You may notice I’m looking a little bit thinner lately. I’m going to share with you some personal information about my health. Many of you have shared personal health related details about yourself to me, so it’s my turn. The following is an account of a health issue I am dealing with.
On the morning of April 18th , I awoke experiencing an unusual set of symptoms. I had an itching sensation on my scalp, ears, and the back of my neck, with no redness, bumps, or breakouts of any kind. Over the next few days my scalp became red, followed by dry skin, as if I had gotten too much sun. I assumed that is what had happened, although itching on the ears and arms does not fit that pattern. So I went about my day to day life, with this annoying symptom, accompanied with a slight concern.
After a couple of weeks, with no improvement...maybe even a bit worse, I decided to get clinical with it. Just going on symptoms alone, which at that time is all I had, I suspected some liver/gall bladder involvement.
Itchy skin can be caused when congestion in the liver causes bile salts to get deposited into the skin. So I ran some blood work. I was surprised to discover the last time I had ran blood work on myself, was December 2013. Time flies when you feel good. But as you will see, that is not an excuse to slack on monitoring your health on a regular basis. Three lab indicators really got my attention.
1. Alanine Aminotransfererase (ALT) is an enzyme of which the liver has a high concentration of, and is commonly measured in a standard blood test. Optimal level is about 20 U/L, alarm level is >100; mine was 93. Elevated ALT levels indicate some liver cell damage or destruction is occurring. These enzymes spilling out into my blood confirmed my liver was being stressed, but I did not know why.
2. Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), another commonly measured blood marker, is a group of enzymes with particular concentration in the liver, bile duct, kidney, bone, and intestine. Optimal level is about 80 U/L, alarm level is >130; mine was 122. Strike two on the liver, but now with more emphasis on the gall bladder, especially the bile duct.
3. Gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), is an enzyme found in the kidneys, bile duct, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, heart, and brain, and deals with the synthesis of glutathione. I do not see many doctors run this marker as part of their lab tests. I would venture to say that many of you have never had this one tested. The name sounds like an expensive lab test, but this four dollar test, that’s right, four dollars, is what cracked the case. The liver, gall bladder, and associated structures involved in the production and transport of bile, is called the biliary tract. GGT will spill into the blood stream due to cell destruction and/or obstruction to the biliary tract. Optimal level is about 20 U/L, alarm level is >90; mine was 230! By the way, I always run this test as part of a patient’s initial work up.
With my GGT 1000% increased over normal, combined with elevated ALT and ALK, I was fairly certain the itchy skin was due to some type of obstruction in the biliary tract. My interest in how and why, just went from research into action mode. What would you do, what would your doctor do, what did I do? Yes I wanted the itching to stop, but more importantly, I wanted the underlying pathology to get resolved and I immediately knew what I was going to do. More on that later.
I suspect a typical response for a person waking up with itchy skin symptoms would be to do some Google searches and attempt various self-help treatments. In the absence of targeted lab work to guide their actions, your more alternative health conscious types might try applying baking soda, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, aloe vera...with no lasting results. Still in self-help mode, their efforts would escalate from the level of home remedy to OTC medicine, using an antihistamine like Benadryl, and/or a hydrocortisone 1% cream. Thankfully, none of these remedies would have worked in my case. Successful symptom suppression would have stopped my search, causing greater consequences from not discovering the underlying destruction that was happening. Are you using a remedy, herb, or drug to effectively turn off a physical aliment? What starts out as an acute situation is allowed to develop into a chronic health issue, when the warning signs are turned off.
After home remedies and OTC medicine fails, their journey ends up in a doctor’s office, probably a dermatologist. Webmd.com Webmd says your doctor will probably give you a prescription strength antihistamine or steroid cream for treatment of the itchy skin. This is where it gets dicey. These stronger medications, that rightfully need a prescription, are very effective at stopping a targeted symptom. Yes, they often cause side effects, but no worry, there are other stronger medicines that will stop those concerns.
The bigger concern is the insidious chronic disease that is allowed to develop, due to the miracles of modern medicine. I searched on Pruritus (clinical term for severe itching, often of undamaged skin) in the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website. This database is part of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)….so it is considered a reputable source.
I found many sightings ad nauseam on the etiology, pathophysiology, methodology, and management of the treatment for pruritis. Here is a partial list of their treatment recommendations. Apply emollients to hydrate the skin, aspirin, antihistamines, antidepressants, steroid creams, Gabapentin, opioid receptor antagonists...there are many, many more, but notice how fast this can get off the rails? Have you heard of our nation’s opioid crisis? This is what happens when attention is on the symptom rather than the process.
To be fair, if your doc is not pressured to provide multiple five minute office visits, only allowing a very brief history, consultation, and examination, then you might get a blood test. I promise you it would not have included GGT. Which increases the likelihood of a misdiagnosis?...another topic for another day. But I think most proficient doctors would have eventually found this diagnosis. After all, my out of range blood markers were very easy to see.
I decided to do a treatment plan that was not listed or discussed in the medical literature, a liver cleanse. Notice I did not say liver detox? My intent was to take stress off the liver, mitigate the damage, and let my body reorganize it’s metabolism. I was not so concerned about detoxing heavy metals, environmental elements, and toxins. That may have just added too much stress to the situation. As you probably know, I travel a lot, so I chose a system that was relatively easy to implement. Two liver cleanse protein drinks a day, with one meal on my own. I also added a supplement that helps to thin bile, just in case I did have an obstruction in the biliary tract. Selina decided to go on the cleanse too. I’m glad she did; her support was paramount. I followed it about 70%, she was closer to 100%. She is stronger than me. We started the cleanse on May 9th ; the pruritus was essentially gone within a week. This table shows the timeline and results of the 30 day program.
So I am not in crisis, but I still have some work to do. Was my diagnosis correct? I don't know. I do know that my subjective complaints are essentially gone, but more importantly, my clinical objective health indicators have greatly improved. Often, the diagnosis is not as important as the action you take. Especially if your actions restore function in accordance with the natural laws of physiology. In that manner, you can’t go wrong; like they say, “the house always wins.”
If you are having a health issue and want to utilize a therapeutic diet, choose one that is not too difficult to follow. Without compliance, why bother? Try to have a companion to provide support and hold you accountable. I suggest using specific health markers to evaluate progress. Symptomatic relief is not good enough. Of course you are welcome to consult with me.
P.S. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
P.S.S. Lemons stimulate the liver to flush out toxins.