How to Reverse Autoimmune Disease: The Story of My Recovery
I never expected my life to take a 180 degree turn in a completely different direction where I would spend the next several years learning how to reverse autoimmune disease and endometriosis.
The first symptoms of one of my autoimmune diseases (hyperthyroidism) reared its ugly head during the winter of 2010.
I woke up in the middle of the night in a complete panic. My heart was beating so fast it felt like it was going to explode. I thought I was having a heart attack. Luckily I just had a physical the week before, so when I ended up in the emergency room, my blood test results were already back from the lab.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system. The thyroid’s hormones regulate vital body functions such as breathing, heart rate, body weight, body temperature, cholesterol levels, menstrual cycles, and central and peripheral nervous systems.
My blood tests showed that my T4 (hormone thyroxine) and T3 (hormone triiodothyronine) levels were higher than normal. I was put on Tapazole (Methimazole) along with beta blockers and sent home. A few days later I went to see my endocrinologist. I was told the cause of my hyperthyroidism was the autoimmune disorder Grave’s Disease.
In this disorder, the body makes an antibody (a protein produced by the body to protect against a virus or bacteria) called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that causes the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone.
Autoimmune conditions run in my family, specifically type-1 diabetes and thyroid. My mom is Celiac and suffers from hypothyroidism. One of my aunts had Hashimoto’s Disease. Several of our family members had or have type-1 diabetes and/or hypothyroidism.
I spent the next several months living with my autoimmune diseases, getting my blood checked on a monthly basis and suffering from hyperthyroidism symptoms such as hair loss, increased sweating, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, heat intolerance and dizziness.
A Downward Spiral
Months into my ordeal, I started experiencing sharp ongoing pain in my pelvis and lower back. The pain was sometimes so severe that I could not move or walk. During my many trips to the emergency room, I was told by several doctors that I most likely had a bladder infection or appendicitis. I knew that it was something else so asked my doctor to schedule a pelvic ultrasound. Bam, two large masses on both of my ovaries.
Do I Have Cancer?
Even after a MRI my doctors could not tell me if I actually had cancer. I was scheduled to have an emergency laparoscopic surgery in January of 2011. During the month that followed, I was exhausted all the time. I was stressed out because I kept thinking “what if I have cancer.” I do not want to die.
I remember waking up in the recovery room after my surgery. My doctor walking over to me and saying “you do not have cancer.” It turned out I had stage 4 endometriosis. Luckily, my doctor did not have to perform a hysterectomy. I was able to keep one of my ovaries and fallopian tubes.
This Cannot Be It
Currently doctors do not know the cause of endometriosis. Endometriosis is typically treated with hormones.
A study has shown that “women should avoid exposure to estrogen-like compounds in the environment because high levels of the female hormone in the uterus are associated with endometriosis.”
My doctor’s solution to possibly preventing my endometriosis from returning. You got it – ‘the pill.’
I refused to put fake hormones back in my body. I was now in my early 40s. I suffered from hormonal imbalances since my early 30s where my doctors at the time put me on oral contraceptives. I developed all of the side effects including melasma (pregnancy mask) caused from taking the pill. This can’t be it.
I had no idea what I was looking for when I decided to research my conditions and try to find alternative healthier solutions to reversing my conditions. I did not want to live with autoimmune diseases and hormonal imbalances for the rest of my life.
Up until 2011, I knew nothing about xenoestrogens or environmental toxins that can trigger or influence autoimmune disease and/or hormonal imbalances. I thought all personal care product ingredients were rigorously tested for safety. I did not realize that some of the foods I was eating were also triggers.
If I could identify the triggers, maybe I could reverse my conditions.
Environmental Toxins & Xenoestrogens
I realized that the majority of these triggers were sitting in my bathroom upstairs. It turned out all of my personal care products I was using at that time contained either one or more of these xenoestrogens and/or environmental toxins. I was horrified, mad and wondered why these ingredients were being allowed by the FDA and Health Canada.
Approximately 120 chemicals in personal care products are used every day by women and roughly 80 chemicals are used every day by men. The majority of these chemicals are untested for safety because the government does not have the authority to do anything. Several of them are endocrine disruptors and/or hormone mimickers.
There are 5 ingredients you should avoid at all costs if you have thyroid disease:
- Heavy metals
Scientists working at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research have shown that environmental factors can influence the development of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
I threw away all of my personal care products and replaced them with toxin-free alternatives.
Food & Dietary Components
Environmental estrogens can also be found in a wide variety of foods. Phytoestrogens occur in plants such as clover and soy. Mycoestrogens are food contaminants produced by fungi. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals given exogenous hormones contain relatively high concentrations of estrogens.
I stopped eating soy products. I started consuming dairy alternatives such as almond milk and yogurt. I started purchasing my meat from local farmers so I would know if their animals were treated with exogenous hormones. I started to eat whole foods and limited my intake of processed foods.
Industrial estrogens are synthetic chemicals produced for specific purposes i.e. pesticides, plastics, surfactants and detergents. Metalloestrogens are found in heavy metals. Estrogens can also be administered through medications such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.
I started to use non-toxic home cleaning products. I made sure to drink filtered water. I switched my plastic containers over to glass or steel. I started to exercise again.
As Donna Jackson-Nakazawa, author of the important book, The Autoimmune Epidemic, eloquently writes,
“We are our environment. What we put into it, we also put into ourselves. What we do to it, we also do to ourselves. With our eyes open to that knowledge we can begin to make critical and profound choices, embarking on a journey of small steps that will slowly start to make all the difference between health and disease.”
Leaky gut syndrome is almost always associated with autoimmune disease. In order to reverse symptoms of autoimmune disease, you need to heal the lining of your GI tract.
To learn more about the connection between gluten, leaky gut and autoimmunity, read my blog post entitled Gluten and Autoimmune Disease: Signs of a Leaky Gut and How to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome.
I took gluten out of my diet and started eating gluten-free.
- Remove the triggers and toxins - foods and environmental factors
- Replace with healing foods and toxin-free alternatives
- Repair your gut and tissues with specific supplements such as l-glutamine
- Rebalance with probiotics
Reversing my conditions did not occur over night. I developed 2 autoimmune diseases and endometriosis in the same year, so my body/health was not in good shape. I knew if I continued to listen to my conventional medical doctors I would continue to live with my diseases/hormonal imbalances. Conventional doctors do not take into account environmental toxins or nutrition when treating autoimmune conditions or hormone imbalances. Once you develop one autoimmune disease, you usually develop more down the road.
It took 2 1 ½ years to reverse my conditions. I am happy to report that it has been over 3 years since I have gone of my medications.
Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D. professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that “there is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.”
I am not the same person as I was 7 years ago. I have come a long way since then. I am healthy again. I still watch what I eat and avoid inflammatory foods such as soy, gluten and dairy. I continue to use toxin-free alternatives (personal care products and home care products). I try and eat organic foods when possible. I take supplements such as probiotics, vitamin D and l-glutamine daily. I try and avoid stress, and exercise more often.
I now use my education/knowledge and experience to help others.
If you suffer from an autoimmune condition and/or hormone imbalance, please do not give up or lose hope. I reversed my conditions because I was determined to heal myself.
Believe in yourself! If I can learn how to reverse autoimmune disease and endometriosis, you can do it too.