Bread was a problem.
Jeremy and I had decided that I wouldn’t be taking drugs to treat MS. So the first thing I did was go gluten-free. I learned from most of my research that gluten can cause inflammation and MS is an inflammatory disease.
But I was determined to have my bread and eat it too. Even if I had to make it. Most gluten-free bread I had tried was pretty bad. Too dense. Too hard. None of it met the bread standards of soft, chewy goodness. I found a recipe for gluten-free sandwich bread and tried it.
It called for active dry yeast. I’d never baked with active yeast before. You have to heat the milk, add yeast and sugar to the milk all to “proof” the yeast, testing it to make sure it is in fact active. I made the bread recipe three times, following the directions meticulously. Adding the yeast and sugar to warm milk. The directions said that there should be bubbling as soon as the yeast is added to the milk. Each time I did it there was no bubbly. And each time the bread didn’t rise.
Why isn’t it working?
I googled “how to proof yeast.” All the search results revealed that the sugar gives the yeast something to eat to make it grow and the temperature of the milk has to be just right, or the yeast won’t activate. So I got a candy thermometer and tried again. This time, thanks to my handy thermometer, I made sure the milk was 115 degrees. Added yeast and sugar, and it bubbled right away. Once it bubbles, you are supposed to let it sit for about 10 minutes before adding it to the rest of the bread dough. After 10 minutes, the yeast mixture had a foamy cap on top, almost like beer.
One of the books I read during my research, Healing Multiple Sclerosis by Dr. Ann Boroch, suggests a specific connection between nutrition deficiency and MS: yeast overgrowth. Yeast overgrowth occurs in the gut when there is an imbalance of nutrients, creating just the right environment for yeast to grow. According to Dr. Boroch, when the yeast takes over the gut it breaks down the stomach lining to the point where toxins from nutrient-deficient food can leak into the blood stream. When the toxins enter the blood stream, it triggers an autoimmune response because the body is trying to attack an invader but cannot distinguish between good cells (itself) and bad cells (toxins).
Dr. Boroch had a severe case of MS with bouts of seizures and paralysis, which she reversed by treating the yeast overgrowth with an extremely restricted diet and cleansing regimen. She prescribes the restricted diet, also known as the candida diet, to most her patients, and she says that patients with MS usually have to be on the diet for 1 to 2 years before they see a relief or change in their MS.
The diet would mean absolutely no sugar. Nothing with yeast or any fermentation, which means no wine (my favorite!), no beer and no alcohol (alcohol is the most refined form or sugar). Nothing starchy, including russet potatoes and beans. No soy, no gluten, no dairy, no coffee, and no corn (too much sugar). No fruit, except green apples and some berries (too much sugar) and not even mushrooms! (Because they are a fungus.)
Those were the two worst things on the list. Everything else seemed manageable. Except for maybe the mushrooms. But how could I not have a glass of wine with friends at dinner? Just thinking about it, my entire social life changed before my mind’s eye.
But since my MS isn’t nearly as severe as Dr. Boroch’s was, surely there would be no way that I’d have the yeast overgrowth problem. Right?
We interviewed three doctors before settling on seeing a local naturopathic doctor. At our first visit with the new doctor, he recommended that I start taking 20,000 IU of vitamin D, 20x the amount recommended by my neurologist. Multiple sclerosis commonly occurs in patients with vitamin D deficiency. Its prevalence increases with distance from the equator, suggesting a connection between the disease and sun exposure.
Right away I got a bunch of lab work done, blood testing and a GI test. All of it sounded familiar; I’d been reading about it in my research and several books pointed to a similar approach. The lab work would reveal any nutrient imbalances in my body. We waited three weeks for the lab results and then had a consultation with the doctor.
All I could think about was, what if it’s the yeast? What if I have to go on that wretched diet? Dr. Boroch writes that patients with MS have to be on the diet for at least one year, sometimes two. Two years? I didn’t want to become a nuisance. Someone who has to read labels and ask for special treatment anytime we eat away from home. I didn’t want to become a burden to my husband, to my friends, or even to the waiter at a restaurant if we were ever able to eat out. You know, like Sally from When Harry Met Sally, who cannot order off the menu without adding a grocery list of exceptions. I put the thought out of my mind: it wouldn’t be the yeast and the extreme diet wouldn’t even be something we would need to consider.
I tried to stay positive, telling myself it wouldn’t be the yeast. It’s like when you think you’re getting sick and you tell yourself you’re not sick, you have a better chance of not getting sick. I hoped and prayed it wouldn’t be the yeast. I believed it wouldn’t be the yeast. I didn’t want to go on that diet. How could I function without so many things in life that I look forward to, that create community and shared experience around things like savoring a glass of wine, enjoying it with a lavish meal, relaxing and appreciating the simple things with people I love? It can’t be the yeast!
It was the yeast.
At the doctor appointment, he walked us through the lab results. Each item accompanied by the visual aid of a red-to-green bar, illustrating the spectrum of healthy and unhealthy ranges. The vitamin D was within range so I should keep taking the same amount. The alkaline phosphatase were low. The iron was high. So I should start taking folic acid. The lactobacillus was low. So I should start taking a multivitamin and probiotics. The yeast was high. So high it registered in the red on the graph. On a scale of 1 to 4, it was a 4. So I should start the diet and an anti-fungal.
Elimination diet, the doctor said. We have to get that yeast under control, he said. The only way to do that is to not feed it, he said.
I remembered making the gluten-free bread with the active dry yeast and the foamy cap that happened when I finally proofed it. And I imagined that foamy stuff happening in my belly.