My Husband Has a Big Barrel! How Big is Yours?

My husband is an amazing guy. Really, he is. I’m one lucky girl. I don’t have enough time right now to write about all of his positive qualities in detail. But suffice it to say that he is a great person, husband and father. He, however, is not the most health conscious man! Gasp! I know, I know….I am a Health Coach! And this is my husband we are talking about!

Let me explain – this husband of mine doesn’t eat breakfast, but drinks three cups of coffee instead. He would eat lunch at a gas station or fast food joint if he thought I wouldn’t ask about his mid-day meal. And he has an insatiable sweet tooth – eating something sweet every single time he passes through the kitchen. In fact, he is the big kid in the car who always wants to stop at Rita’s. He used to work out, but hasn’t in a long time and he only gets about six hours of sleep a night. He thrives on a stress filled work day from 7am to 6pm and deep breathing or meditation aren’t exactly up his alley. But, at the present moment – he looks and is – healthy. His blood work and last physical exam seem to be proof! And as happy as that makes me because I want this incredible man to be around a long time….it used to make me so frustrated to wonder why is he so healthy, if he doesn’t seem to be focusing on his health!?

Enter the barrel metaphor. We all have one – a barrel, that is. No, this is not entirely scientific. But, yes, this is a great way to understand each of our individual wellness journeys. I am not a physician by any means, but it is my understanding that your so called “barrel” size is determined in general by your genetics. My barrel appears to be quite small. And my husband’s barrel appears to be quite large. (I know, I know, I can hear the jokes now about my husband’s large barrel!)

This is how my Integrative Physician explained it to me a few years ago, right after I was diagnosed with both Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease. I just couldn’t understand how I had arrived at that diagnosis. I had a bacterial infection from a bug, of all things, which seemed to have flipped the switch on a chronic degenerative disease that was leaving scars on my brain.

She told me that I most likely had a small “barrel” based on my genetic make-up. And – my little barrel was full. It was full to the brim and had overflowed. Stress. Junk food. Soda. Toxins from city water, pesticide use on our lawn, chemicals in my personal and household products. A death in the family. Did I mention stress? ….Had all filled up my barrel.

What happens when your barrel is full? It can be a set-up for disease. This is the intersection where your genetics and environment/lifestyle habits meet. Where the rubber meets the road as they say. Some people have a big barrel – it can handle a larger load of insults before it overflows and allows for a set-up of chronic disease or illness in the body. And some people have a smaller barrel – it fills up quite quickly and then your body just can’t seem to keep up anymore with the insults of living a toxic life.

It took a few more doctors and a few more rounds of testing for me to put this whole barrel picture together and for me to truly understand the metaphor as it pertained to me.

I now know what some of those genetic markers are that make my barrel so small. I am homozygous positive for the MTHFR gene, which means I have two positive genes for this marker – one from my mother and one from my father. And I am homozygous positive for the COMT gene. Again, not a physician here – or a scientist – but I do have a general understanding of these biological issues as they pertain to me. The MTHFR gene affects your methylation cycle in regards to folic acid. Basically, my body does not do a good job of providing the enzymes needed to move folic acid to folate so that my body can use it. And folate is important for a healthy body. It also causes other issues in the body, namely the ability to eliminate toxins properly. If you are homozygous positive like I am, your liver may only work at 30% capacity to remove toxins from your body. The COMT gene mutation controls estrogen, neurotransmitter, and toxin elimination – and is often called the “worrier gene” – as in, having all of those important things imbalanced can cause a person to exhibit signs of a being a bit of a sensitive worrier in life, which in and of itself can cause the body stress and disease!

So, having both the MTHFR and COMT gene mutations means that I have a pretty small barrel. It appears that once the Lyme bacterial infection from a tick was added to my already rapidly filling barrel, there was an overflow of sorts – and my body cried out – “no more!” I hope that you can see how these things are fundamentally linked. I have a genetic predisposition to not be able to clear toxins well. I lived a life full of toxins with no regard to the insults that they were making on my body. And then I was bit by a tick without knowing it and didn’t get treatment in time to stop the infection from setting off a cascade of issues – which certainly topped off my small barrel.

Inexpensive genetic testing is now available to everybody even without a physician’s order, especially once you suspect a problem. For instance, with my MS diagnosis and gene mutations, it was important to have our kids tested for the same genetic issues so that we all knew what we were dealing with. Of course, barring genetic testing for the whole world….what do you do about this barrel issue?

Well, here is my theory. Everyone has a barrel. And, most people don’t know their barrel size before they hit that moment when they fill up, overflow and become chronically ill. Currently about half of the US population has at least one chronic condition, some have more than one. The fact is that everyday life is now quite toxic. Your personal environment is full of items that fill the barrel – pesticides, processed foods, colorings, additives, preservatives, antibiotics, pharmaceutical drugs, environmental pollution, chemicals in household and body/beauty products, recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. A healthy body, without genetic mutations that affect detoxification, is made to detox naturally every day through the digestive system, liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. This means that a healthy body will excrete some of these toxins through urinating, sweating, breathing, bowel movements, etc. But, even a healthy body can’t keep up forever.

It seems that the smart thing to do is to take this knowledge and apply it by limiting the incoming toxic insults! And to help the body work more efficiently at getting rid of the ones that we can’t control our exposure to. Limit incoming toxins. Help the body detox the things you can’t control. Then replenish the body with healthy food, water, supplements, movement and sleep. I wish I had all of this information before my barrel topped out. If I had, I surely would have taken steps to avoid the full barrel and ensuing diagnosis. Lucky for me, I have learned a lot in the last five years and I take as many steps as necessary to unload that barrel every day and replenish my body with good things! I may have topped out early, but it isn’t too late for my barrel to see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle!

My husband is lucky too – it appears that he was blessed with the gift of good genes and a large barrel…and he DOES live with a health coach! In addition, he does do some things right. He is exposed to limited toxins at home because we use natural non-toxic household and body products. He doesn’t smoke or use tobacco products, doesn’t take any pharmaceutical prescriptions and doesn’t drink soda. He doesn’t eat from 9pm at night until about 11:30 am the next day (except for black coffee), which is a form of healthy intermittent fasting. He normally eats a salad for lunch – because he knows that I will ask about what he had for lunch! And he generally eats a healthy home cooked meal each night of the week with limited carbohydrates. He drinks a lot of water – a lot. In addition, he moves all day – like way more than 10,000 steps a day, just naturally during his work day. He sweats on the weekends when he plays ball with the kids or works around the house or in our sauna. He takes supplements when I remind him. And he sleeps when he is tired, period. All good things!

Whether your barrel is big – or small – you too have the opportunity to take steps in your everyday life to limit how full it becomes! Manage your barrel – and do well!


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