My Road to Wellness
EATING HUMBLE PIE
I used to be that person who hardly ever got sick. Neither did anyone in my family. On the rare times that we did, we would just power through it. So I'd look at people who had to take time off for a cold andsecretly think they were being a wimp. That sounds insensitive, I know, but it's true. I honestly didn't realize that the common cold could make people feel so terrible.
And then when I was pregnant with Lars, our second baby, I got hit with a cold -- I mean HIT with a cold. I was down for the count. It was far and away the worst cold I had ever had. My head hurt, my whole body ached, it was a struggle to get out of bed. Suddenly I realized, "Oh! This is what people feel like when they have to take time off for a cold!"
And when a couple of years later after Lars was born, I still felt incredibly tired and foggy brained and out of sorts, I mentioned it to my midwife. She ran some blood work, and it turns out, I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that can wreak havoc on your thyroid and start affecting many other areas of your health as well. So now I am the person with the chronic disease who has to make excuses because of it, who has learned been forced to slow down, who is eating humble pie.
Last summer, I wrote a post explaining what I was going through, how I was dealing with this health issue, and how I was improving. Although I knew I didn't have it all figured out, I had made improvements and was feeling optimistic. I was gonna beat this thing.
But then it beat me... sort of.
Like I said, last summer, everything was going pretty well. I was gaining strength, feeling better rested, I had dropped about 5 pounds. In September, I went on a quick solo trip to New York City and had a fantastic time. I attended a couple of trade shows and was able to carry around all the heavy catalogs all day without too much trouble. (Just 6 months earlier, I couldn't even carry my purse for more than about 10 minutes. I honestly thought I might have to be relegated to a fanny pack for the rest of my life.)
But starting in October, we got slammed with work. We were adding curated goods to our online shop, and although we didn't realize it at the time, it meant we were essentially starting a new business. It doesn't sound that hard to start an online shop... Just pick out some pretty things, put them in your online shop, and start selling them, right? I wish. Without going into detail, let me tell you that it was a very involved process and a ton of work.
So on top of our normal busy holiday season with our stationery company and family stuff, we were basically starting this new business of an online boutique (with its accompanying holiday pop up shop). Oh yeah, and remodeling our studio. No big deal.
And then January didn't really slow down at all. While trying to get caught up from the holidays/new online shop/renovations, I also attended Alt Summit and did some freelance work at the Sundance Film Festival. All good things, but too much. I could feel myself falling further and further into exhaustion.
In February, I made an appointment with the doctor and asked him to run some tests. As I suspected, my health had gone downhill. In fact, it was worse than it had ever been.
Understanding Thyroid Antibodies
From what I understand, the most certain indicator of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis is the presence of thyroid antibodies. This indicates that your immune system is mistakenly attacking your thyroid and destroying tissue. (On my lab tests, they call them "thyroglobulin antibodies". I'll call them "thyroid ab" for short.) When I was diagnosed in January of 2015, my thyroid ab levels were at 12.2. In February 2016, with this most recent setback, they had skyrocketed to 108.1.
You're not supposed to have any at all, so this was bad news. When the nurse read me the lab results over the phone, I said, "Wow, those are pretty horrible results!" She didn't disagree.
Hashimoto's can develop into thyroid cancer and a whole host of other diseases and conditions if left unchecked. So this setback was pretty devastating to me. I was scared. Terrified. More so than when I'd first received my diagnosis! That time, at least it was a relief to find out what was wrong with me. But I assumed that from that point on, I'd just get better and better -- not worse.
So although I know it's usually best practice to try one new medication, supplement, or diet/lifestyle change at a time (to more clearly see what is making a difference) this was not a time for baby steps. This was a time for more drastic measures. I followed every recommendation the doctor gave me and more.
Getting Better... Again
And slowly, but steadily, I've been feeling better -- bit by bit. In April, my thyroid ab levels went down to 96. By June, they slid to 84. If I can keep that steady progress going, I'll rid myself of antibodies by August of 2017, which would be wonderful!
I'd say the way I feel corresponds pretty well to those numbers. I still have some progress to make -- my energy is a little low, my sleep isn't the best, I often have trouble recalling words names -- but I'm doing much better in all of those areas than I was at the beginning of the year! And I've shed another 5 pounds, which is always welcome. ;)
In case it could help some of you, I've listed below the steps I've taken to achieve the recent steady, ongoing improvements in my health.
(Of course, I am not a doctor, everyone's health is different. So please consult your health practitioner before starting anything new!)
How I'm Doing It
This first set of items are all things I've been working at since my diagnosis, as I talked about in this previous post. However, it's obviously been a bumpy ride, so I talk about some of my slip-ups, adjustments, progress below:
Taking Westhroid. With my big health slip over the holidays, the doctor recommended I double my dosage, which I did in February. (Westhroid is a natural thyroid hormone supplement. This is more of a “Band-Aid”. It helps make up for the hormones that my thyroid isn’t putting out enough of, due to the fact that it’s under attack. It doesn’t address the root issue of why my autoimmune system is attacking my thyroid, though. Eventually, I would like to wean myself off of this.)
Eating a gluten-free diet. I've heard it's recommended for anyone with an auto-immune disease. I've been at it ever since I found out I have Hashimoto's. I'll admit I cheat every once in awhile, but overall, I stick to it.
Sleeping more. This is easier said than done, for sure. It's something I struggle with constantly. For example, 2 night ago, I stayed up until 12:30AM, and then because I was so overtired, tossed and turned until almost 4:00AM. So last night, I made the effort to start my bedtime routine by 10PM and turn off the lights by 11PM. I was still overtired from the night before, but I only tossed turned for 30-40 minutes before falling asleep. I've been making an effort, and more nights like the latter.
Getting more rest in general. As I've mentioned before, I’ve had to shift my way of thinking. For so long, I’ve worn my hours at work and lack of sleep as a badge of honor. But I don’t think that way anymore. I know I work better and more productively if I not only get enough sleep, but I get enough downtime unplugged time. I spend Friday through Sunday with my family and don’t answer or even read emails during those days. I also make sure I have time every evening to wind down before bed, whether it’s through watching a show, reading a book, or both.
Avoiding Stress. I know, this is a really tough one. Obviously I didn't do a good job of this from last October - January, which is when my health really went into decline. And I can't avoid every stress -- that's just impossible. But since February, I've been making more of an effort again to avoid situations or people I know cause me undue stress, it's been paying off.
Exercising. Over the winter, I wasn't able to do my daily walks anymore because our road was covered in ice. But I should have found some other convenient way to get some movement into my days. I know it really makes a big difference in how I feel. So in February, even though it was still cold icy out, I started bundling myself up in snow gear and tromping through the woods around our home. I've stuck to my walks since then and recently added jumping on the trampoline. It's supposed to be really good for you -- not only for the aerobic exercise -- but for the gentle up down motion which stimulates your lymph nodes. Plus, it makes me feel like a kid!
Avoiding food intolerances. Last year, when I got the igG test, which tests for 96 different food intolerances / mild allergies (not anaphylactic allergies), it indicated that I am highly intolerant of eggs, moderately intolerant of whey, have a slight intolerance of dairy in general. I stopped eating eggs and ricotta right away, felt better because of it. But I figured the dairy intolerance was so slight that I didn't need to worry about it. (Plus, let's face it, I LOVE cheese, cream, butter, and all that good stuff.) But in February, I decided to cut out most dairy, as well. I've gone pretty much 100% dairy free for breakfast lunch, but I might still eat some at dinner with my family or when I go out to eat. This is a huge step for me, and I do feel like it's helped me feel better overall. I'll keep working at eliminating even more dairy from my diet.
Vitamin D. At the same time I found out I had Hashimoto’s, I also found out I was severely low in vitamin D. (This is pretty common.) I then started taking a high dosage of a liquid vitamin D supplement, but retested this year and discovered I had pretty high levels in my blood. Turns out that there is also vitamin D in the Immune-IQ supplement I am taking (more on that below), and this somehow slipped by me. (Between the supplements and Immune-IQ, I had been taking about 12,000 IU/day for a few months in a row.) This was a good lesson in reading labels really well to make sure you're not doubling up on anything. It also reminded me that if you're taking meds or supplements or anything like that, it's good to get tested once in awhile to make sure you still need them. In any case, my doctor recommended I reduce my vitamin D intake to 3,000 - 5,000 IU/day, which is the amount in my dosage of Immune-IQ, so I stopped taking the straight Vitamin D drops for now.
Probiotics + Prebiotics These are supposed to be hugely beneficial in restoring the good kind of bacteria to your gut. (And many people believe that all auto-immunity begins with problems in your gut.) To get probiotics, I drink kombucha, eat lacto-fermented vegetables, and take the Immune-IQ supplement (see below). For prebiotics, I eat raw garlic and onions when possible, and take Immune IQ.
This second set of items are completely new to my health regimen as of February 2017:
Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy. I thought this was only for women going through menopause! (And I'm not.) But when I was feeling so terrible in January, a friend suggested I see her doctor and get my hormone levels tested. I did so, and it turns out that my testosterone levels were so low they were almost to the point of not being able to build any muscle! (I didn't even realize women were supposed to have testosterone, too.) It made sense to me because of how weak I get when my health goes downhill. (Remember how I couldn't carry my purse?!) It also makes sense to me because when something in your endocrine system gets messed up (like my thyroid with Hashimoto's) it's so tied into other parts of your body that it's easy for other hormones/systems to get out of whack, too. So I followed the doctor's advice and had hormone pellets injected into my hip and take some hormones in pill form at night. Like the Westthroid, this is like a Band-Aid, rather than a cure. It addresses the symptoms and helps me feel better, but doesn't address the root cause of autoimmunity. Because of that, I'd like to eventually wean myself off of this, but am happy for the boost it's giving me while I'm in recovery mode.
Selenium. The doctor also recommended that I start taking selenium, which studies prove to aid in lowering thyroid antibody levels. He recommended I take 200 mcg daily. There are 70 mcg in the dosage of the Immune-IQ supplement I'm taking (see below), so I just needed to add about 130 more mcg. I am doing so by eating 1 or 1.5 brazil nuts each day. (Brazil nuts are a naturally high source of selenium and contain between 50-90 mcg of selenium per nut.)
Fruit + Whole Foods. My physician added that I should also be eating a whole food diet as much as possible. This is something I was already working on, as mentioned above. But I was going at it from more of a Paleo angle, which in addition to whole foods, specifically emphasizes protein and eating a lot fewer carbs, including fruit. After talking with my doctor and then reading the book Medical Medium, I decided to start eating more fresh fruit again (in addition to other whole foods). By doing so, I don't feel the need to eat as much animal protein, which intuitively feels better to me. Plus, I absolutely love fruit and so does my whole family.
Immune-IQ supplement. Finally, my doctor recommended a colostrum digestive to help re-educate my immune system. He explained that colostrum is the substance made by breastfeeding mothers in the first crucial feedings after their baby is born. It contains many immune supporting elements, most notably transfer factors, that essentially jumpstart the baby's immune system. In the right supplement form (from a bovine source), transfer factors can provide powerful support to anyone's immune system, re-educating it to do what it was designed to do: naturally heal the body. To follow his advice, I'm taking a supplement called Immune-IQ, which in addition to containing these transfer factors, contains seaweed extracts, mushrooms, and other herbs, vitamins, and minerals (such as the selenium, vitamin D, and probiotics I mentioned above). Like eating a whole foods diet, this is something that is NOT a Band-Aid. It actually addresses the root deficiencies of my immune system, which is the cause of my Hashimoto's / auto-immunity, to help my body better heal me from the inside out.
So as I mentioned above, I've been able to lower my thyroid antibodies by 22% over the last 4 months! I'm also feeling quite a bit better overall. Moving forward, my plan is to keep increasing the natural/healthy lifestyle changes that address the root cause of my auto-immune condition, and eventually phase out the "Band-Aids" when it makes sense to do so.
To those of you working to take back your health, I'm right there with you! I hope that some of this may be of some help to you -- and if you have anything to share with me, I'd love to hear in the comments below. Thanks!
Also, my friends at Immune-IQ are offering 5% off your first bottle with the code: SYCAMORE. I'm an affiliate for Immune-IQ, so if you click through this link I get a small percentage of any purchases you make there, which will help support this blog and my small family business. I only do this for products I really believe in, and as I stated above, Immune-IQ has been a big part of my recovery over the last several months, so I'd love to share it with you! Thank you!