Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coffee and Cocoa

I had an appointment with the liver specialist yesterday. I dread seeing her every six months. She's a lovely person, but I hate thinking about livers. I've had elevated liver enzymes off and on (mostly on) for many years. My previous liver doctor couldn't figure it out and sent me away. Then he went away. The new doctor is more zealous. She keeps a close eye on me and wants to get to the bottom of it. So I had more blood tests, and if the results (arriving later today) aren't good, she wants me to have a biopsy.

I'd like to avoid that. It seems like overkill. I feel fine. If I had liver disease for many years, I think I'd know it by now. I'd have, you know, a symptom. And my test results improve when I take better care of myself. So it seems crazy to have an invasive, expensive, painful procedure, with risks for infection or bleeding that could kill me. And they don't usually provide a real diagnosis. (She's hoping to rule out a few rare diseases, like "bizarre" infections I might have picked up long ago in Egypt. Oh, brother.)

Liver biopsies cost thousands of dollars, and I'd have to pay for a chunk of it myself, thanks to our stingy new medical insurance. I can't afford it —not with our current staggering expenses from owning two condos, which continues to drag on despite weekly open houses and costly staging. (But, hey, I didn't really want my life savings anyway.)

Most people with liver problems are (or were) drinkers. I never was. Even when I could drink, years ago, I never had more than a few glasses of wine or Guinness a year. I always preferred Diet Coke. For the past 13 years, I haven't been able to have alcohol without getting sick (IBS). Even red wine in a sauce can send me to bed for a day or two and then a week on a bland diet. My liver issues are most unfair.

Since they can't tell me to lay off the sauce, I've been instructed to change my diet in other ways. I gave up my daily soda habit. I learned to like water. (Cambridge water is the best.) I gave up fruit juice, sweet tea, flavored yogurt, granola, most candy, and plenty of other things that have added sugar — things you probably eat all the time without thinking. But it still wasn't enough to make my liver happy. It got happier, but not normal.

I did not give up my nightly dessert but I recently cut it back to a couple of small, boring, store-bought cookies and a glass of skim milk. No more layer cake, homemade brownies, or platefuls of homemade tollhouse cookies. The worst thing about not being able to eat much sugar is not being able to bake. I really miss it. We'll see if it's worth it.

For a few weeks before yesterday's blood test, I cut out all dessert. And for a couple of months, I've been forcing myself to drink a big glass of iced coffee every morning. Coffee is supposed to be great for liver detoxing. I read about a study where researchers measured liver enzymes in a large group of adults, and only people who didn't drink coffee had abnormalities.

Man, I hate coffee. It tastes like it's made from burnt sticks. But I buy cold-brew concentrate from Trader Joe's, mix it up, pour a disgusting amount, and drink it as fast as I can through a straw. I can't be bothered to make real coffee from beans. It wouldn't help. And I can chug cold drinks faster than hot ones. I put stevia in it, a plant substance that's the only sweetener the liver doctor's nutritionist recommends.  It tastes sweet and terrible at the same time. I also add skim milk and a splash of whole milk. It looks pretty but it still tastes like hell. I slam it down.

My husband pointed out that it's like I'm doing colonoscopy prep every morning. I wish he hadn't said that because I'd rather have a colonoscopy drink. It doesn't all taste like salty bilge water, you know. There's one kind that tastes like fizzy lemon soda. Come to think of it, I probably can't even have that anymore, either. It's sweet.

I've been eating sweet potatoes, spinach, apples, beets, broccoli, onions, nuts, and lemons because they are supposed to be good for your liver, too. (I found this article.) And no visits to Shake Shack or Tasty Burger.

It might help that I'm about 8 pounds lighter now than I was for many years. Stress and misery did it, and if it saves me a biopsy, it might have been worth it.

As I walked to the Longwood Medical Area yesterday, I wasn't in the best mood. I'd typed "110 Francis Street, Brookline, MA" into Google Maps on my phone and headed down Beacon Street,  following the little blue dot to the little red pin. I thought it was an odd way to go — I usually take the T there and wander home via the MFA or through the Fens but I knew Longwood was somewhere around there.

I was surprised when I got to 90-something Francis Street and the medical area and liver center were nowhere in sight. It was a residential street. I checked the reminder sheet the doctor had sent. Turns out there's another Francis Street in BOSTON.

I typed that into the app, and booked it to the right Francis Street. And got there on time. Along the way, I made an interesting discovery. I will tell you about it later because Blogger keeps refusing to load my photo.

It has to do with cocoa. That's all I'll say. Sigh. I miss cups of cocoa, too....

Stay tuned.


  1. Would it help to add peppermint extract (or something similar) to the coffee?

    1. Totally agree with Kelly. You could try "bullet proof" coffee. You blend coffee with coconut oil and grass-fed butter in a blender. There is also dandelion tea. Tastes like weak coffee.
      I also have funky liver enzymes. I'm completely healthy in every other way so my doc checks them annually. I basically live on the liver detox diet. My "normal" way of eating gets old, especially around the holidays. I miss sugar!

    2. Great ideas. I will try almost anything if it's safe and is known to help detox livers. Thank god for straws!

  2. Oh, you never want to have a liver biopsy if you can avoid it! I had to have one 2 years ago and it was traumatizing...the idea of a big, long needle going into my side was terrifying. They gave me some sort of light anesthetic to relax me but I had already been a nervous wreck.


    1. Yes, I have friends who've told me with great relish that it's a painful procedure that occasionally kills someone. Apparently patients are told to stay in close vicinity of an ER in the days afterward in case you start bleeding to death. I don't know if I'd be more of a wreck before or after!

  3. dandelion root, milk thistle and turmeric are all also supposed to be good for the liver.. I've also taken to drinking this tea from time to time and it isn't bad.. https://www.yogiproducts.com/teas/detox/

    Not that you need me to tell you any of this, I just felt the need to comment.. because.. um.. I do that.

    1. Yes, I love that you do that but I hope it never cuts into your kitten time! I will look into that tea. Thanks!


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