Meniere’s Disease (Recipes follow)

Meniere’s Disease is a beast. International experts believe that it is caused by one of the hundreds of herpes viruses, so it is essentially shingles in the inner ear. Victims have to have chicken pox to suffer from Meniere’s.

The main symptoms are vertigo and nausea, and an unpleasant sense of fullness in the inner ear. During an attack, victims are often non-functional and may not even be able to lift their heads. Nystagmus is a common symptom.

Treatments are usually anti-virals, diuretics and a very low sodium diet. Valium and anti-nausea medication can be helpful. The generic anti-virals help some people but the more advanced anti-virals help others – they are often very expensive but insurance covers them in most cases.

Pain does not suggest, it commands, and sufferers learn the hard way to carry their meds and to stick to the very inconvenient, tasteless low sodium diet. Apparently you learn to cope with the lack of salt. It helps to increase other spices: more chilli (if you like heat), cumin, coriander, garlic, cilantro, herbs etc. Lime juice and white vinegar together create an illusion of salt, and there are salt substitutes. These are often high in potassium, but the diuretics tend to counteract the affect of high-potassium foods.

Sodium is everywhere. Aleve (naproxen sodium) has sodium. If you have a water softener, this adds about 75 mg of sodium to your daily intake. Meniere’s sufferers generally aim for between 750 mgs and 1000 mgs per day.

Our son has had Meniere’s for about three years, and is also a vegetarian/vegan. He is an amazing man, strong, thoughtful and resilient. It is our privilege to experiment with various recipes for him, as Hilton and I both like to cook. As I have time, I will add the dishes we find to be most successful in the recipe section that follows.

It’s very hard keeping to the low-sodium regimen year after year. It’s easy to slide into eating what’s available, and taking an extra diuretic and a few more glasses of water.

Over time he’s explored a number of options: e.g. create a local Meniere’s group (meetup) and work with a local small business or a home cook. Order from a specialist meal preparation service. Expensive, and ultimately difficult because everyone has different tastes.

Our family has found a hybrid, where our son has sourced many products (e.g. ultra-low sodium and low sodium vegan cream cheese makes part of a lunch). He has come to accept that it really helps if people who love you want to make regular and freezable batches of sodium-free staples. (He lives about an hour away from us.)  We do vegan stuff like hummus, tortillas, rolls, chilli, Szechuan eggplant stews, black bean burgers, etc. If there are at least basics available, it is easier to build on them, rather than looking into an empty fridge and wondering where to start.

Every recipe was a learning experience, but his attacks are far fewer. The main hurdle will probably always getting a Meniere’s sufferer to understand that it is so much easier to do something than to watch the disease.

Here is a fantastic recipe for hummus. Leave out the salt of course unless you’re using a salt substitute. Add more spices, including Hungarian paprika if you like, and experiment once of twice to get it right. My first attempt was too oily. I’ve also made it too sour by using too much lemon and then still adding lime juice.  I also learned that if you use some of the hummus oil in the tahini (recipe below), it becomes very thin and you can just make it in a blender. It doesn’t have to look like store-bought tahini. It’s going into the hummus anyway.