How Iraq changed my genetic expression…

Oh yeah, and I smuggled a bug back inside my gut too…

It was 2007, I was on my third Operational Deployment with the Army, this time I was in Iraq as part of a Security Detachment, responsible for security of and guarding the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Also the protection of Australian diplomats, such as the Australian Ambassador to Iraq, and vehicle convoys for supply along the notorious ‘Route Irish’.

This was a life changing experience for me in ways I would never imagine. I was taught we all carry genes for certain diseases, however whether these genes are ‘expressed’ would be determined by the environment we subject it to. This rings so true for me. Thanks Dr. Lauenstein.

Apart from the constant bombings, travelling around in full body armour in up to 60 degrees celsius weather and being woken by alarms notifying of incoming missiles every night, I actually really enjoyed my time in Iraq.

I had time to study, I completed almost an entire diploma of small business management, I read every fitness course material I could get my hands on (which was easy my wife just completed her Cert III and IV in Fitness), and studied sports nutrition. And yes, it was all in textbooks, paper and pen…

I remember the American ‘Mess’, you know the place where you eat when you are in the Army. It had EVERYTHING, it was a brown, white and sugar filled smorgasbord of everything you could imagine. Cakes, soft drink, Baskins and Robbins, I think maybe every flavour, pasta, bread, chips… It had everything.

Back then I believed, food is just fuel, if you are burning it off, that is doing enough exercise, you can eat anything to fuel it. Boy was I wrong. I had never had any stomach issues before, in fact I thought I had an iron stomach, 7 Weet-Bix for breakfast with about 700ml of milk and sugar, a sandwich or two for lunch, pasta for dinner, the more carbs the better as it would fuel me to excel. And I thought I was killing it, 14.9 on the beep test, sub 8 minute 2.4km runs, I WAS killing it… until I wasn’t.

Toward the end of my six and a half month tour of Iraq, I started getting stomach pains after eating. I just kept it quiet. As you do. When I got home, it started getting progressively worse. Bread, pasta, nuts, bananas, avocado, all foods that I enjoyed regularly were starting to irritate me, sometimes to the point of agony where I couldn’t do anything except drink a bottle of Coke to help relieve the symptoms.

I eventually told my Mum, who has Coeliac Disease, and her fears were realised. I had Coeliac Disease too. So she told me to get tested to confirm. Negative. Thank God, I didn’t have that awful disease my Mum had, that stopped her eating all the most delicious foods or suffer if she accidentally did.

They ran every test, queried Crohn’s Disease, cancer… markers were there for everything but nothing was a definite yes. After a while, I stopped getting tests, avoided the foods that irritated me and just got on with life. For two years stomach pains, lethargy, irritability were just a part of my life, I just combated it with a positive attitude and kept as fit as I possibly could.

That is, until my body couldn’t do it any more. By this stage I was a Physical Training Instructor in the Army, about a year in to my new career. I was taking a lesson… then I blacked out. I describe it as like a computer monitor (an old one) turning off, then straight back on. I caught my footing, remembered what I was doing and went on with the lesson. This happened numerous times a day and went on for weeks. I kept it quiet, but it got worse, I started to lose weight, rapidly, I was getting migraines, and the blackouts got to the point where I was almost falling over. I decided at this point maybe I should get checked out.

Every test, again, negative for coeliac, but a possibility for every other disease known to man kind. I had CT scans with iodine, I ate barium to see my digestion rate (which was almost instant…) I had every test, until my Mum forced me to make them give me a gastroscopy. Then it was confirmed. My 65 year old sweet, innocent Doctor said, words to the effect of ‘The s*$t has hit the fan with you, I do not know how you are talking to me right now, let alone doing the job you are doing, it shouldn’t be possible’. You have confirmed coeliac disease and a bug, helicobacter pylori, the walls of your digestive system are so thin that the bug has created holes causing severe leaky gut and you have almost zero iron in your blood…the list went on…

At least I knew what was wrong and I could work toward healing myself, which was a long and gruelling 6 months to get back to where I was. To be honest, if I knew what I knew now, I may have never been in that situation in the first place.

Genetic expression. See, even though I had the genes for coeliac disease, if I had not provided it the right environment, that is eating copious amounts of gluten containing grains, sugar and even the added stress of serving in a war zone being bombed, then maybe those genes would have never been expressed, or ‘turned on’. Furthermore, if I was eating what I no believe to be healthy, then even if those genes were expressed, I would never have known any different as I would not eat gluten containing grains any way and therefore would not have shown any symptoms (like I am now).

So you see, Iraq, well not really Iraq but a diet filled with highly processed grains and sugar, changed my genetic expression. By eating a diet filled with whole foods, meat, vegetables, nut, seeds and fruit, and limiting the rest, we give our gut the best chance of being healthy, and when our gut is happy and healthy, so are we. Start your journey to healthy and happy now with Cobi Head Coach.