Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.