Solving A Food Allergy Mystery
diet and weight loss | food tracking | genome & microbiome
Sue Lueder had a mystery stomach ailment that started after a vacation to Spain in 2011. After returning from her trip she was beset by consistent and frequent burping attacks. After visiting her physician and receiving a diagnosis for heart burn, which she didn't trust, she began to track her attacks and her diet. In this talk, presented at QS 2013 Global Conference, Sue shows how she tracked her symptoms and used the data to make sense of this mystery food allergy.
My name is Sue Lueder, I’m from San Diego. This is the case of an upset stomach. A mystery only Quantified Self could solve.
I had a mystery stomach ailment and I had no idea of what was going on. I’ve always tried to eat pretty healthy. I’ve stopped eating gluten for a while, but when I went to Spain in 2011, I went hog-wild. I ate whatever I wanted. Here I am eating Churro and chocolate in Madrid.
But when I got home from my trip, about a month later I was sick. I started having these weird burping attacks. I would burp every 30 seconds for hours on end, hours. It was horrible. I wasn’t burping like Barney here. I was more burping like a little princess. Little tiny burps that most people couldn’t even notice but I noticed, and it was really uncomfortable and kind of embarrassing.
So I went to see a doctor, thinking surely they’ll be able to tell me what’s wrong with me. The first doctor I saw said oh, you have heartburn. Just start taking Prilosec and it you’ll be fine. But that didn’t seem right, because I didn’t even know what acid reflux felt like.
So I started tracking my data.
I tracked everything I ate and I tracked my attack on a scale of 1 to 10, thinking surely my doctor will look at this data and tell me what’s wrong. She wasn’t even interested. She said just take Prilosec, you’ll be fine.
So I saw another doctor. This doctor did an upper endoscopy. He saw no signs of heartburn, although he did find a small hernia. But that didn’t seem right either. So I went to the Internet, maybe Google will have the answer.
Well, I’ve got lots of things to worry about now. Maybe I had hypochloremia, which is actually the opposite of acid reflux. Or maybe I have got parasites on my trip to Spain. Maybe my gluten allergy had gotten out of control, and I tried everything to fix this problem.
I tried a clean diet. I eventually tried the Prilosec. I tried parasite cleanse. And this is a picture of all the supplements I bought to try and make it better. Nothing worked.
I have been tracking my data this whole time, seven months. 32% of the time, I felt okay. But 37%I felt meh and 31% terrible where my attack would be so bad. I would almost be throwing up. Seven months.
So I had all this data, and I thought, the answer is in the data. So I did some analysis. I had just been typing in of what foods I ate in Excel, so I was able to look for certain strings in my data and see if they were correlated to my good or bad days. So I could look and see if I had nachos on my bad days, or had Diet Coke, or if I ate chipotle or Souplantation, and I started to see a trend. So then I categorize my data by different heartburn triggers or allergens, like dairy, coffee, fried food, beer, wine, chocolate and I definitely found a clue.
Dairy, for example, was over represented by 19%. I had never had an issue with dairy before, but obviously I have one now and I felt pretty good because I finally had some answers.
So here is a summary of my data by category. Dairy was also underrepresented on my good days, the same with fried foods and gluten. But luckily, I could still drink beer and eat chocolate, which was weird because one has gluten and the other has dairy.
So I adjusted my diet to reduce the dairy and I got my good days up to 51%. My bad days down to 14% and this was huge. I was finally feeling better after almost a year.
Here’s a plot of my attacks over time, you can see certain events. In January 2012, that’s actually when I started the Prilosec, I have to admit it did make me feel a little better, but in April, that’s when I did my data and analysis, and I stopped eating dairy and I started to feel a lot better.
But see this big spike here in the summer of 2012, what happened there? Well, I went on vacation and I cheated; I ate cheese balls, a lot of them. I was sick for like 36 hours, it ruined my vacation. At this point I think I could never eat cheese again, I was pretty sad but at least my case was closed.
So am I cured? So here I am at my gluten free, dairy free birthday cake in December 2012. It was delicious, but I was still having attacks now and then and I was still taking Prilosec which I didn’t want to be taking any more.
So why reopened my case in January 2013. You can see my attacks are less severe than they were the previous two years, but I really wanted to get them down to zero. If we zoom into 2013, we can see some other events.
In February, I started taking a oregano supplement, which is actually really good for colds and flu, is also good for parasites. And I started to feel better and I thought it was maybe correlated.
But then I would have these spikes because I’m a cheater. I ate cupcakes at work; the wider they do this to me, they’re irresistible.
But overall this year, I’ve been feeling a lot better. So in July, I decided to experiment and I finally went off the Prilosec and I started eating some dairy.
As you can see from my attacks and that might not be such a great idea. So I’m still tracking, because I really want to get down to exactly what the problem is. This was so difficult, because my correlations were not 100%. I could sometimes eat a bowl of ice cream and have no problem whatsoever. So maybe it’s a food combination problem or some cumulative effects.
But I learned that you need to track everything. Track your good days and your bad days. Track stress levels, activities, sleep, anything you can think of that might provide a clue for later down the road when you’re doing your analysis.
I also learned that Excel was an excellent tool for me. I’m an Excel pro, so it was really fast for me to add and remove data, as I saw fit. And the data is all mine and I have almost 600 days of food that I’ve eaten and my attack severity, and supplements, and stress levels and mood.
But I’m sort of reaching a limit of what I can do in Excel. I’d like to do some advanced correlation, but my formulas are already getting out of control. So if anybody has advice I’d love to hear it.
I looked for an app that would do this for me, but I couldn’t quite find anything that was easy-to-use. Food Allergy Detective, was pretty close, but I didn’t find myself using it every day.
So moving forward, my goal is to have 100% good days and to stay off the Prilosec forever. I don’t want to take something for a problem I don’t even have, and to stop cheating, because I’m only victimizing myself.