AIP Stories of Recovery: Indira’s Recovery from Rheumatoid Arthritis

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AIP Stories of Recovery is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please let us know by filling out our interest form.

Despite the very active lifestyle Indira enjoyed before her rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, it only took a matter of weeks for pain and inflammation to completely sideline her. Once it struck, it spread with a vengeance. She tried a handful of therapies — heavy medications, Ayurveda, diet changes — but when nothing worked, her mental health took a nosedive. At her lowest point, Indira couldn’t even recognize the face she saw in the mirror. As you’ll read, impact of the AIP on Indira’s health has been remarkable. 

What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?

I have rheumatoid arthritis. My symptoms started suddenly three years ago. I was working full-time and had a busy life cooking and taking care of our family of four and our home. One day suddenly while I was at work, I felt extremely fatigued and experienced severe pain on my left hip. I went home thinking it was probably a bad case of flu and then at night my right wrist started hurting. I took some Advil and went to sleep.

When I woke up the next day, my hip pain was gone but my wrist had become worse. I couldn’t move my wrist! My husband had to drive me to my doctor who asked me if I had held anything heavy with that hand the previous day. I told him that I had held my laptop for a few minutes on that hand as I was waiting for a conference room to free up. And so he happily concluded that it was ‘tendonitis’ and sent me back with some more Advil.

But then almost every other day after this I was having ‘tendonitis’ in some part of my body! So I knew there was something seriously wrong. I went back to my doctor and told him that my mom had RA. So he ordered some tests. The tests were inconclusive – my RA factor was negative. So he said I could have Lyme’s disease even though the test result was negative. He said I could just get better on my own.

Since I had a perfect health status and had been leading a very active lifestyle, he did not suspect anything else. But my pains kept coming and they kept getting worse and worse. One night I had such severe shoulder pain that my husband had to bring me to the emergency room. The ER doctor put me on doxycycline thinking that it could be Lyme’s. It had been a couple of months now and I was getting frustrated with the painful episodes and a lack of diagnosis. So I again pestered my physician to send me over to a rheumatologist. And finally I saw a rheumatologist who ordered some additional tests besides the RA factor.

When the results came, my anti-CCP factor was over the roof (>250) and finally I got my RA diagnosis. At that time I had been so stressed not knowing what was wrong with me that I was actually relieved to get a diagnosis!

Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.

I was happy to get a diagnosis and to be put on medication. I was very optimistic that the medications would make me better (I was a pharmacist by background!). But boy, was I wrong! The methotrexate that I was put on helped my pain levels go down a bit but the pain episodes were still coming. So my rheumy then increased my methotrexate dose to the highest for RA (which is 25 mg) and shortly after I had an episode of abdominal cramps where I passed out due to the pain. My husband had to call 911 and I was rushed to the hospital. That scared the hell out of both me and my husband and we asked the doctor if he could change the medication.

He put me on another medication, lefluonomide, which ended up being not the right choice for me. I ended up losing 20 pounds in less than a month and had no energy to even walk around the house. My breathing was affected and I had so much shortness of breath that I would gasp for air just climbing up the short flight of stairs in our house. At this point, I decided to stop medications altogether. And I decided to explore alternative therapies like naturopathy, Ayurveda and homeopathy.

Since quitting medications, my RA started progressing very fast. Within a period of 3 months, all my joints were affected. I went off work on disability for a period of 3 months. During those 3 months, I tried Ayurvedic treatment in India. But that didn’t help at all. After coming back to the US, I continued consulting with a naturopath from India who put me on a gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free diet. I resumed work and continued with this diet but my condition got worse and worse.

Emotionally too now all this was affecting me. Even though I was trying to remain positive, I began to feel the pangs of frustration and hopelessness at times. And tears would flow when no one was around me. My condition began to decline further and pretty soon I could barely do anything around the kitchen. We hired help to cook healthy meals for me and my family since healthy home cooked meals is what my family was always used to eating.

Looking back this period in my life was the lowest point in my journey. I love cooking and it made me depressed thinking that I might never be able to do much in the kitchen. I felt so depressed whenever I looked into the mirror since I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. It was very, very scary. The future looked bleak and I did not want to live a life where there was only pain and disability. I wanted to do so much for my kids, had so many dreams and this was so not the future that I had foreseen for myself.

What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?

I really, really wanted to be there for my kids as they were growing up, and so I continued researching on the internet for RA warriors who were doing better. I just could not resign myself to a life where I could not do all the things I loved to do like cooking and taking care of my family. It pained me terribly not being able to make breakfast and school lunches for my kids. So I kept researching and kept trying different things.

I tried several diets and programs including veganism, Paddison program etc., and also yoga. But my RA just kept progressing. My knees were so badly affected now that I could barely go up and down the stairs. I had started working from home now but work was becoming very hard with so much inflammation in my body.

Then one day one of my co-workers and a good friend was talking to me and she immediately sensed how acutely depressed I had become. She asked me if I was open to doing some meditation together and reading the Bible. I said yes instantly because I knew that I needed to have a spiritual connection to give me that positive energy that I was missing. And we started meeting every week. Within a few weeks of doing this, I started feeling positive again. I went from ‘feeling sorry for myself’ to feeling that there was hope and that God was trying to help me! I began praying with a fervor that I never had before.

When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?

Along with praying, I continued with my research and came across a naturopathic doctor from California who treated a lot of RA patients. I contacted her and she put me on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). I also decided to see a new rheumatologist who diagnosed my condition as ‘severe RA’ based on my blood markers and the fast progression of the disease. Because of this, he recommended that I go on a biologic (rituxan) infusion. Being a pharmacist by education, I was only too aware of the side effects of biologics, the major one being increased susceptibility to infections. So I asked if I could do a combination of oral medications – methotrexate and Plaquenil. Luckily my doctor agreed but he did not seem to have much faith that this would work for me considering the severity of my disease.

I told him that I had just started a new diet and so wanted to give it a try for a few months before going on biologicals. So I basically started both the new meds and the AIP diet together. Within 3 weeks of the diet, I started feeling better. The frequency of my severe pain episodes had dropped considerably and pain levels had reduced, too. A month later my ESR (marker for inflammation) had gone down by 10 points. My rheumatologist had not expected my inflammatory markers to go down so much in such a short period of time since my RA was severe and had affected all my joints. I continued to surprise him every month with my progress and my lowered inflammation levels.

What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?

I have used a lot of resources in the past three years since my diagnosis and I find them mostly through searching on YouTube and the internet, and also via social media. My naturopath introduced me to the Autoimmune Wellness and The Paleo Mom websites. Then I also came across Eileen Lard’s website, Phoenix Helix and I found it very empowering to read her story since she has RA, too. I have also read a lot of books like the GAPS diet, Dr. Terry Wahls’ book, The Wahls Protocol, and Inflamed by Shelley Mallone.

Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?

The first rheumatologist I saw painted a very bleak picture for my future and then he stated that drugs could help control the disease somewhat and sent me home with handouts that basically told me how I could continue to live reasonably well by reducing physical work like cutting vegetables and lifting heavy things! When I asked him about diets and their impact on RA, he said that they have shown to have not much impact and that cutting out dairy might reduce my symptoms by 1% so it was hardly worth it!

The first time I met my current rheumatologist, considering my fast progressing and severe RA, he told me that being on a biologic or an infusion would be the only two options that would work for me. Being a pharmacist, I was only too aware of the side effects that these medications could cause and the biggest concern to me was that of increased probability of getting infections including serious infections like TB. I told him that since I had just started a new diet protocol (AIP), I wanted to try perhaps a combination of the oral medications first. He was a bit skeptical and did not think that these oral meds alone could make much difference since I had severe disease. However I am glad that he did let me try this combination of medications, diet and lifestyle changes for a couple months during which I was able to get myself better!

It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?

Looking back at my struggles with my illness, I am so thankful to God that I am at a better place now. I also have no regrets. I am grateful that I have a new perspective on life now that I didn’t have before. Soon after I began to feel better physically, I made a huge life changing decision. I decided to quit my high paying corporate job since it was very stressful and I strongly felt that I did not need that kind of stress in my life. Stress is a known trigger for all autoimmune diseases and that was the first thing I needed to eliminate from my life.

I also wanted to do something that would help others who were in need. Food had always played an important role in my life since I loved to cook and bake. Now with my own positive healing experience with food, I felt empowered and wanted to share my knowledge and experience with others who were in pain like me and help them in their healing journey. Hence I decided to enroll in the Nutritional Therapy Association’s Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC) program. I am so looking forward to practicing Nutritional Therapy following my graduation providing nutritional guidance to help heal chronic diseases, but more importantly, giving hope and positivity to those who badly need it.

If you would like to learn more about Indira’s story, check out her blog, Indu’s International Kitchen. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.

About Grace Heerman

Grace Heerman is a writer, content coach and yoga teacher from Seattle, and the Blog/Social Media Director for Autoimmune Wellness. Grace designs websites and creates content that capture how great her clients are so they can effectively and authentically share their expertise with the world. She also shares recipes and explores how to live her most vibrant life on her blog.

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