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Hack my daddy? (Osteoarthritis, Sciatica, GERD)

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 04, 2012 at 7:22 AM

My father is a mess when it comes to his muscuolo-skeletal and digestive health. In other aspects of his life, though, he's in pretty good shape (heart function and cholesterol, etc tests). He's 6ft and currently 165-170lbs, but until his late fifties he was chronically underweight, more like 145-150lbs. He's still very strong for his age and size (he did construction, mostly new kitchen/bathroom cabinets until his late fifties) and now carries most of his excess weight in his midsection with skinnier arms and legs.

Now, he's 62. He's had very bad digestive problems since his teen years (had his first perforated ulcer when he was 20) and can't take much in the way of fresh cucumber, tomatoes, or very spicy foods. I mention those because those things are normally a big part of his diet and he's established that they are problem foods for him when his tummy is already upset, though potatoes are apparently never a problem so I don't think it's a FOPMAP thing but I'm not sure. He doesn't notice any particular things causing his tummy upset, just what doesn't seem to make it worse. When his tummy is upset, he goes to his fallbacks, his beloved Cream of Wheat or eggs 'n toast. He has had sciatica since a car accident several years ago, and is reluctant to have surgery for it. I know that is something with a definite cause unrelated to diet, but I still mention it because it may be relevant in a way that I don't know. He also has Restless Legs Syndrome very badly (my poor mother has the bruised shins to prove it, lol) and he says it has gotten worse with age. He used to take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each morning for it, and did so for months before it stopped helping and he stopped taking it. He has osteoarthritis in his spine, elbows, wrists, hands, knees, and hips. His joints have gotten a lot of wear through years of fidgeting, RLS, and a lot of vibration from using power tools for decades. I know that's to be expected but I'd still prefer he not be in so much pain from it. He currently takes Sinemet for the RLS, and a few painkillers (narcotic and non-narcotic) for his pain. He has only been taking the narcotic type of painkillers for a few months and really hates the foggy feeling he gets and wants to quit them altogether if possible. He has quit his construction job as the pain was too much in the last few years, and currently just works part-time at a retail store putting together their bikes and sample furniture kind of stuff, and stays active around the house and in his studio (he likes making wood art and small furniture pieces).

He doesn't have a very big appetite and doesn't have breakfast except coffee with a splash of milk, eats a small lunch (for him, two pieces of white bread, two pieces of baloney, and a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup is a big lunch) and a bigger but still modest dinner (he loves chicken, so it's often one chicken breast, about a 1/2 cup or so serving of vegetable like broccoli, a 1/2 cup or so serving of potatoes or rice, and a big chunk of his beloved cornbread). He likes desserts other than chocolate and has them a few times a week also, especially fruity or creamy things like blackberry cake, graham cracker pudding, or coconut cream pies. He doesn't drink, at all.

Now, part of the reason I am concerned is that I am, quite frankly, my father's daughter. I inherited his tendency toward fidgeting and being very energetic, the RLS and the ulcers (I had one after taking prescription medication at age 26 though mine didn't get a chance to perforate), his body type compared to my mother's (I think, my mother is 5"1" and 160lbs, compared to my father and I'm a very medium 5'6" 135lbs with much smaller wrists and ribs than she), his personality traits, and even his allergy (cortisone). I see how much my father hurts now and I'd love to save both his old age and the rest of my life.

BTW, the things he absolutely will never give up are coffee and dairy. I'm sincerely hoping he can also do without his beloved cornbread and assorted pastries because I know those are absolutely out from a healthy diet stand-point. Another dietary complication - he keeps mostly kosher for religious reasons. He, like me, loves rice and beans but I'm sure he can handle cutting those down to a few "cheats" a month and I think he could do a Whole30 if he were convinced that there was a possiblity it could help his RLS or osteo-arthritis.

Beyond cutting out the cornbread and wheat products, what can I do to help my father with his pain, digestive discomfort, and restless legs? How can I convince him that 30 days eating the way I prefer to would help him feel better?

(EDIT: I'd like to point out that he does not suffer from any genetic issues normally associated with those suffered by people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. He is not Jewish by heredity; he is Seventh-Day Adventist by choice and German-Basque-Native American by ancestry and does not display any symptoms of illnesses associated with lactose intolerance. I have learned that the kosher thing seems to be misleading to some, especially in the South, and so when it comes to dietary standards it is worth mentioning.)

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on August 05, 2012
at 04:52 AM

If you do a lot of his cooking, maybe you could talk to your mom (if she cooks for him) or him and explain that his health will get much better if he follows an autoimmune protocol (just going grain-free would help). Not sure... You probably know better what would work in persuading him - good luck!

918ecd2369c4e8cd6a2d66846c20137c

(285)

on August 05, 2012
at 03:23 AM

Yeah, they all say osteo because it's on the order of 10-50x more common. He no doubt has osteo. But, if it turns out he also has an autoimmune condition, then there are effective treatments. My Dx took almost 20yrs. Countless doctors, scans, xrays, etc. But once the eye doc Dx'd my uveitis, it took the Rheumatologist about 20 min to Dx the rest. I can't tell you how many doctors shrugged their shoulders and told me "it's just a part of getting old" [actual conversation more than 15yrs ago: DR: you're just getting old ME: Old? I'm only 29! DR: well, I guess you're prematurely aging]

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:20 PM

He was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis by his doctor, but I know they use it as a catch-all-old-people-with-joint-pain thing and probably didn't think to look any deeper. Thanks for your feedback, and I'm hoping he'll see that even if it doesn't do a thing for him, thirty days without cornbread is a very light gamble!

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:18 PM

Thanks for sharing your story - perhaps hearing about people with similar problems who found this as a solution will help convince him to try thirty days! Eating Primal pretty much fixed my tummy problems (I had an ulcer myself, and either got gluten intolerant during that time or it just got a lot worse so I noticed it) and so I hope he'll see that maybe it can help him, too. I feel like if I can get him to go without the gluten for 30 days, he'd feel a big difference and would want to keep eating this way for the most part.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:15 PM

Thanks! He eats mostly "healthy-SAD" so it really could be a lot worse. I do a lot of his cooking (I live right next door so I eat with my family a lot) and he likes everything I make him, so that can be helpful. He's actually kinda doctor-phobic and all, so I don't think that will be an issue, and he's pretty open-minded. He has seen that going Primal in my eating pretty much fixed my tummy troubles so I'm really hoping he'll see that it can help his, too, and maybe his pain and RLS to boot!

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3 Answers

3
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on August 04, 2012
at 11:32 AM

I used to have GERD which got steadily worse from age 20 to 40. I had peptic ulcers at one point in my late 20's, three of them. I also had chronic low-grade inflammation which also got gradually worse from about 28 to 40. The inflammation symptoms manifested as skin irritations (dry skin or keratosis pilaris), sore joints and muscles (every day, every morning, even without exercise), poor sleep and mood, poor digestion.

Funny that as I write this I thought that all of these things were just normal parts of getting older (even though 40 isn't really that old). But they were annoying.

When I first went paleo (I was 41, about 18 months ago), I dropped all grains and sugars (except for incidental sugars such as what's in red wine or berries) for 30 days. It was quite an adaptation at first. But all of the above symptoms disappeared completely in about 2-3 weeks. It was absolutely amazing. Things that had been slowly building for 10-15 years just disappeared almost overnight.

I am not exactly sure which thing caused which problem but I suspect that I have a problem with gluten and with the peaks and valleys of insulin / blood sugar caused by starches in my diet. I am sensitive to starches and generally eat low carb now. I later read that the combination of gluten and coffee can be particularly irritating for some people and suspect that is what caused my ulcers.

Before I went paleo, I thought I had a healthy diet -- I ate lots of greens, a variety of fruits and vegetalbes, got regular exercise, etc. But obviously my diet was a disaster. I did not eat that much bread but apparently what I did eat was causing big problems.

So of course my advice would be a paleo diet, starting on the low carb side. It can be hard (impossible) to change your parent's habits, so I am not sure your dad would go for it, but it might help him. You could try it yourself and see if you have any benefits, which might help convince him.

I have heard of people getting rid of restless leg syndrome with either niacin (vitamin B3) or magnesium, for example:

http://blog.sethroberts.net/2010/05/17/restless-legs-syndrome-niacin-and-web-search/

Switching to a paleo diet and including lots of vegetables can improve your digestion and hence your uptake of these vitamins, so you might be able to get more of these vitamins and minerals without supplements.

BTW, my story is typical, and you will read many other similar stories here and on other forums. For instance a friend mine is German and bread was always a big part of her diet. But she had chronic digestive distress for most of her adult life. She just accepted it as something she had to live with. Then she tried a gluten-free diet -- which was quite a change for her -- and her symptoms, which she had been living with for 15 years, disappeared in about a week. I am not saying that a gluten-free diet is a cure-all, but I think there are people walking around with health problems that don't know they are sensitive to gluten or other foods and won't ever know until they try to eliminate them for a while.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:18 PM

Thanks for sharing your story - perhaps hearing about people with similar problems who found this as a solution will help convince him to try thirty days! Eating Primal pretty much fixed my tummy problems (I had an ulcer myself, and either got gluten intolerant during that time or it just got a lot worse so I noticed it) and so I hope he'll see that maybe it can help him, too. I feel like if I can get him to go without the gluten for 30 days, he'd feel a big difference and would want to keep eating this way for the most part.

3
F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:42 AM

I don't know why, but it sounds like gluten sensitivity/intolerance to me that could be the cause of his digestive problems. All the other things stem from gluten sensitivity and digestive issues, even osteoarthritis. I think it is all connected.

How receptive is he of your ideas? Most parents cannot take nutritional advice from their kids. They need a doctor to scare them off and tell them what to do. Is there a good reliable male naturopath in your area who your dad can relate to? Would he be willing to give up grains and legumes? He can still drink his coffee.

He should definitely try Paleo with some modifications - cabbage juice for ulcer/gastritis, ABSOLUTELY NO GLUTEN, some raw greens that he can tolerate with every meal. No nightshades. I would even say no nuts, no eggs, just to keep it clean for a while. Wild caught salmon would be ideal for him. If he wants to eat potatoes - I think it would be okay as long as he is off gluten.

I would start by looking at what he eats every day and make small changes. Like gluten-free oatmeal for breakfast instead of cream of wheat. Or salad (without tomatoes or cucumbers) as a side dish for his lunch with his chicken. Sweet potatoes, vegetables and salmon for dinner.

The most important thing is stay away from gluten and processed foods. If he wants to be 100% sure that he is gluten sensitive, he can have genetic testing done, but it is expensive (around $375).

I know you are probably worried about him, but there is only so much we can do when it comes to our own parents.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:15 PM

Thanks! He eats mostly "healthy-SAD" so it really could be a lot worse. I do a lot of his cooking (I live right next door so I eat with my family a lot) and he likes everything I make him, so that can be helpful. He's actually kinda doctor-phobic and all, so I don't think that will be an issue, and he's pretty open-minded. He has seen that going Primal in my eating pretty much fixed my tummy troubles so I'm really hoping he'll see that it can help his, too, and maybe his pain and RLS to boot!

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on August 05, 2012
at 04:52 AM

If you do a lot of his cooking, maybe you could talk to your mom (if she cooks for him) or him and explain that his health will get much better if he follows an autoimmune protocol (just going grain-free would help). Not sure... You probably know better what would work in persuading him - good luck!

2
918ecd2369c4e8cd6a2d66846c20137c

on August 04, 2012
at 07:48 PM

Has he seen a rheumatologist?

GI problems and arthritis are classic autoimmune symptoms. Some cases of RLS are also believed to be linked to autoimmunity and/or gluten sensitivity.

What you are calling osteo-arthritis, may in fact be inflammatory, or more likely, a combination of both. The good news about inflammatory arthritis is it can be treated effectively by both meds and/or diet/lifestyle.

I suffered for years [decades] with an ever growing list of symptoms: skin rashes, GI distress, back pain, SI-joint pain, sciatica, tendonitis/enthesitis, peripheral neuropathy, etc etc. Finally 4 yrs ago my left eye became inflamed, and my eye doctor immediately diagnosed it as an autoimmune condition. He sent me to a rheumatologist, who was able to quickly identify the linkage between all the symptoms: skin [psoriasis, KP, dermatitis herpatiform], GI [ulcerative colitis, celiac], muscular-skeletal [ankylosing spondylitis], neuropathy [CIDP/Guillian-Barre, Raynauds], eyes [uveitis].

Between meds [including steroids, anti-TNFs, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, etc] and diet/lifestyle [strict autoimmune paleo protocol, + sleep, + stress reduction, etc], I have reduced my symptoms by 80%, which is literally life-changing.

4 years ago I started out on the meds alone, which were very effective. 2.5 yrs ago I started Paleo, and the results have been amazing. Although I am still on a few of my meds, the dosage and frequency have been significantly reduced. And there were many symptoms which remained after I started on the meds that have been greatly improved or completely eliminated since starting Paleo.

Obviously your father doesn't need to see a rheumatologist in order to gain the benefits or insights of doing a Whole30 [in fact an MD is just as likely to tell him that a paleo diet is detrimental or ineffective]. But for many, a medical Dx can provide the impetus to make a major lifestyle change.

If nothing else, convince him he needs to give it a shot for 30 days in order to reduce his reliance on the pain killers - the NSAIDS will only further damage his gut, and as for the narcotics, those simply can not be used to treat a chronic condition.

Good luck. Your father is way too young to be sidelined like this.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10490)

on August 04, 2012
at 08:20 PM

He was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis by his doctor, but I know they use it as a catch-all-old-people-with-joint-pain thing and probably didn't think to look any deeper. Thanks for your feedback, and I'm hoping he'll see that even if it doesn't do a thing for him, thirty days without cornbread is a very light gamble!

918ecd2369c4e8cd6a2d66846c20137c

(285)

on August 05, 2012
at 03:23 AM

Yeah, they all say osteo because it's on the order of 10-50x more common. He no doubt has osteo. But, if it turns out he also has an autoimmune condition, then there are effective treatments. My Dx took almost 20yrs. Countless doctors, scans, xrays, etc. But once the eye doc Dx'd my uveitis, it took the Rheumatologist about 20 min to Dx the rest. I can't tell you how many doctors shrugged their shoulders and told me "it's just a part of getting old" [actual conversation more than 15yrs ago: DR: you're just getting old ME: Old? I'm only 29! DR: well, I guess you're prematurely aging]

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