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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 email us through the contact form.
Adina Verson spent more than a decade visiting every kind of healer, therapist and practitioner under the sun, but her rare autoimmune condition baffled them all. Allergy tests came back negative, and her colitis, chronic sinus infections and pink eye had her taking antibiotics up to 8 times a year. It wasn’t until Adina began experimenting with healing diets and lifestyle choices that she went from distrust and frustration with her body, to acceptance and grace.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
My body has hypogammaglobulinemia, a really long word which basically means my body is very low in IgG’s — the part of the immune system that sends white blood cells to fight upper respiratory infections — and can also manifest in a form of colitis, which is present in my case.
I can’t remember a time in which my digestion and bowel movements were normal, but it wasn’t until college (13 years ago) that I started getting chronic sinus infections. These would sometimes progress into bronchitis or pink eye or ear infections, and antibiotics were the only relief I could find. They progressed until I was taking antibiotics 8 times a year, and also had stopped menstruating.
I made an appointment with an ENT who tested my IG levels and found they were deficient. My concerned parents brought me to the Mayo Clinic where I spent a week getting tested to rule out any other disease as a possible cause. All the tests luckily came back negative, but that meant there wasn’t any cause to treat. I was given the option to begin IVIG treatment (a monthly blood transfusion for, seemingly, the rest of my life), or to do nothing. I went with my gut and decided the IVIG wasn’t for me. I knew there must be another way. That was 9 years ago.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
My lowest point wasn’t with the symptoms of the illness, but with the incredible frustration and anxiety of not knowing what to do. I had seen countless doctors, naturopaths, nutritionists, Chinese medicine practitioners, acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chakra healers, past-life regression hypnotists, you name it. They were all helpful in their curiosity, but not much is known about my condition and I felt like I was paying them to experiment. So I started experimenting on myself, through my diet, for free.
I had been a vegan for 6 years when diagnosed, so I made changes from there, based on recommendations and research — first sprouting my grains, cutting out processed sugar, slowly moving to the Blood Type Diet (I’m blood type O), the Maker’s Diet, and then to Paleo, low-carb Paleo, no-carb Paleo, cultured dairy, low-FODMAP…
With each new experiment I was learning so much about my body and getting sick less and less. But my digestion was still erratic, I still wasn’t menstruating, and stress would cause an immediate upper-respiratory infection. I couldn’t pinpoint what the “problem” was; I would randomly get extremely bloated with constipation or diarrhea, or wake up vomiting in the middle of the night. Food allergy tests check your IgG reaction to foods, but my body is so low in IgGs that all the tests came back negative!
I remember sitting at my kitchen table, after four years of this kind of experimentation, all my lists and books and internet print-outs scattered in front of me, just weeping and wishing someone would tell me what to do. I felt like I was gaining an eating disorder, that it was all in my head, that I was going crazy!
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
I’m an actor, and the reason I went to that ENT in the first place is because I started consistently getting sick during rehearsals and production. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to perform with a full-on sinus infection, much less bronchitis — I would lose my voice, be exhausted, and not want to put the other actors at risk of infection. My livelihood relies on a healthy and vibrant body, and there was no way I was giving that up.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
After trying so many different healing diets, I knew something was right when I landed on Paleo. After just a short time, my consistent belly bloat and inflammation went down. Bowel movements were more regular. My energy increased. Mood swings lessoned. It just felt right. I stuck with it and 2 years later, my period returned after a 5-year hiatus! But like I said above, it wasn’t perfect. I would have flare-ups without knowing why, though I slowly learned through trial and error — nuts and seeds weren’t agreeable, nor was any kind of sugar. Eggs were questionable, and tomato paste was a definite no.
It got better and better, and then about a year ago I stumbled upon the Autoimmune Protocol. I ordered Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach, and was floored by the thorough research. It seemed to be laying out the diet I had slowly been determining through trial and error, but backed by science. What a relief! Suddenly there was the information and structure I had been wishing for. The lifestyle recommendations were also a hugely beneficial addition to my life, since stress was so clearly a trigger for the disease. I’ve been on it for 12 months now, with no reintroductions. I’ll occasionally flare up with long work hours, lack of sleep, or if I eat too large a portion. But I am so grateful for this healthy body!
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far & how did you find them?
Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach, is my foundation. I also love the online resources available nowadays. My go-to sites are Mark’s Daily Apple, Nom Nom Paleo, The Paleo Mom, Well-Belly, and (of course) Autoimmune Paleo. It’s great to be part of a community. The other main resource I’ve used has been my own body — I came into this wanting someone else to tell me what to do, and have learned that regardless of the disease or ailment, every body is unique. In this way, I’ve learned what herbs and supplements to take and at what times, what foods to limit, and when to dial up the self-care. Trusting my body, learning to listen to it, and not becoming a victim to “why me?” has been the most useful tool, and an ongoing challenge.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
As I said above, after the diagnosis I was offered to either begin a monthly IVIG transfusion, or to do nothing. They actually said, “If you opt out of IVIG, we’ll give you a prescription for antibiotics which you should carry with you at all times. If you think you might have pneumonia, take them immediately and head straight to the hospital.” Maybe it was the hubris of youth, but I never filled that prescription. I vividly remember asking the doctor if it could have anything to do with my vegan diet, terrified he would say yes. He told me it wasn’t related, and though I was so relieved (I was quite a stout-hearted vegan), I knew in my heart he was wrong.
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?
Using my body and my voice freely as a profession! Doing delicious things for my body like yoga, meditation, long walks, stretching in the morning, soft-roller work in the evening. Laughing! Surrounding myself with positive, uplifting, forward-moving friends. Spending time with my incredible, supportive, dreamy husband. Meeting new people and hearing their stories. Looking at the moon. Spraying rose water on my face. Smelling other people’s brownies. Life is beautiful!