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Captain ColanderLast fall, Emily and I went on an elimination diet. The results were surprising, and I’ve discovered a few foods that bother me. I still have a few questions, but here’s what I’ve learned.

When Emily and I embarked on our dietary adventure, we spent 2 weeks eating a bland diet of mostly rice, beans, and vegetables. Then we started reintroducing foods, starting with tofu and then adding in eggs, gluten, dairy, nightshades, corn, citric fruits, peanuts, and sugar – with 3 days in between each new food. Throughout the whole process, we kept a detailed log of everything we ate, the hours we spent sleeping and exercising, how we felt, bowel habits, skin rashes, you name it.

Before we started, I expected to have problems with lactose and Emily was avoiding wheat and gluten. After 6 weeks on our elimination diet, Emily was able to reintroduce everything, including gluten, without any negative reactions but I had problems with soy, dairy, and eggs. My reactions included skin rashes and problems with my digestive system.

The elimination diet is setup to isolate the affect of each potential allergen, but when I started having digestive problems or skin rashes, my immediate reaction was to blame it on something other than the new food. The skin rashes only showed up on my hands, so I figured the cause was more likely environmental than food related. The digestive problems were obviously food related, but soy is such a huge part of a vegetarian diet that I didn’t want to believe it was the cause of my problems.

(Warning: gross details to follow.)

Dyshidrotic Eczema Hand RashWhen I reintroduced eggs in my diet, my hands developed rashes. After some disturbing internet searching, I’ve identified my skin rashes as dyshidrotic eczema. I’ve had these rashes in the past, but never identified a cause – I remember breakouts in the winter after wearing wet gloves or in the summer when camping. According to what I’ve read online, the cause of dyshidrotic eczema is unknown, but it is often triggered by stress, food sensitivities, or exposure to moisture. The rashes are itchy, but go away after a week or two.

My reaction to soy is more severe and troubling. On the first day I reintroduced soy, I drank soy milk for breakfast and ate fried tofu at lunch. That evening I felt bloated, I had really stinky farts, and my poop was covered in blood and mucus. I immediately cut soy out of my diet, and within 2 days I was back to normal. Over the next month, I tried eating soy in various formats – edamame, soy sauce, and tempeh. The results were always the same, with the severity roughly proportional to the amount of soy consumed. Dairy caused the same symptoms.

These symptoms weren’t too surprising to me, but more severe than I’ve ever seen. Years ago, I had identified a link between dairy and gassiness, but soy was a new trigger. The mucus and blood in my stool was shocking and worrying. Last summer I had problems with fatigue and had noticed small amounts of blood in my stool. After a few doctors visits and several blood tests, the only thing they found were elevated levels of bilirubin, which my doctor thought might be caused by Gilbert’s syndrome. After ruling out hepatitis, gluten-intolerance, and other serious diseases, the doctor suggested the bloody stool was likely caused by something in my diet, and gave me an unhelpful list of foods to avoid that included everything from chocolate to high-fibre fruits. I’ve now identified soy and dairy as the triggers, but I’m still not sure what the cause is.

Italian GraffitiThere aren’t many online articles on milk and soy protein intolerance, but the few I’ve read show the same symptoms to what I’m experiencing. Unfortunately most of the articles are focused on babies, with some suggesting that children often outgrow their intolerance to milk and soy.

I still have a few unanswered questions.
– I’ve been eating soy since I was a kid, without any symptoms. Why am I now having problems digesting it and why did the symptoms become worse after the elimination diet?
– Is it possible that I could build up the ability to digest soy (and dairy) again? Avoiding soy at home is easy, but vegetarian options at restaurants are usually soy-based.
– What happens to my body when I eat soy? I see the symptoms, but are there any long-term impacts?

I’m going to see a dietician in the next few weeks for some professional advice. Hopefully I get some answers.

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