The following story offers a dramatic illustration of the relationship between health and the environment. Jonathan Papernick was diagnosed with celiac disease in his mid-20s. He managed the disease just fine by avoiding gluten. His health spiraled downward, however, when he moved into his future wife's apartment. His symptoms included growing food intolerances, acid reflux, tongue swelling, canker sores, and rapid weight loss.
According to Papernick,
My future wife was afraid I was dying and wondered seriously whether I was somehow allergic to her. By the time we were married a year later, several allergists had told me that I had no allergies at all. Gastrointestinal doctors blamed my mysterious affliction on stress. An acupuncturist said my chi was out of whack. I was tested for parasites and came up clean. More than a few friends and family members suggested indelicately that my problems were all in my head, or worse still, that I was simply seeking attention. I couldn’t even look at the skeleton resembling myself in the mirror anymore.
Illness can do strange things to an ordinarily rational mind, and I was desperate to find a solution. A friend told me about a new-age treatment that claimed to resolve undiagnosed health problems. After shelling out several hundred dollars for a consultation, I was informed that my problems were caused by “energy blockages,” disruptions in the normal flow of energy through my body’s electrical circuits. The practitioner said she could permanently cure me simply by treating my pressure points while I held in my hand a vial of charged water containing the same properties as the allergen. Apparently, a minimum of 30 to 40 treatments would be necessary to help me gain back chicken, potatoes, rice, beans and other staples that I had relied on my entire life. For more than six months I paid good money for treatments that did nothing to help me, the practitioner always promising that next time I was due for a breakthrough that would allow me to once again eat my favorite foods. I should have been more skeptical of this miracle cure. But with more and more foods finding their way onto my blacklist, I could not afford cynicism. I needed a miracle and nothing less.
My wife had had enough of my indulgence in expensive, unproven “voodoo” medicine, and she put out a frantic call to her friends and colleagues asking for help. A friend passed along the name of a doctor known to have success with people thought of as incurable — the last resort for many seemingly hopeless cases.
Within minutes of meeting the doctor and explaining my symptoms, he was certain that he had pinpointed the source of all my problems. Yeast.
Papernick was ordered to cut out all sugar, alcohol, fruit, starch, peanuts, and mushrooms, and told to eat protein and vegetables with low sugar content. He faithfully followed the protocol, which incorporated 12 supplements, including probiotics and digestive enzymes.
But he didn't progress the way his doctor anticipated.
When I didn’t improve as quickly as my doctor expected, he sent a mold remediation specialist out to our apartment to check out our living situation. There was black mold in our closets and on our walls, and the air shaft that was supposed to provide fresh air to three of our rooms was full of pigeon feces and filth. I was shocked to learn that our New York City apartment was slowly killing me.
My doctor explained that others could live perfectly normal lives with this mold, but in my case, with a compromised immune system, the toxic mold was simply piling on a heavily taxed system and adding fuel to the Candida — the literal last straw. We were ordered to clean our walls with hydrogen peroxide and to purchase an industrial-strength air filter with an infrared beam to get rid of the mold. The hydrogen peroxide had little effect, as the tenacious mold seemed to reappear within days.
I slowly reintroduced foods back into my diet, starting with a simple forkful at a time. However, with every slice of potato, mouthful of rice, nibble of chicken, I felt my head throb, my throat tickle. My doctor suggested that we move, and before long, a job opened up in Boston. I packed up and left town — four months ahead of my wife, who still needed to wrap up things with her job.
Within weeks of living in New England, I started to improve, slowly, ever so slowly, and I found the courage to reintroduce foods back into my diet. It took years, not months, as I followed the doctor’s strict diet, which included egg whites and spinach and tuna for breakfast. Eventually, gradually, thankfully I got better.
Papernick has gained his weight back and has now started a family. He's also telling his story. As an author, he tells his story well, as you can see in this New York Times article.