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MY NEW NORMAL



Turmeric is a root with brown skin and orange flesh. Its peppery, warm, slightly bitter flavor has made it a mainstay of curry dishes, but its high anti-oxidant content and other benefits make it an ideal food. My dad had been adding the shredded root to his tea as a natural anti-inflammatory. His research suggested turmeric is effective in the treatment of cancer so he proposed I get some for my mom who has stage IV breast cancer. I bought my mom a newly-released highly-bioavailable pill version of curcumin (the compound in turmeric that gives the root its health-promoting properties). It's made by Solgar. Recently she stopped her chemotherapy which wasn't working, only producing side effects such as fatigue and hair loss, and I figured this over the counter pill could bridge the gap between hard core treatment and a more natural approach. Her cancer is slow-growing anyway.

So as not to feel left out I started taking turmeric myself in powdered form a couple weeks back. Just a heaping tsp once daily which I'd chase with a few gulps of water. After about a week of this routine I started having some GI upset. I awoke in the middle of the night with crampy abdominal pain and rushed to the toilet where I made like a mother-to-be at forty weeks and gave birth to a bounding 8-lber, only the light of my eye was feces and it came out of my rectum. But even after unburdening my insides I felt queasy like I was going to pass out. I've felt this before and passed out, so I know the drill: lower the head below the heart to restore blood flow. Many people pass out on the toilet, usually from straining too hard. This is called the Valsalva maneuver. You increase abdominal pressure and prevent blood from returning to your heart so your brain gets starved of oxygen. In fact many believe that was how Elvis died. The king had a heart condition and was an opioid abuser which made him constipated, and one day while straining to evacuate his bowels he suffered chest pain and collapsed a few feet from the toilet. I think my queasiness was from parasympathetic overactivation (from the diarrhea) and a whole lot of pain (which can make you feel faint) because I wasn't straining. Quite the contrary. It had been "coming out of me like lava," to borrow a phrase from Bridesmaids

But before I could lower my head or lie back down I fainted because the next thing I knew I was in a fetal position around the toilet. And poop was still coming out of me! The first thing I thought when I came to was "this feels so good," the next thing was, "I am pooping on the floor and should probably get up before I make a real mess." The third thing: "This was how Elvis died." I managed to get off the floor just in time. I sat back down on the pot and basically started urinating out of my behind. Which is another way of saying I had diarrhea. Lots of it. After I was through, I turned on the light to assess the damage. The poop sat in a cohesive neat little pile by the bathroom rug, thankfully. The gash underneath my right eye from where my head hit the (hamper?) was another mess entirely, but also not much of a clean-up.

There followed 4 days of diarrhea. I thought I had cholera. But it's not endemic to LA. Could it be food poisoning? I checked the market where I shop for any recalls but there were none. Did I fail to adequately wash the lb of blueberries I had eaten the day prior to my porcelain escapade? This shouldn't produce such exaggerated symptoms, and my mother eats basically the same stuff I do and she had no problems whatsoever. So it must have been the turmeric. Sure enough the spice taken in excess can cause GI upset. Residue can build up in the cells lining the stomach and cause excessive acid and reflux, both of which I had. And the diarrhea was my body's attempt to clear the built-up powder from my intestinal tract. Never again. 

In bed for much of the week I hardly ate and didn't exercise, so naturally I quit drinking coffee. I have abstained once or twice before in the last 12 years, usually when bedridden or on a juice fast. But this time I decided to give it up for good. Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system and can cause irritability and anxiety. It promotes the release of adrenaline and can tax the adrenal glands. It can cause diarrhea and reflux, and having just suffered these symptoms I decided it best to do anything I could not to experience them again. Coffee also weakens bones. 

Ninety percent of the world’s population uses some form of caffeine, and 80 percent of U.S. adults consume caffeine daily. For me coffee has been study aid, athletic performance enhancer and short-cut to well-being. So much so that for half my life a day without coffee has been a day lived "at half mast," to use a nautical expression. Until recently I believed that I could not exercise without caffeine, which allowed me to run farther and faster and recover more quickly than just drinking water. This was because until recently the only two times I had tried to run without first drinking coffee had been miserable experiences. But on both of these occasions I had consumed alcohol the night before and needed caffeine to temper my hang-over. Indeed much of my twenties and thirties I consumed 4 or more alcoholic drinks per diem so you could say I lived over a decade hung over, or would have were it not for caffeine in one form or other, usually as coffee but also as expresso, yerba matte, iced tea, Ripped Fuel (an ephedra-containing supplement now illicit), or Red Bull. I no longer drink the downer that is alcohol, so theoretically have no need for an upper. 

I decided to give up coffee because irritability had begun to feel like the new normal, and I was sure coffee was to blame. I don't like being dependent on anything, but being a creature of habit once I form a routine I find it difficult to break the pattern unless I am really motivated. And this time I was. My motto became, "If I need coffee to do something (write, work out, be in a good mood), then better not to do that thing." And initially I was in a foul mood. This lasted for about four days as my system went through withdrawals. Body aches, fatigue, depression, irritability. Feelings of hopelessness. Would I ever feel myself again much less work out? But the malaise too passed, and after a week of not drinking coffee, and not planning to work out, I started weight training, and a day later I was running 9 miles barefoot in the hills - and loving it!

See, you don't need a stimulant to stimulate yourself. If one of the perks of eating healthy is having more energy, how to know you have this perk if you're constantly administering an artificial rush in the form of caffeine? Of course the following day I was sore as a motherf*&ker, but that passed too. It's been a couple weeks now and I'm back to my old workouts (perhaps running less on account of the heat, but lifting more) and without the self-induced stress and anxiety that always hounded me during my coffee-drinking days. So from even the most unfortunate of circumstances (explosive watery diarrhea) that cloud your day, or five, there is a silver lining. My new normal is caffeine-free. And staying away from too much turmeric. And the scar under my eye is not that noticeable.

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