER tried anything to fix their problems. i've been trying for 6 damn years to fix my digestive order and i had never heard of paleo until this past year. hence, that's why i am trying paleo now. it's not like i was lazy and popping pills all these years ignoring my health. i was doing all natural routes, too, and still not seeing results.

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10 · January 18, 2013 at 8:31 PM

Animals that live in zoos believe that their life is normal - concrete is naturally found under straw bedding, washing means keepers hosing you down, food comes through a slot in the fence etc...

Wild animals simply would never encounter these things and if they did they would immediately notice them as out of place.

What 'modern' humans have begun to feel is normal would probably shock ancient humans. Our isolation from deep communication with one another leads us to believe many abnormalities are normal.

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188 · January 18, 2013 at 6:20 PM

When you have pain all your life, it IS normal. YOUR normal.

From age 14 to 28, I experienced "fatness", headaches, fatigue, depression and sinus allergies. My relatives had the same thing, so I never thought it was abnormal. At 28 I started getting sick. I didn't realize at that point that I was actually getting MORE sick. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

A few years later: for the first time in my life I know what it feels like to be symptom-free, and I can control all of the symptoms with diet. My mom, on the other hand, still doesn't think she has any problems, even though she gets headaches daily, her colds stick around for weeks instead of a few days, and she thinks she's too old to walk a mile because the people that she knows who are her age also don't know how to take great care of their bodies. I guess I'm lucky to live in super-health-conscious cities like Austin and Seattle instead of suburbs or small towns?

And what about all the people I know who take Claritin every day? Tell them they can be allergy-free if they cut out wheat, dairy and sugar? Most people laugh at the suggestion, because EVERYone has allergies this time of year. (Not me!)

Side note: My "fatness" was bloating from eating bread. Being both sensitive to and addicted to bread caused a few years of bulimia. I wonder how many other girls' eating disorders are from food sensitivity :(

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75 · January 18, 2013 at 5:34 PM

I concur with a lot of the above responses. My experience was that everything was okay until I hit thirty, and then for four years ... everything started to go slowly downhill. I started getting bouts of abnormal fatigue, which was diagnosed as depression. I started slamming on weight. I had a range of blood tests -- at one point, I even paid for a blood sugar test because I felt, somehow, I might have blood sugar problem. Then it got to the point where I felt I was being "poisoned", no joke. I started to feel embarrassed about going to my doctor because I felt like a hypochondriac, the girl who had nothing wrong with her, as though it was all in my mind. I suspect my doctor thought it was all in my mind, probably because I said I felt like I was being poisoned -- no wonder I was referred to mental health action. And I started to wonder if it really was in my head.

Luckily -- a strange choice of word I know -- I then got a symptom that no one could ignore. I started having a bleed once a fortnight. I was checked out by my GP who could find no cause, and told "sometimes this happens with women of your age". What? 34?!

It was that symptom that made me realise something, indeed, was going on and had to be fixed. Strangely, pure synchronicity, I heard a podcast between Robb Wolf and the women's weight training blogger Christa -- and something just clicked. I had nothing to lose anyway.

That was two years ago. I have never had an abnormal bleed since I started paleo. I no longer have fatigue, nausea, or any of my old symptoms, and I am now the same weight I was when I was 18. I now firmly believe I was never depressed at all; instead, I was malnourished, being semi-poisoned by modern processed grain products, and struggling to live on a very low-fat diet.

Now I wonder how any people are made to believe they are hypochondriacs or have a mental health problem when they present dietary-related symptoms. They live with it because they are told a) it is normal, b) there is "no cause" for it, c) it has a psychological/emotional cause or d) it is misdiagnosed.

As a side note ... my other half suffered extraordinary flatulence in his twenties. And I mean, extraordinary. But he always thought he was just someone who had that problem. Now we know he has a quite significant intolerance problem to certain foods, but it goes to show that smart people can walk around with rather serious problems and just assume "it's the way life is."

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244 · January 18, 2013 at 4:29 PM

I am a registered nurse and I have practiced in the conventional health care system for several years. I don't think it's a matter of people NOT seeking answers or going to the doctor to try to figure out what is wrong in most cases. Of course there is the odd person who may ignore their symptoms for whatever reason. But, I think the main issue is that most people DO seek help from conventional medicine, but they don't get good answers or the solutions that they are offered don't help. Conventional medicine has little to offer besides medications (that often have side effects worse than the disease process itself) or invasive procedures. Most medications only act to cover up symptoms and they don't actually heal the body or get to the root cause of the problem. But beyond all that, even getting a diagnosis can be an immense struggle. Similar to the above poster, I struggled for years to get adequate treatment for my many health issues, which included debilitating migraines, severe acid reflux, unexplained abdominal pain, lymph node swelling, and later- severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and joint pain. Autoimmune disease ended up being the cause of these problems, but it took YEARS and many, many doctors to get a diagnosis and then the diagnosis was debated among many different specialists, retracted, switched to something else, etc., etc. Thinking that people who struggle for years with these issues, but just don't seek treatment is naive. The truth is that the conventional "health" care system fails most people. People have to struggle to get an accurate diagnosis in many cases, and then the root cause of the disease (which in the case of autoimmune disease is often leaky gut and gut dysbiosis) is never addressed. So, people continue to suffer, even though they are taking the prescribed medications. I do not trust physicians when it comes to chronic disease. If I break my arm, of course I'm going to go to the hospital. But with anything to do with chronic disease, conventional medicine is sorely lacking.

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78417 · January 18, 2013 at 4:23 PM

I think antibiotics are to blame for the systemic ailments of the general population.

We evolved to deal with very harsh environments, but antibiotics have only been around 80 years or so- our body has no answer. So much of our health depends on the gut- once that's disturbed it's so hard to get back. I'd be willing to bet that a majority of the population has low level candida.

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149 · January 18, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Most people just don't care. Many believe and do as they are told by conventional wisdom. Perhaps it's a lack of critical thinking skills and too much reality TV.

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