I am Kate, married to Stephen, mum to a sixteen year old son and thirteen year old daughter, and together we have embarked on an elimination diet that incorporates both the GAPS diet and Autoimmune Protocol.
My health issues were first apparent at cooking school when I found it increasingly difficult to hold onto the heavy copper pans and occasionally even dropped them. I had just finished reading an article written by a woman, with similar symptoms to mine, who was about to undergo surgery for Repetitive Strain Injury when late thyroid testing revealed a severely under active thyroid gland. My mother had already had a goiter removed and been on medication to replace her lack of hormone production, so I immediately knew that I needed to address my own thyroid. I remember how astonished the doctor was that I wasn’t overweight, or exhibiting many more symptoms but he diagnosed hypothyroidism and wrote out a prescription for 50mcg of synthroid. I also remember that at no point did he, or any doctor since for that matter, mention that I might have an autoimmune condition. At the time I accepted my fate without question, in fact I wasn’t in the least bit surprised since I understood it to be a hereditary condition, particularly common in females. Even our cat had the disease so I took it on the chin, took my little white pill and got on with my life in just the same way as I had before diagnosis.
My paternal grandmother, who came to live with us when I was very young, had rheumatoid arthritis. She was so badly afflicted I can still picture her crying out in pain from her rocking chair. She was incapable of doing anything for herself and, although my grandfather looked after her every need, she would regularly ask ‘the Lord to take her’. In February 2014, I noticed symmetrical swelling on my wrist and thumb joints and my thumbs were starting to hurt. I immediately went to my doctor and had a range of blood tests and x-rays for RA and other autoimmune diseases. My rheumatoid factor was just out of the acceptable range but everything else suggested I didn’t have RA. It was at this point that I began researching the internet for any information on the disease and for any other reason why my joints would have flared up. I just couldn’t understand how my swelling could be anything other than damaged bone. What I hadn’t realised before was what an integral part of the body the thyroid is, how it controls the temperature of the cells and how if it under performs, then so too will the body.
With the benefit of hindsight, my health probably deteriorated after the birth of our first child in 2000. My hormones changed radically, my hair would fall out in larger quantities than I believed normal and my energy levels were consistently low. I have never been able to bounce out of bed in the morning and running around with the children is something I am just about incapable of doing. I have dry skin, thin eyebrows and pathetic eye lashes. Then, when my brother died two weeks before Christmas 2008, after a shocking 5-week battle with cancer, my health really took a nose-dive. My hips would hurt after even short periods of sitting down, I developed heartburn and palpitations, panic attacks (one so bad we had to call the doctor out as I thought I was about to have a stroke) and also tingling in my feet. I began to feel neurotic at the realisation it wasn’t a given I would die a little old lady in my sleep one night. Then, in November 2012, we moved from England to Canada with my husband’s job and the process of selling our house, taking the children out of their schools and leaving my friends and grieving parents behind added yet more stress to my already tired immune system.
My husband has his own issues which, you’ve guessed it, could well be autoimmune. He comes from a family with allergies to this and intolerances to that and he, himself, suffers with hay fever during the warmer months. His job, which involves many long haul trips away from home, has taken its toll on his digestive system as a result of eating badly and coping with different time zones. Each time he came back from one of his trips he would suffer days of discomfort before getting back to what he thought was normal at the time. It is hardly surprising, then, that our children suffer too. Actually they have been gluten and dairy free for years following early allergy testing so you could say my husband and I have been in denial. Let’s face it, the kids must have got their issues from somewhere!
In the Spring of 2013 we found a GAPS practitioner and had testing for food sensitivities. There were a lot of foods we had to either eliminate completely or rotate, eating over a 24 hour period only every three or four days, and our candida levels were through the roof. Of course, gluten, grains and dairy were on the elimination list! So we embraced the GAPS diet, give or take the odd ‘off the rails moment at a restaurant’ (that would be ‘fries’!). But this lack of total commitment allowed my inflammation to rear its ugly head and, after finding our son had an egg allergy, I went back to the internet. It was then that I found out about the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. I read success stories from people with far more severe issues than mine who had recovered, gone into remission, or at minimum had their symptoms lessened. I felt sure that this was my chance to halt the progression of inflammation in my body and nip any Rheumatoid Arthritis in the bud, so to speak.
Now we follow the AIP with the GAPS low starch principles. And is it working? You bet it is. Already my swelling is coming down, those enlarged thumbs that my doctor promised were not damaged bone are gradually shrinking and there is no pain in my thumb joints or wrists any more. Since we moved out to Canada our children, who were always shorter than their school friends, have shot up dramatically in height. My daughter’s hair, which was always so slow to grow, is now down the middle of her back. My son’s skin, which was always bumpy, is getting smoother and his eyebrows, which were scant, now have noticeable definition to them. It can’t be completely down to the good, clean British Columbia air so I know it’s their good, clean diet.
What I find incredible is how sensitive my body is now. I mean that in a good way as it happens because it is now able to tell me where I’m going wrong. Before, when my gut was pasted up with gluten, I had no idea why I felt tired all the time, grumpy or had aches and pains, and my body wasn’t able to tell me either. Now I know pretty quickly why and what it is I’d better not be eating next time. I truly believe that food is medicine … and medicine is food!
So what can you expect to find here in my corner of cyberspace? Well, my main challenge (and boy, is it a challenge) is encouraging the children to stay ‘on diet’, when they see the rubbish their friends are tucking into and understandably don’t want to be left out. I completely understand that and, believe me I feel for them. But I also feel passionately that I don’t want them to suffer any health complaints because they’ve been dealt a bad hand from the genetic department. Did you know that autoimmune issues get more serious with each generation? Now there’s a pretty scary thought. But try explaining that to a child without frightening the heck out of them. And try explaining it to a child who, although very bright, is still too immature to really take on board what you’re saying. And why! Let me say for the record, I am doing my level best to serve up as much deliciousness as I can to my family, so all my recipes will be suitable for the paleo autoimmune protocol, and also GAPS/SCD compliant.
You’re also going to know that if you, too, are dealing with your own autoimmune issues and challenges, then you are not alone on this slow walk to better health. Know that here is another family treading the same path as yourself!