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In my experience of having cold agglutinin disease (CAD), I have seen my doctors focus mainly on my symptoms. This seems to be true for other people I know with CAD as well. Unless there is a need for immediate treatment, most of us can cope by avoiding cold exposure in every form. But what if the focus added some other things, such as organ health?

I was thinking about how we all reside in our skin from birth to death, and our focus is always on the exterior. What if we are taught instead to focus on the inside, on organ health? If we changed our thinking from the very beginning, we may have a healthier human population.

Disease is going to happen whether it’s hereditary, environmental, or lifestyle. CAD, for instance, just happened to me. I have not seen any information that points to something I could have avoided. However, CAD does have a direct effect on my organs, so I must take the right steps to stay warm all year long.

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Staying warm does not just stave off hemolysis; it can also help protect our organs from the effects of hemolysis. I was told by my doctor that even when I stay warm, I will always experience some level, even low, of hemolysis. That means that even without symptoms, my body is in a constant state of creating, prematurely destroying, and filtering red blood cells.

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We do know that with CAD, some may experience the usual suspects such as fatigue, dizziness, joint pain, and rapid heartbeat. These are typically due to the cold exposure that for us kicks off hemolysis, but there is so much more. After our bodies begin to destroy our red blood cells prematurely, a chain reaction begins.

This reaction is hard on my bone marrow, as it needs to constantly replace my blood cells. Our spleens need to constantly filter out dead red blood cells, which is why mine is slightly enlarged. My bilirubin is always high, and my skin can be slightly yellowish, including the whites of my eyes. My liver is slightly enlarged, which could be from processing too many toxins. All of this I have gotten used to. My hematologist is good at keeping a close eye on all these functions to watch for any variants that point to something going wrong.

Keeping all of this in mind, I need to protect myself as best as I can. How do we do this? We can do this by looking at what we can control. One of the main factors in many diseases is what we eat, how we treat our bodies, and the environment that we live in.

At first, I thought, well I live where I live, so that is harder to control, and then there are hereditary factors, and I am doing my best to avoid the cold. My diet is healthy, although I do have a sweet tooth.

That is when I started thinking about organ health. What can I do to lessen the impact of how hard my organs need to work to adjust to CAD? I can do that by adopting a diet that has less red meat, which is pretty easy for my family. It’s the processed foods that get me. If you look in your kitchen, I bet that 75% of what you have is processed food. These foods cause inflammation and I am sure that you’re not getting enough vitamins to hit your daily allowance.

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I have mentioned previously that the Mediterranean diet is supposed to be the best for you, and it just might be. It’s meant to keep your body functioning high without adding inflammatory foods. There was a study done that estimated the impact of food on longevity, and what they found was astonishing. It’s called an “optimized diet” focused on eating less red and processed meat and more fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.

The researchers found that at 20 years of age, women who adopted this diet could increase their lifespan by 10 years and men by 13 years. I thought, wait—I didn’t do that. Does this mean I’m out of the equation? The answer is no. At 60 years of age, women who started to adopt a healthier lifestyle could increase their lifespan by 8 years and men by 9 years. Even at 80 years of age, men and women who switch to a plant-based diet can add 3.5 years to their lives.

A major lifestyle overhaul is hard, but people take charge all the time with amazing results. Then there are people like me; I get bored after a while and tend to go back to my evil ways. However, if my doctor had said to me, maybe when I was 40 years old, that I should consider a healthier diet, I may have worked hard toward that goal.

Having CAD is eye-opening. It’s insane how everything is intricately intertwined in helping or hindering optimal body function. My goal is to help each organ get through this unscathed. I have hope that making lifestyle changes at any age can mean a longer life and even help to stave off other diseases and perhaps protect my organs.