Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Triumph of Hope over Experience

I must be a recalcitrant optimist. No matter how often life shows me that ME-CFS is a progressive illness, I keep believing I can shift the progression towards recovery.

So in the mental battle of recent weeks -- are my new (old) symptoms due to detox or yet another worsening of my condition -- I've come down on the side of detox.

Yes, I admit, I am easily influenced by other people's opinions, especially people I don't know (never breaking the cardinal rule: don't let yourself be persuaded by spouse or parents)such as the numerous, intelligent, well-versed-in-natural-medicine folks who populate the ME-CFS and nutrigenomics forums. Every one who responded to my cry for help believed in detox.

In naturopathy school, I learned that the body heals in reverse order. First the most recent symptoms are removed; last the symptoms that arose at the beginning of the illness. My history is as long as Ulysses' Odyssey -- 22 years! -- but I still remember the flu-like viral symptoms of my first bout with ME-CFS in 1987, with swollen glands, intermittent sore throats and low-grade fever. I'm not back there yet, and can't remember every time since I had one or all of those symptoms.

One particularly inspiring individual reminded me that mucous is produced by the body to remove toxins. I've heard that before, I think immediately, for I like to be agreeable. It's only late at night, alone with my thoughts and far from the influence of well-meaning optimists like myself, that the demons of doubt begin grumbling. That's when I remember reading in Peter Parham's book, The Immune System, about goblet cells that secrete mucus to protect the cells lining body cavities open to the outside world from invasion by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Actually, it's the strikingly beautiful picture I remember, teal-stained droplets of mucus contained in a little pouch in a field of orange and yellow. I'd upload it here if I could get my scanner working again! The mucus, it seems, is always flowing in small quantities to keep out invaders from nose, mouth, lungs, and gut, and we don't notice it.

So what about when there are huge quantities of that globby mucus, when it's thin and runny and never-ending? I browse through Parham looking for information. I can't find any discussion of this phenomenon as detox, but it does increase with allergens (when histamine and mast cells get involved) and it does increase with the inflammatory response to infection. Oops! None of this substantiates the detox theory that would consolidate the belief that I am going through a healing crisis.

But as I said earlier, my optimism is recalcitrant -- that is, it resists experience, and perhaps also fact. So I turn to the kind of unscientific, experiential wisdom that drives critics of natural medicine wild.

For example, yesterday I took another B-12 injection. After feeling so sick from the previous one, and after hearing from several friends that my dose of 2.5 mg. was "alot" and "Gosh how do you tolerate it?", I decided to cut the dose in half. Eureka! In the evening I noticed only a mild headache, a few pimples, and increased fatigue. I had difficulty falling asleep and awakened early, but all this was a giant improvement on the cold ankles, runny nose, and complete lack of sleep I had last week.

Perhaps I could have an answer to my question if I dare take a higher dose on Friday, when I'm scheduled to do another injection.... In the meantime, I'm taking the low road. I put a urine sample in the freezer during the worst of the symptoms (the next morning, after sleeping until 12:30 pm!) which I'll send into a lab to see if I'm eliminating more toxic metals than I normally do. Also, tomorrow I'm going to a doctor at Ohio State University who will take some immune function tests, looking for viral titers and signs of a bacterial infection.

If all this stuff comes out negative, I'll still have that flexible detox theory to explain the mysterious enigma of M.E. For detox is like an Aristotelian theory, capable of absorbing all kinds of diverse bits of data and flexible enough to change with the facts. I love it!!!


  1. Hi Janis, you may have mentioned it but I think mucous has to be yellow or green to be from an infection.Cristina

  2. Hi Cristina, I agree with that. Clear runny mucous is usually allergy or some over-response of the mast cells. Thick discolored mucous indicates the contents of dead cells, pus, and those distasteful little critters that live (and try to colonize) inside our bodies.


Please add your comments here. If you have a question specific to your own condition, please e-mail me directly at I cannot give medical advice. If you want to suggest a product or therapy you think I should try, please let me know if you have used it, what you used it for, and how it helped you.