Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Year of Healing

We've spent the last six months trying to figure out what was going on with my health.  In June, I started feeling "off." I knew something wasn't right.  Very quickly, we got a diagnosis of Graves' disease, which is an autoimmune disease that makes your immune system attack your thyroid. My thyroid had become hyperactive as a result. I was extremely hot, had a racing heartbeat, loosing weight and hair, extremely tired all the time, and was emotionally very distressed.  In July, I began anti-thyroid medication, on the lowest dose possible, to try to suppress my thyroid function to a normal level.  Within days I started feeling normal.  Praise God!  But the underlying problem of the autoimmune condition was still there.  Having one autoimmune condition puts one at a high risk of developing other autoimmune conditions.  So I really wanted to get to the bottom of it and do what I could do heal or get rid of the autoimmune condition.

Most doctors I talked to and articles I read indicated there was no proven treatment for autoimmune diseases.  Most doctors don't really seem to know what to do with them, other than treat the effects of the condition, in my case, the thyroid.  I am really thankful my thyroid got under control so quickly and easily.  But were I to stop the medication, it would go back to being hyperactive.  Sometimes, the thyroid settles down after 12-18 months of the medication I am taking, most of the time not.  When the thyroid doesn't respond, the doctors recommend a radioactive treatment to basically kill the entire thyroid, and then put patients on replacement hormones for life.  This is not something I am in a hurry to do without exhausting ALL other options first.

I began to research alternative treatments for my condition, and it turns out there was quite an undercurrent of information about this.  There are lots of naturopathic doctors and Functional Medicine doctors who have experience treating autoimmune diseases.

It seems that the vast majority of the immune system lives in the gut, or intestine.  When the immune system is not functioning properly, it makes sense to look into the intestinal health.  I found a natural doctor who specializes in dealing with thyroid and autoimmune diseases naturally!  He was diagnosed with the same thing as I have and successfully treated and cured it with natural methods.  The trick is getting to the bottom of the autoimmune condition.  He has a program and a lot of success in treating patients with my disease without harsh surgeries or radioactive treatments.  He ran a few tests on me (which took months, because of having to deal with international mail, etc.), and the tests surprisingly to me, revealed intestinal permeability, A.K.A. leaky gut.

I was so surprised by this.  I really thought all of this was brought on my stress.  Leaky gut and stress are the two major triggers for autoimmune conditions. I thought, we eat pretty healthy.  I  make most things from scratch, and we eat very little processed foods.  We almost never eat out because there's not really anywhere to eat! I haven't had an antibiotic in I don't know how long. I didn't have any noticeable digestive issues or food sensitivities.  All of these things are indicators of leaky gut, and I just didn't think any of that applied to me.  Well, it turns out that stress can also be a trigger for leaky gut.  Stress can deteriorate the intestinal wall, damaging it to a state of leaky gut.

Leaky gut means that, well, your gut leaks. :)  The wall of the intestine is intended to keep everything in.  But when it is damaged, food particles and proteins, anything in the intestine can be leaked into the blood stream.  It also means that the balance of bacteria and flora in the gut is out of whack (too much bad bacteria, not enough good bacteria for a good balance).  Things that feed that bad bacteria are things like wheat, grains, bread, pasta, sugars, etc.  (I'm sure my understanding and explanations of all this are very simplistic and basic, so bear with me.)

My tests was conclusive: I have a leaky gut.  So what now?

As of January first, I began a serious diet overhaul. I had already given up all grain except brown rice, all sweeteners, and all processed foods.  No more pasta, no more sugar in coffee, no more cereal.  But this month, I had to go more extreme.  The doctor recommended a very strict diet of gentle foods in conjunction with about 15 different supplements everyday to re-set the health of my gut.  We're starving and wiping out the bad bacteria, while pumping my body full of the good bacteria.  For now, I can only eat meat and fish, pale veggies (no night shade veggies like tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes), low glycemic fruits, and coconut products and olive products, pickled foods.  Most days, I'm eating chicken sausage with sautéed zucchini for breakfast, or pumpkin "oatmeal", which is just pureed cooked pumpkin with cinnamon and coconut palm sugar, almonds and coconut milk.  Lunch is usually a spinach salad with lemon/olive oil dressing that I make, and a fruit smoothie with my powder supplements in it.  Dinner is a grilled chicken breast with roasted cauliflower, or cauliflower soup, or a broth chicken and veggie soup.  I've also made sautéed cabbage with shredded or ground chicken, which is really good.  I'm finding new things to enjoy, and eating lots of kiwi and pears!  It's amazing how sweet they are when you have NO sugar! And how satisfying. I've been on this diet for a week now, and I'm feeling pretty good.  Dropping grains a few months ago had already left me feeling MUCH better. I can't tell you how much more energy I had, and how much more clear headed I became.

When I really fairly evaluated our diet, we were eating grains for breakfast (toast, oatmeal, or store bought cereal), veggies and rice or Indian flat breads for lunch (more grains!!), and for dinner, often pasta, or rice based meals.  I used chicken bullion cubes and seasoning packets.  I bought breakfast cereals and all packaged snacks.  We had heaps of store bought peanut butter, dressings and condiments.  We rarely ate fruit, nuts, dried fruit, or a variety of vegetables. There was plenty of room for change and improvement in our diet.

The goal of this diet-supplement overhaul is to reset my gut and heal the immune system.  We plan to do another round of testing in three months to see how my body is responding.  The goal is that by attempting to take care of the autoimmune disease, the thyroid will by default kick back into a working function.  If things don't look normal after three months, we'll test again in six.  The doctor said it normally takes between 3-6 months to get to the point where I can start re-introducing the foods I've been avoiding and see if I had any sensitivity to them.  Most often though, once the gut is healthy, it's able to handle most of those old foods,(provided I don't have an allergy to anything) as long as we eat sensibly and in a balanced way (not grains every meal everyday!).  I've learned so much, and am reading a ton on nutrition, things like Nourishing Traditions, and Trim Healthy Mama.

I can honestly already say, this is the first real hardship or trial I've faced in my life.  And really, I'm thankful for it. I have not handled it well every day, but I see the big picture as one that is forcing me to rely on Father.  For healing, and for understanding as to what is going on in my body.  And it is bringing to light a lot of poor habits I had in my personal life.  I had let the stress of life overtake me, and was not dealing with it well.  I know I will come out of this a much more healthy happy follower of Christ.  We are praying for healing this year!  2014- the year of healing! 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for an update with where you are all on of this.

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  2. I have thought of you often these last few months I am so thankful you are feeling better and on the way to healing! Christine m.

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  3. Hey Megan - have you tried Green Smoothies - coconut water or coconut milk, almond milk, 2 cups of a green (kale or spinach), and the 2-3 fruits - your choice. Bananas are high in sugar so probably not a choice. They are filling and a quick breakfast or lunch! I don't have leaky gut but pretty much eat this way already! Hang in there and just accept it as a lifestyle. You will feel so much better! I'm glad that you are able to treat this naturally though!

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  4. Megan, it's good to hear you have a good doctor and a good plan! This is something I've had to deal with multiple times in my life, beginning in the 5th grade. The changes are worth it and consider many of them a lifestyle change instead of a temporary solution. Praying for you as you heal and as you learn all of those things that come with long-term illness, including God's sovereignty, joy in trial, and our human limitations.

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