Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Sister's Hashimotos Journey

I am going to start a three part series on auto-immune disease. I am constantly encountering people who are touched by this complex health issue, including my identical twin sister.  I will be providing you with an alternative look into autoimmune disease. It is a look into helping the body cure itself. Many people are taking a new approach towards autoimmune disease, so by no means am I alone in my theory. I am purely adding to the pot of information already being embraced widely. There is a journey we all must take that is our own, and along with that, there is a way to support our bodies and not suppress them. This is my offering.

My sister's blog Heal Hashimoto's has been an online journal of her Hashimoto's journey. She found an alternative doctor in Marin, CA, after getting fed up by being tired and having abnormal periods. She had been to her gynecologist who tested her thyroid ("perfectly healthy") and offered no options to test bio-available hormones. Side note: Christine Northrup MD recommends a test like this Complete Hormones test from Genova to accurately test steroid hormones. But, my sister's  prominent MD gynecologist had no idea about tests like this and did not offer them. So, frustrated and intent on finding answers, she found an alternative doctor (it was an Osteopath) in Marin. With no glaringly obvious symptoms other than 'almost 40 years old lethargy', she made the appointment.  Turns out this new doctor routinely tests  clients for food absorption,  and my sister's test came back reporting she was only absorbing 50% of her nutrients. Half of her nutrients were being absorbed. The other half of her nutrients were floating into her blood stream through her leaky gut. Leaky gut was causing so much inflammation in her body she was also experiencing large amounts of adrenal fatigue. Beyond the straightforward fatigue symptoms, she had nothing glaringly obvious that her immune system was overreacting. That conversation was yet to come. After she found out her nutrient/food absorption was low, the doctor ordered a celiac test which came back positive. Both gluten antibodies and the gene for celiac came back positive. Danielle has come to call this "silent celiac" as the disease was causing her gut to be in a constant state of inflammation that prevented half of all supplements and food to be utilized by her body yet had no obvious symptoms. I look on gut inflammation now as a root of many chronic diseases both obscure and obvious, that I think it will be the next wave of science to help medicine progress. 17 years ago my close friend's uncle was a GI doctor. I remember him laughing at my insistence of the use of probioics for disease. Now I see modern science is catching up when every drugstore in the US has them. People are changing their minds about gut ecology.

Danielle went to work researching celiac and low nutrient absorption. She started on The Specific Carbohydrate Diet to heal her gut and reduce inflammation. Over a course of months however, she saw did not see the increase of energy and weight loss she expected to see. She met with a practitioner who put her on dessicated thyroid supplements and went on to find a functional medicine chiropractor who had experience treating Hashimotos and Celiac disease. It sort of took a village for her to find the right combination of practitioners that in the end was the right formula.  She discovered and treated her leaky gut. She did this by addressing the overgrowth of candida in her gut, and eating a diet that healed her gut. She ate nothing but vegetables and protein for 10 months. She gave up coffee. She drank no alcohol. She exercised regularly. This addressed her fatigued adrenal glands (adrenal fatigue is rooted primarily in gut inflammation).  She gave up all dairy, grains, beans and fruit. This process took months to come together, as most of the advice she got from different practitioners had helped in fits and starts. But, even in a progressive area like the San Francisco bay area, it was largely a process of self-education, detective work and a whole lot of effort by Danielle to completely change the way she ate, uncover and relieve the root of all of her autoimmune issues. It is my whole hearted belief that beliefs that start as a thought trickle down to the physical level, and it was the same for my sister. This goes beyond mind-body medicine into the morphic field of healing potential.  She discovered the beginnings of her disease started with self directed anger. That belief she uncovered was the gift of her complaint. Hashimotos, as she herself has said, has been the teacher life has reflected back to her. I completely admire her tenacity and her drive to keep going until she found the right treatment plan, and the courage to see the energetic component driving her experience to begin with.

Celiac and gluten intolerance have become such buzz words that I think allopathic doctors are starting to cry wolf. And it is true that many people have stopped eating gluten. I have heard europeans do not have the same levels of gluten intolerance because they use less hybridized strains of wheat. Theories abound. But, I do know after talking to clients who have asked their primary care doctors, allergists and endocrinologists about wheat allergies there are a lot of lukewarm responses. And, once a diagnosis is made, few are linking celiac with other chronic diseases like Hashimotos. Even my sister who was being cared for by the one of the "best" alternative medicine clinics in Marin, had to ask for the tests that lead her to a Hashimoto's diagnosis. And, if she had continued along the path with that original, well-intentioned but poorly educated Hashimoto's doctor, she would be in worse shape than she is. But, autoimmune disease is rapidly becoming more common than breast cancer in this country, and soon everyone will be paying attention. Truly, I think Autism is the next illness to be re-labeled autoimmune disease, and when that happens, medicine will change as we know it.

She looked into celiac disease and found some literature that linked Hashimoto's to celiac. She asked her doctor to test her thyroid and her antibodies were elevated. Her TSH was slightly elevated based on the new test scale, but mostly her thyroid function was within range. This to me is extremely alarming because many many doctors do not test thyroid antibodies because they think that is a secondary test to TSH, T3 and T4 if those are out of range. But, you can have "normal" thyroid tests and elevated antibodies and still have autoimmune disease.

Danielle went right to work after uncovering her Hashimotos and discovered there is very little information about how to heal it naturally, which she is doing. I will tell you honestly that unless you SEEK OUT a knowledgeable doctor, synthetic thyroid hormone medication is the answer you are going to get. But, be forewarned; healing autoimmune disease, while completely possible, requires dedication. And, if you know anyone affected by an autoimmune disease of any kind, there is a way out. There is a way to heal your immune system. There is no such thing as a dire diagnosis you have to live with. If that is what your doctor has told you; that there is no cure, that is your cue that they have traveled as far along on the autoimmune path as they can with you, and it is time to start looking for people who can pick up where they are leaving off, and not give up hope. Doctors treat the immune system that is over-reacting to itself by suppressing the immune system. This view of treatment removes the idea that there is a reason your body is over-reacting to begin with. If you have the willingness and time, I say go there first. Examine why your body is attacking itself. There will be answers there. I say this to remind you that your doctor has been hired by you, and you can ask for 100% of what you want. And, as for the parts that you can manage without a doctors help, there are many. I am not suggesting going it alone. I am suggesting the opposite. Assemble a team for yourself.

So perhaps you, or someone you care about has been recently diagnosed, or suffering with an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders can cause permanent damage in your body, but an autoimmune state is just where the body happens to be.  And you can move out of that state. But, what I am going to tell you right now, the very most valuable information about healing your body, is that it will take time and requires you to change your life. It will require effort on your part beyond taking a pill. It will require dedication, education and perseverance. You can heal your body. You change the way you nourish your body. You can do this. My sister has done all of her healing without the help prescription pharmaceuticals. That doesn't mean you have to do it that way however. Journeys like this are a personal one, and when we can love ourselves, even in the midst of discomfort on an autoimmune journey, riches lay waiting. There are practitioners who can help you do this. In the coming weeks I will be talking about these steps in more detail. For now, a few books to help you dip your toes into this new way of considering healing. Not all will apply directly to you. But, they all will give you a new understanding of disease and inflammation. 

1. The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
2. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Autoimmune Disorders by Stephen Edelson

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