Several years ago I noticed that my hands were sore and stiff in the morning. I thought maybe I had just over stressed them while at work. Being a chef I use my hands constantly and constantly moving them between hot and cold my hands are often numb from working with refrigerated food items all day. The problem was the feeling in my hands began to spread to my elbows and shoulders, and my feet were becoming affected, as well as my lower back and hips. The question became what the hell is going on with my body and what can I do to stop it? It was quite disconcerting to realize that my body was attacking itself from the inside.
So first I wanted to know what was going on. Not being familiar with arthritis I had some research to do so I turned to the usual source for my questions these days, the Internet. First I looked at symptoms, Pain, Stiffness, Swelling, Redness, and decreased range of motion. Then having verified that yes I might have early onset arthritis I paid a visit to my doctor. My doctor looked at the symptoms and did some tests and yes I had the beginnings of arthritis. Its always nice to have someone tell you your fears are justified. So my next question was what type of arthritis? was osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis? and what were the treatments?
That’s a lot of questions and the doctor said it was probably rheumatoid based on the symptoms and from what he saw or didn’t see on the x-rays I had early onset Rheumatoid Arthritis. Well great, I started my research and found that family history is a great place to start. So I got on the phone with my mom and asked if arthritis ran in the family? “Oh yes , She says your grand mother had it I have it and your sister has it”. Well that seems strange, just the women? and then she goes on to tell me that she has been diagnosed with Lupus and Gout! Wait, what the hell, these are auto immune diseases! I thought heart disease ran in our family, what the hell was going on.
I was shaken to the core and not ready to give in to this future, so I was faced with the question what can “I” do to stop this. Well the doctor said that I could take a over the counter pain medication. (Taking Tylenol every day for the rest of my life was not an option)
Analgesics: reduce pain, no effect on inflammation
Non Steroidal anti inflammatory: Reduce pain and inflammation
Counter-irritants: stops immune system from attacking joints
Biologics: Targets protein molecules involved in immune response.
Corticosteroids: Reduce inflammation and Suppress immune system
That all sounded fun! but none of them treated the disease just the symptoms. I was looking for a way to stop and possibly reverse the damage that had been done already. I started looking at immune system health and how this affects the body. I started noticing a trend in the causes of autoimmune disorders . Bacteria or virus, drugs, chemical, environmental, and hereditary. OK now this is getting interesting my Immune system can be affected by external influences. This I can do something about and If I can change my immune system I can change my symptoms.
Now before I go on, I am not a doctor, lets get that clear. Other than the medical training I had in the military, I don’t have a medical background. What I do have is a food and nutrition background with and unlimited amount of personal drive to affect my condition. I decided to attack this on all fronts. First I had to eliminate the possibility of a viral or fungal infection. With that ruled out I started looking at the other factors and came up with a plan to effect my environment, diet, any possible chemical toxins, and exercise. I realized this is a lifestyle change and I had to have the right frame of mind to accomplish this monumental undertaking.
A positive attitude is everything! Get your brain into the game, stress and a negative outlook will destroy all the positive things you are trying to accomplish. Remember you are fighting a war and you cant win a war unless you believe you are going to win. Stress directly affects your immune system. Exercise: find an exercise program that increases blood-flow and flexibility and muscle growth to support the joints. Diet: What you put in your body directly affects the health of your body. Environmental. Reduce the amount of chemicals your body is introduced to.
With this plan in mind and being a chef I first addressed diet and found that there are foods that can positively and negatively affect your immune system and affect your symptoms. Foods that will help your overall immune health and treat your symptoms, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, fatty fish (omega 3), garlic, tart cherries, turmeric, vitamin C.
Foods that negatively affect your immune system and symptoms Night Shade plants (Tomato, eggplant,potato,most peppers) foods high in trans fat, red meat,fried foods, prepackaged baked goods, soda or high sugar drinks i.e.energy drinks, High fructose corn syrup.
This is also true for gout sufferers which is caused by the bodies inability to process uric acids crystals causing swelling and pain in joints. The diets are almost identical for arthritis, gout, type one diabetes, heart health and obesity. There is a definite pattern to all of this and it was glaringly obvious to me that the solution was so simple. The question then became why are we not seeing this on the news, in government publications, and its only being talked about by the fringe of society and in the deep dark corners of the web. The answer was less than sinister and so obvious. Money! the medical machine cant make money off healthy people. The food companies where not willing to cut profits in order to make the food healthier and the government doesn’t get millions of dollars from the food counsels to tell people not to eat meat. It’s up to the consumer to decide and vote with the all mighty dollar.
Here is the food pyramid recommended by the Government circa 1970
Here is the average Americans diet
And here is the modern recommendation
But I was trying to go further, I needed to repair the damage I had done and rebuild my immune system and body to fight the disease that had taken hold of me. First I wanted to clean out my body and get rid of as much of the poison I had accumulated over the years. I decided on a strict vegan diet would be the best option because I wasn’t doing this for 24 hours, I was going for the big game, my life! One month was my target to get as much of the toxins out of my body and rebuild my immune system as much as possible. I also started an intense exercise program that included martial arts training and body conditioning. When I began I was 20 lbs over weight (according to my BMI) and I had other things like tinnitus, high blood pressure and chronic sinus issues to deal with. I held back for almost 6 months to start the diet because I was convinced that I needed to eat meat to be healthy for exercise. I had lost about 5 lbs from exercise but I had gained muscle at the same time so I thought I was doing well.
Diet is 90% of the Battle
When I started my diet I had a plan in place for meals and plenty of recipes to choose from including some of my own. There are a ton of cook books out there so I wont bore you with a list, just know the information is there for you if you decide to try this. One foot note Herbs and seasoning are your friends. The first week I lost 5 lbs, the second week I lost 5 more by the end of the third week I noticed I had not only lost 15 lbs and reached my goal BMI I noticed a distinct change in other things as well. My skin was softer and more healthy, My Tinnitus had all but disappeared, my joints were no longer stiff and sore, my blood pressure was normal, and my testosterone levels were climbing. It was all connected, all of it. that’s when I had my “Ah Ha moment ” and set out to keep improving my quality of life. I am very careful about what I put in my body. I found I had an allergy to dairy ( not a lactose intolerance but an allergy) that caused abdominal bloating, Sinusitis, dandruff,skin irritation, and IBS. Gone! don’t miss that stuff or the dairy at all. I don’t drink sodas or eat food that has been processed. ( I found croutons in the store that contained high fructose corn syrup! Why?) I read labels and wash my fruits and vegetables well, (Chemicals) I don’t use heavy chemicals to clean. Plain old soap and lemon juice work just fine. I make my own weed killers and organic gardening techniques. Like I said earlier this is a “Lifestyle Change” you cant go half way it doesn’t work like that, its all or nothing. Remember its a war with the battle being taken on with no quarter. I have added 3 oz of meat a day back into my diet but stay away from red meat completely. I eat vegetables as 90% of my diet and also add Beans, fruit, and nuts as much as possible. If you reduce the money spent on meat and buy vegetables instead you will have so much more food. I eat constantly but gain nothing in weight. I have gone from large meals to multiple small meals and my body processes food much better. Drink lots of water to help your body process your food and keep hydrated. Good luck on your journey but remember its all or nothing there is no half way when your life is on the line.