It was the middle of the night. I awoke feeling an intense pain in my upper right abdomen, just under my ribs. I thought I was having a heart attack. I tried to stay calm and figure out what to do. Gradually I realized my heartbeat was steady, though fast because of the adrenalin associated with feeling fearful. What on earth was happening to me? After about 20 minutes, the pain subsided and I eventually fell back asleep.
By morning, the whole experience seemed surreal. I'm not one to run to a doctor for every little thing. I thought perhaps what I had experienced had been heartburn. I had heard people describe pretty severe pain associated with that kind of digestive problem. I decided to buy some antacids just in case and see if it had been a one-time experience.
As it turned out, it happened several times again over the next few months at irregular intervals. I couldn't figure out any pattern regarding what brought on these "attacks." Sometimes antacid seemed to help, but other times nothing helped. The episodes would last from 15-20 minutes up to several hours. I decided it was time to talk with a doctor.
I went to a physician and had some blood tests. I was low on vitamin D (aren't we all?) but otherwise nothing showed up. The doctor didn't think it was heartburn because the pain was on the right side instead of in the center. There was no diagnosis.
My daughter recommended a naturopathic physician she had worked with, Dr. Jean Layton. By then I was pretty convinced the problem was something digestive, but I couldn't imagine what. Dr. Layton is also known as the "Gluten Free Doctor", so I figured she was a digestive expert. I went to my appointment with her expecting she might recommend big changes in my diet. I didn't care. I was prepared to be a model patient if it meant the painful attacks would go away. I was also experiencing almost constant fatigue, and had begun to have lower back pain as well.
Dr. Layton looked at my blood test results. She noted that everything fell within normal ranges, but said she was more interested in comparing the results to "optimal" ranges instead of "normal." Doing that, she quickly noted a pattern, informed me that my stomach wasn't producing enough acid, and said the result was that protein molecules were not being broken down into small enough pieces, and the overly large pieces were obstructing my gall bladder. I was having gall bladder attacks. It also explained the back pain in the area of the kidneys, which were also becoming blocked. Now I had a diagnosis, and I braced myself to hear her treatment recommendations.
"You just need to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a little water before each meal," she said.
That's all? That was it? I recalled that my mother had experienced gall bladder attacks at about the same age. She ended up having surgery to remove her gall bladder. All I needed to do was take apple cider vinegar?
It's been nearly two years since I started taking the vinegar, I haven't had a single recurrence of the attacks. From my point of view it's been miraculous.
Apple cider vinegar has been used as a home remedy for centuries. It's a fermentation product made from fresh apple cider. First the sugars are broken down by wild or added yeasts to make alcohol (hard cider). Left longer, the alcohol breaks down further and vinegar is formed. The primary ingredient at that point is acetic acid.
WebMD.com, an online medical resource, reports some scientific studies showing benefits from taking apple cider vinegar related to improving diabetes, heart health and blood pressure, esophageal cancer, and weight loss. Clearly more research is needed. I was fortunate to find a doctor who knew and understood more about the biochemical effects.
Reports from individuals suggest more extensive benefits. Apple cider vinegar, taken as a supplement or in food (salad dressing, for example), has been reported by many to relieve or improve such ailments as allergies, arthritis, sinus infections, acne, high cholesterol, flu, chronic fatigue, candida, acid reflux, sore throats, contact dermatitis, arthritis, gout and obesity. Given what I've experienced, it makes me wonder how much of these disorders might be related to poor or incomplete digestion.
While you could make apple cider vinegar yourself, if you wanted, we're fortunate to have high quality, locally produced vinegar available from BelleWood Acres. They offer it at their Farmers Market booth, and the Community Food Co-op also carries their vinegar. Of course, you can also get it at the amazing new BelleWood Acres farm store, bakery, bistro and distillery located at 6140 Guide Meridian, between Bellingham and Lynden.
Regardless of the benefits, I've always enjoyed the flavor of apple cider vinegar in my cooking. Below is my most recent concoction, a locavore sweet and sour sauce. I served it over meatballs, which makes a great holiday appetizer.
SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE RECIPE
1 sauce tomato (fresh or home-canned) (Terra Verde Garden, Everson)
1 teaspoon hazelnut oil or butter (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale, WA)
2/3 cup beef stock (homemade with soup bones from Second Wind Farm, Everson)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1. Peel and crush the sauce tomato (Roma type works well).
2. Heat the oil or butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the crushed tomato and cook until the texture thickens to a sauce consistency.
3. Add vinegar, salt, and honey, and stir to mix well. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until honey has dissolved.
4. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and the cold beef stock until there are no lumps, then add to the saucepan.
5. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and is smooth and glossy. Remove from heat.
Makes 11/2 cups.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com
Reach NANCY GING at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, "like" Whatcom Locavore on Facebook (facebook.com/whatcomlocavore) and "follow" on Twitter, @WhatcomLocavore. For locavore menus, recipes, and more resources, read her blog at at whatcomlocavore.com.