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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.
Jennifer had always suffered from allergies, asthma and eczema, but after a dental procedure in her adulthood, her body was thrown into an autoimmune flare that would become so unbearable she considered ending her own life. As you’ll read, her choice to take a “natural” approach to healing was one of necessity, not just preference. Jennifer’s determination and faith as she climbs out of such a dark place makes this a story that will stick with you.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
In my childhood, I suffered from asthma and allergies quite severely. It was usual for me to go to bed with eyes swollen shut because they itched so badly. I would need to take my ventolin or albuterol inhaler multiple times a day because my allergies triggered my asthma. Laughing or exercise triggered it as well. I was not able to exercise well because I would get debilitating asthma attacks. Doctors eventually put me on steroid inhalers for “prevention” and basically said there was nothing else they could do. My legs were always horrendously itchy and I would be embarrassed to show my legs sometimes due to the scarring they had from the itching. I had terrible headaches from a young age that lasted into my adulthood. Nutrition and gut health was never explored by my doctors and I certainly didn’t understand it at that time. I also gravitated toward lots of refined sugar and carbs when I ate. Antibiotics were a mainstay in my life as well and usually in the course of a year, I was on them two to three times for various reasons. I suffered from dark depression and migraines into my adult life.
During my adulthood, three months after I had my first son, I had two root canals and crowns put in my back molars. This dental choice was the final straw that would ultimately turn on the gene to cause Hashimoto’s to rear its ugly face. Within nine months of that “routine” dental visit, the skin on my face turned itchy, burning and very flaky. It was very much like psoriasis. It would not go away no matter how many chemical filled topical creams I tried from the conventional dermatologists. It wasn’t until about two years later when I had my first miscarriage at twelve weeks that, at the advice, of my mom, I decided to have a doctor test my thyroid. “I was so young!” doctors would say. They didn’t want to test me but after hunting around, I found that my OB would refer me to an endocrinologist to test me despite my age.
After dealing with a lifetime of symptoms up until I was 29, I finally got a diagnosis of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The endocrinologist who diagnosed me, who was the endocrinologist for a major league baseball team, did a blood test and a thyroid ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. His treatment was to give me synthetic T4 and tell me that all the other symptoms I continued to have after taking the T4 were not related to my Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism. Ignorantly, I trusted him and took this medication for years believing that all the other problems I was still experiencing really were not related to proper thyroid function.
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
My absolute lowest point in my health journey was when I was when I was 33 years old. I had been eating gluten-free for two years, was on the tail end of a rigorous food elimination diet and still taking my synthetic T4. At this point, the company I had been doing the elimination diet with told me I likely had leaky gut. I had no idea what that even meant at the time. Now I know that the problem at the time with this elimination diet was that they had me eating lots of nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. This further exacerbated my symptoms and amplified the malnourishment that I was experiencing due to the tight junctions in my intestines being compromised and letting undigested foods and pathogens across the malfunctioning barrier. Since grains, legumes, nuts and seeds have lectins, saponins and phytates in them that bind to minerals, eating those foods left me even more depleted of these vital nutrients.
My 5’4” frame was now at 96 frail pounds. My face, neck and arms itched and had eczema so badly and had open sores all over them. I was in tears often. I couldn’t take showers and basically had to take sponge baths because of my painful skin. I felt like I was crawling and literally going insane. I couldn’t let blankets or anything touch my skin because they inflamed my skin even more. Every time I ate I would be in tears and I developed a fear of eating. I was experiencing numbness and tingling in my extremities and the brain fog was unbearable. I was even tested for MS and lupus which, thankfully, came back negative. The fatigue I was experiencing was debilitating. As a homeschooling mom, this was devastating because I would literally have to sleep in between the subjects I was teaching my kids if I could even teach them that day. Most days I just stayed in my bed and watched life go on around me. I wondered if I was dying of cancer and would eventually be diagnosed with it. My depression was spiraling out of control and I was contemplating ending my life. To say my life was low was an understatement.
At that point, I started seeing a functional doctor but still not getting much relief. She had done an EBV and mono test and I was awaiting results. During those few days of waiting, I woke up one morning screaming after I had looked at myself in the mirror. My face was so swollen that I could barely recognize myself. I immediately called my functional doctor and she called in some antibiotics. Out of deep fear, I took them. What I didn’t know at the time, but found out months later was that she didn’t even check my chart, since it was on the weekend, and she called in penicillin which is the one antibiotic I am allergic too. I only lasted two days on those before I was even sicker, more swollen and every symptom I had was worsened. I was so sick and scared, I didn’t even think to look at the medication name on the bottle. I trusted my doctor. Turns out that EBV and mono were confirmed positive for me. My immune system was wrecked. I was in the deepest, darkest valley and it felt very overwhelming. I really wasn’t sure I would ever get out of it.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
This was a major crossroads in my arduous health journey. I could either continue on the route I was on which, as it seemed, would have me either bedridden for the rest of my life or dead within a year, or I could find a different approach. Even the functional doctor I was seeing at the time, was doing more harm than good. The choice I had to thrive required me to be my own advocate and take matters into my own hands.
It is only by the grace of God that I was able to have the strength to choose life; to choose to thrive rather than just surviving the rest of my life and trying to “get through it.”
God led me to the GAPS diet which was the beginning of getting my life back. I spent my sleepless nights, while in pain, reading the GAPS book and diving into research of why my body was freaking out and what could be causing it. With the help of my family and my husband as much as he could (he had just a spinal surgery in his C-spine) we starting making 21 quarts of bone broth every four days, chopping and cooking veggies and making fresh meat patties to sustain me and truly nourish and heal my gut. Every other inflammatory food was eliminated. Ultimately I never had refined sugar again and abstained even from fruit sugars for an entire year.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
Two days into following the GAPS Intro stage, eating only cooked grass-fed meats, certain cooked veggies and lots of broth, I started getting some energy back. I couldn’t tolerate garlic or onions due to the detox it would cause because of the sulfur content in them. Starchy vegetables were not something I could eat because they would bring back the severe itching. However, it was profound, the difference I started to experience after only a week following GAPS.
I was waking up refreshed after nine hours of sleep rather than extremely sluggish after 13 hours. I wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night every night due to adrenal fatigue. My skin was still a mess but over months it would heal and the itching would go away. My headaches subsided. My asthma disappeared. In the end, my EBV went dormant and I started gaining my weight back! People usually only spend two weeks on the intro stage but I spent four months since I needed such deep healing. After that four months, I spent three more on GAPS stage one. I never was able to reintroduce nuts, seeds, grains or legumes.
It took me over 30 years to get into the health crisis I was in and it would be a slow turnaround to get out of it. I had to remind myself of that often.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
Through my continued research and insatiable quest for knowledge, I knew after completing my GAPS journey, since GAPS is usually a temporary diet lasting one to two years, I would need to eat AIP to continue to steer clear of the food triggers that caused my gut to become so compromised and my health to decline. At around four months on GAPS, I started researching AIP and I bought Mickey’s e-book The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook. After the seven months I spent on GAPS, I slowly started reintroductions, one at a time, and I was able to pinpoint the exact foods that caused my symptoms to flare up. That was also a slow process but very much worth the time to figure it out.
Once my food reintroductions were complete, I used The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook to continue to eat AIP. The book really helped me to focus on the nutrient dense foods that I could eat as well as give me delicious recipes that were satisfying. I am a big fan of online health summits and two that changed my understanding of my body, nutrition and medicine during that time were Andrea Nakayama’s Hashimoto’s Institute and Dr. Amy Myers’ Autoimmune Summit. Along with my own healing experience through food and lifestyle change, and watching these summits, I was hooked on healing holistically and helping others find healing as well. God had given me my life back.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
Throughout my journey I have been told I need to do iodine loading and I have refused to do that, knowing that I’ll likely have an adverse reaction which will take me many months to recover from. I have also been offered LDN and since my last choice is medication, I have decided not to take it. My ultimate goal is not to be dependent on any medication – even my thyroid medication.
Protocols I have enjoyed throughout my healing journey in the last five years have been my infrared sauna, RIFE Therapy, biological dentistry (getting those root canals and crowns removed and cavitations cleaned out), continuing on the AIP and Paleo diets, Dr. Amy Myers’ 30-Day Candida Protocol, purposeful movement, using betaine, desiccated liver and collagen for skin health and hair, taking several different gut healing probiotics and eating fermented foods, juicing, coffee enemas and apple cider vinegar enemas, massage and chiropractic work, bentonite clays, many Paleo cookbooks, utilizing epsom salt baths and my most favorite is using doTERRA essential oils for help with keeping my immune system, hormones and moods healthy.
Prayer, journaling and scripture writing has kept me grounded and ministered to my spiritual healing as well. I have employed the use of compounded thyroid medication that has no inflammatory fillers, with a specific dose of T3 and T4 hormones for my body.
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?
My pain has become my purpose! Although there are still some bumps in the road as there usually are with autoimmunity, I have been able to live a thriving life, experiencing the joy of waking up each day and looking at it as a gift. It has become my biggest blessing, through Feasting On Joy to help people thrive in life rather than just survive. God has allowed me to become a Certified Essential Oil Coach and getting my credentialing as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner is on the horizon.
My joy comes from knowing that God doesn’t waste anything. He uses our challenges, hardships and tragedies and turns them into something good. Please be encouraged that you can heal too. It is hard work and takes grit and determination as well as being your own advocate but I can tell you with great passion – when you feel better and heal, it makes it all worth it! Thriving in life rather than just surviving is absolutely terrific!
Learn more about Jennifer’s healing journey on her blog, Feasting on Joy. You can also follow along on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.
I am so happy that you found healing. God bless you always.
I am going to share your story with two friends who have problems….with their health…one is an autoimmune sufferer the other ?
Thank you so much for sharing your journey! I’m someone who has been battling allergies/headaches/fertility issues and self healing based on intuition and a lack of doctors hearing me or taking me seriously. Mickey’s books have been a lifesaver to me for a few years now as I continue to peel back the layers to my undiagnosed but very much related symptoms. Your story reminds me to not give up and to always always be ruthless in researching when we know in our bodies something isn’t right. xxx
I know Jen, and she is the picture of good health. Her skin is radiant and her smile in infectious. So thankful to hear her story being told!
I thought I was the only one going threw this thank u for sharing..did u have ebv I use to work with a client that had it do u think it’s a concern?
Could you please tell us more about RIFE Therapy? I haven’t found much info on it. Thank you!
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I need help with starting the Paleo Diet I’m on a limited income, but I need to know what basically I can shop for my diet to get started on my eating habits to change for the better
Hey Marilyn! I think you will enjoy the last season of our podcast, which is on how to eat AIP on a budget. You can find it here: https://autoimmunewellness.com/awp/