AIP Stories of Recovery: Nick’s Recovery from Reactive 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.

When Nick got a bad case of food poisoning on a trip to South America, she never anticipated it would lead to a lifelong joint condition. Back at home, her doctor diagnosed her with reactive arthritis and prescribed various medications to manage the pain. During a particularly difficult flare when Nick found herself without medication, she realized that a natural approach was the direction she wanted to go. A few years of experimentation with diet finally resulted in remission for Nick and considerable learning about her body’s needs. 

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

Essentially, I have a type of inflammatory arthritis. In 2012, whilst traveling through South America, I got food poisoning; little did I know then that it would have such a profound impact on my life. About 2 weeks later I suddenly woke up with searing back pain and then a few weeks after it was so bad that I couldn’t move my shoulder. At that point, I knew I had to return home.

Back in the UK I received my diagnosis – an autoimmune reaction called reactive arthritis. I was able to run through all the events leading up to the reaction and the consultant was sure that food poisoning had kicked it off. Most people get better from reactive arthritis after 6 months or so but I was warned some people go on to have lifelong disease more akin to ankylosing spondylitis. I had the genetic marker HLA-B27 which made this more likely and, unfortunately, I was one of those people who went on to have longer-term health issues.

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

It was about 2 years before I was put onto biologic drugs. This period was full of painful episodes in which the reactive arthritis seemed to move randomly around my body. I had pain in neck, foot, elbow, ribs, hips, thumbs and at various points in the spine. Some of it was debilitating, during the foot pain episode I struggled to walk from one side of my office to the other.

During this period I began to accept that my reactive arthritis was a lifelong condition and I would not get better. I was mid 20s and used to being extremely physically active so this was devastating. I am a positive person and got on as best as I could but things were not good, it affected my confidence and mental state. I would say that was my lowest point.

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

My ‘tipping point’ was more of a realization. My symptoms suddenly flared up badly when I didn’t have any medication to hand. I googled frantically for some way to relieve the pain and came across fasting. After a 3 day water fast the symptoms were virtually non-existent. The pain came back when I started eating again but I knew at that point there was more to this than my doctor had told me. I started a 2 year journey (bordering on obsession) where I tried every approach I could.

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

I had early success by removing starchy foods so straight away I felt I was onto something. AIP moved me one step further but I had to try so many different things before I eventually reached remission. At one point I was on a 100% beef diet, introducing foods one by one which was an eye opener. I reacted to things like spinach and celery, which I never thought I would.

Ultimately, for me it seems that getting the right vitamin D level was the key. My blood level was initially 62 nmol/L when my disease was active but I gradually increased it to over 100 nmol/L. After that the inflammation just seemed to lift and I stopped reacting to trigger foods. It was so interesting looking back because I had an unexplained period of remission when I first moved to Australia and was spending lots of time in the sun.

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

I saw a functional medicine practitioner who guided me but I also read everything I could get my hands on. What surprised me were the number of peer-reviewed journals that suggested there was a diet or vitamin D element to autoimmune disease. I list many of the resources on my website, including 5 books, 10 articles and 19 scientific journals, but there wouldn’t be enough space to list everything I read in total. I read so many blogs as well and the personal experiences of others helped so much. That is why I felt the need to do my bit.

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

I actually had good results on biologic drugs however, once I realized that there was a more natural option that was the only thing I wanted to consider. It is a personal choice but I have always avoided medication if there is a different route.

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?

Simple things bring me joy and that is even more the case after going through something like autoimmune disease, I think it brings perspective. Just being outdoors is something we shouldn’t underestimate and helps my mood immensely. Walking in the countryside or down a stretch of coastline and just watching what is happening around you. The other big one is time with friends, family and loved ones, plenty of laughter is a must, especially when times are tough.

You can learn more about Nick’s healing journey and what worked for her on her website

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. 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. Here at Autoimmune Wellness, Grace writes book reviews, manages blog content, and organizes social media publishing. She splits her time between living in Seattle with her friends, Minnesota with her family, and Asia, where she likes to spend the winter months. You can find out where she is now on Instagram and learn more about how she balances work and travel on her website, Said with Grace.

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