I still cannot believe I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease like Graves. I am 39 years old women who have been pretty healthy my whole life until some months ago when my life was ultimately upside down. My mental and physical health were very ill, and I was depressed. I couldn’t sleep. I felt angry all the time. My heart didn’t stop speeding up, making my hands and legs shake. I look and felt so sick. With 25 pounds under my average weight, I felt like crap. I was in a hole; I swear the last few months have been one of the most challenging times in my life. And I don’t want to spoil the end of my journey, but as I write this post, my health has improved while reaching hormonal balance, so I want to share my journey with you. If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, please know there is hope, and you can thrive with ultimate health!
Let’s begin by describing what an autoimmune disease is. As the word says, auto is when your body attacks itself. And why this happens? The specific reason is not defined precisely, but, like almost all other diseases, it starts with inflammation (and a hell of tons of it!) which creates an exacerbated immune response.
In other words, your immune system, which protects against invaders, is so overactive due to the inflammation that it starts confusing healthy cells with foreign particles. As a result, your white cells (immune system) create chaos in healthy cells by trying to protect you.
So depending on where the strike occurs, the tissue or organ becomes the target. For example, if it attacks the pancreas, it can develop type 1 diabetes. If it targets the joints, it may build arthritis. At the level of the skin, it might provoke psoriasis or eczema. And so forth, producing many different known autoimmune diseases in thousands of humans nowadays. Some of the most frequent autoimmune disorders are Graves, Hashimoto, Celiac, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Chron’s, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Pernicious Anemia, Asthma, Alzheimer’s, etc.
Why does this inflammation occur?
So many factors can trigger an inflammatory response in the body and create autoimmune disease. Everyday things like diet, leaky gut and poor gut health, lousy stress management, lack of sleep, absence of sufficient sunlight and direct contact with the earth, use of antibiotics and other drugs, allergies, food intolerance, deficiency of vitamin D, or an untreated injury or infection; significantly influence the level of inflammation (markers) in your body. This is why treating autoimmunity and health is essential to do it with a holistic approach (and not just by taking the pills the doctor prescribed).
In my case, the autoimmune attack was on my thyroid and eyes, creating hyperthyroidism (too many thyroid hormones) due to Graves’s Disease. What I experienced was unwanted and speedy weight loss, hair loss, insomnia, irritability, weakness in muscle, gas, bloating after eating, insatiable hunger, fatigue all the time, hands and leg shakes, hardcore heart palpitations (this was freaking scary!), lots of worries, irritability, and negativity in mind, mood swings, light sensitivity (I couldn’t go out, or drive), horrible bulgy eyes, and a lot of pain behind the eyes—all of the above, every day, all day and night. IT WAS HELL! I swear, before my diagnosis, I thought I was going insane. It felt like having panic attacks all the time. I got so scared.
When did it happen?
These symptoms started happening around two months postpartum, so I thought I was just burned out from not sleeping much due to my newborn child. But when the heart palpitations started rising badly, I ended up in the emergency room thinking I had trouble with my heart. Long story short, my blood test demonstrated hyperthyroidism.
Why did it happened?
It is difficult to identify precisely what is creating your immune system to go mad. That is why the treatment has to apply a LOT of mindfulness and connection with your body. When I went into labor, I had four days of active work and had to take antibiotics for three days every 4 hours. I’m unsure if this was the main reason my gut got all screwed up, but it is highly probable. Also, I come from a family where thyroid problems are prevalent. So, a high dose of antibiotics, a genetic predisposition, plus physical stress of an inferior sleep pattern after having a baby = Graves disease.
These times were so hard, and I felt like shit ALL the time, and I had a new baby to take care of 24/7, and my husband didn’t know how to help me. As stubborn as I am, I didn’t want to take the pills because I would have to stop breastfeeding.
What did I do to get better?
Before I start telling you the exact steps to help me overcome this disease, let me tell you that as a nutritionist and holistic coach, I believe in the power of a healthy diet and lifestyle. MUCH more than any other treatment.
Many literature and health professionals believe that an autoimmune disease is incurable. Although it may be true, what you can enter is in remission for good. And you reach remission when the disease is under control, and the symptoms vanish entirely. Something that all people with an autoimmune condition must want, I m sure.
Remission allows you to be disease-free without any medication. But you are not cured because symptoms reappear once you fail off-track.
How to enter remission?
Ok, this part is crucial to understand. The drugs the doctor prescribes to you (whichever autoimmune condition you have) will treat your symptoms, not the root cause of your disease. So, the drugs are NOT going to cure you. You must treat your immune system, which is causing the problem in the first place if you want to enter into remission for good.
If you only treat symptoms, thinking you are in remission, you are wrong. If you continue having an exacerbated immune system, your cells will find other targets. So it is not uncommon for somebody with an autoimmune disease to start having more health problems elsewhere (insulin resistance, damage in the circulatory system, swollen joints, terrible digestion, skin problems, migraine, fatigue, low libido, depression, etc.)
So the key is always to lower inflammation by fixing your immune system, and all starts in the gut!
How to fix the immune system?
Did you know 70-80% of immune cells are in the gut? There is an intricate interplay between the intestinal microbiota (the bacteria living in the intestine), the intestinal epithelial layer (the walls of the intestine), and the local mucosal immune system. To correct your immune system, you must start with your gut! (get your gut healthy).
Now there are so much information and different approaches to fixing your gut. In the end, each gut (person) has very different needs. But something that seems standard among people with autoimmune disease is that we have leaky guts.
I can talk about leaky gut a lot, and it’s not my aim for this article. So the only thing you need to understand for now is that a leaky gut increases intestinal permeability, which means that the walls of your intestine have holes, where foreign particles can come in quickly. This situation creates an exacerbated immune system response. Also, you can lose nutrients too through those intestinal holes (yikes! something you don’t want!).
Now, correcting your leaky gut starts with diet and stress management.
A road to remission
Now that I have explained some of the basics, this is the road I took that is taking me to the most wanted remission.
Prioritizing calming my nervous system plus my diet was my two main focuses.
1. Changing my diet
During the course of six months:
- I fixed my diet. I did what is called an elimination diet. I removed all possible allergens and started with the lion diet (only ruminant meat, water, and sea salt). Before you tell me how crazy I am for doing this diet, I invite you to read all these highly successful case studies of people correcting their immune response following this diet (check out the super resourceful website of Mikhaella Peterson).
- After one month on this diet, I started feeling a vast improvement, so I incorporated raw honey and fruits (very slowly) and kept eating ruminants, water, and sea salt.
- After six weeks, I started incorporating eggs and some fermented food such as kombucha, raw sour cream, goat milk kefir, and raw milk kefir. I was nervous about adding these foods because they can harm some people. But I got a good response from my body.
- For six months now, I have been entirely on an Animal-Based diet, with a little off the toxic food list (as I started drinking coffee again, which is definitely not ideal for my condition).
And this is where I am today. Ruminant meat (mostly) + wild fish (just a little bit) + eggs + raw/fermented/cultured dairy + fruits + honey. NO vegetables, no nuts, and seeds, no oils, no grains of any kind (off course no wheat containing gluten), very little alcohol, and no processed foods. Unfortunately, I started drinking coffee again, which I must remove for good (as I was doing).
Now it is essential to mention that this diet works for me and does not necessarily work for you. Nonetheless, creating an elimination diet is one of the best (if not the best) approaches you can do to start healing your gut and body.
The lion diet, carnivore, autoimmune paleo, and low fodmap are GREAT elimination diets. Here you can find a complete guide on how to follow an Animal-Based Diet.
2. Calming my nervous system
We all know that excessive stress will make your immune system go crazy. Poor sleep, emotional stress management, lack of sunlight, lack of grounding in the earth, excessive physical activity, burnout, and negativity play a significant role in creating chaos. You can do many things to start lowering your stress levels today.
My sleeping got better as my daughter started sleeping for longer stretches at the time. But also, I allowed myself to rest a LOT more. Yes, the house was a fricking mess all the time. I was behind in everything. I had tons of accumulated errands, chores, and work, BUT I was finally calming my nervous system down. When the baby was sleeping, mama was lying down every time. Also, I stopped working out and changed it to only mild yoga practice and walking with the baby and the stroller. I did nothing else until I started feeling better. It’s important to mention that working out while you are very sick is NOT ideal; what you do here is create more inflammation and stress in your body. It is best to slow down while calming your nervous system.
I also created a space for meditation and breathing. I primarily practice Anulom Vilom Pranayama, which helps regulate female and male energy; as well as the 4,7,8 breathing technique, which calms the parasympathetic nervous system. You can see both breathing techniques in this video:
Some of the herbs I used for calming my nervous system were lemon balm and ginger tea. Also, I supplement with probiotics, glucosamine, vitamin C, collagen, and lots of bone broth to support my gut health. I also took Selenium and vitamin D as it supports hormonal balance.
4. Elimination of toxins
Besides eliminating all foods from the toxic food list while keeping an Animal-Based diet, I eliminated as many as I could external hormones disrupting compounds such as:
- Polyester clothing. I started with underwear and sleeping clothing, buying them 100% cotton. I still wear polyester and other plastics on my clothes, but I aim to eliminate them.
- Cleaning products. I ditch the soaps and chemicals and clean dishes with baking soda. Also, I clean surfaces with water, vinegar, and lemon.
- Beauty products. I stopped using any beauty product that contains ingredients like seed oils, silicon, or chemicals. I changed them to only coconut oil and tallow. Here are some clean brands I like:
- Cooking pans. I eliminated all non-stick pan surfaces and changed them to cast iron and stainless steel.
- Cooking utensils. I eliminated all plastic cooking utensils (like spatulas and cutting boards) and toppers and changed them to wood and glass materials only.
- Water. I change my drinking water to spring water. To know where to get spring water near your home, please visit Find A Spring. Another alternative is to use RO water from the water dispensaries often placed in big supermarkets.
6 months in treatment
Six months have passed since I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a trial and error phase where I have learned so much about my body and the environment I am surrounded. Nonetheless, you know your body better than anyone out there. Putting in effort and staying mindful about identifying which elements might be getting you sick is the best thing you can do for your health. Remember that many fantastic health professionals can help you. Put in the time, study, try new things, and evaluate. The more information you have about yourself, the closer you are to thriving with health.
Please leave me a message with any doubts you might have.
I’m here for you.