By Dr. Sina McCullough
Today, I live an active, “normal” life. I work, play hide and seek with my two young boys, hike with my dogs on the weekend, and try to keep up with the ever-growing housework. You’d never know that just 16 months ago I suffered from an advanced stage of an autoimmune disease.
I spent most of my time lying on the floor in pain. I was too weak to walk up the stairs without getting winded, too tired to stand long enough to finish doing the dishes after lunch, and in too much pain to even wrap my hand around a cup.
My disease didn’t appear overnight. It developed over 20 years, starting with GI symptoms and progressing to brain fog, fatigue, chronic infections and multiple miscarriages.
I continuously sought help from medical doctors. In fact, I saw so many primary care doctors and GI specialists that I lost count. I had three colonoscopies, two endoscopies, a sigmoidoscopy, breath tests, urine tests, fecal tests, blood tests and even exploratory surgery.
Nobody knew what was wrong with me; nobody had any answers.
The last doctor I saw suggested that my symptoms were in my head. That’s when I knew I was on my own. If I was going to get better, I had to find the answer myself.
So, I started with food. Even though medical doctors disagreed with me, I knew my symptoms were related to diet because within 20 minutes of eating, I often looked like I was five months pregnant. In addition, as my list of symptoms grew, the list of foods I could eat shrank. It was extremely frustrating, but it was also fabulous news!
If food was triggering my symptoms, I could reverse my condition by removing those foods from my diet. All I had to do was identify the triggers.
Using a strict diet elimination-reintroduction protocol I was able to successfully identify most of my food triggers. And, initially, I improved. However, I knew I had not identified all of the triggers because, shortly after, I reached my tipping point.
Roughly 16 months ago, my entire family got the flu, but I was the only one who ended up in the ER. I quickly spiraled downhill from there. It became difficult to breathe, and I began the process of muscle wasting, similar to what cancer patients can experience. I lost 15 pounds in one month even though I was eating almost constantly.
For the first time in 20 years of dealing with my illness, I was scared. That’s when I surrendered to God. He led me to a functional medicine doctor who accurately diagnosed me with:
- An autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Arsenic poisoning (likely from eating rice)
- Leaky gut
- Deficiencies in 15 nutrients that were so severe, I was borderline for pellagra and beriberi. Both are diseases that can lead to death, and both were largely eradicated in the U.S. by the mid-1900s.
The news was devastating. My entire life changed in a single moment. Prior to that diagnosis, I simply had symptoms. Now I had a full-blown disease. And, it had a name. From that moment on, I would have to check the box labeled “Autoimmune Disease.”
After some soul searching, I realized the name of the disease didn’t matter. I would not allow a disease to define me, especially if I could do something to fix it. And, that’s exactly what I did.
I reversed my disease.
Admittedly, that statement is controversial. Conventional doctors will likely tell you it’s not possible. But, I’m living proof that you can reverse an autoimmune disease. And, I’m not the only proof we have. The reversal of Alzheimer’s (1), Type 2 Diabetes (2, 3), kidney disease (4), and other inflammatory conditions have been reported in scientific journals.
So, how did I do it?
I followed a 4R framework. The details of each step are highly individualized, but I’ll share some of mine to provide examples:
1. Remove – Triggers & Toxins
We ran a blood test to determine my remaining food triggers, which revealed surprising results, such as bay leaf. After I removed those triggers, the pain in my body was almost completely gone in 3 days! I also removed the arsenic from my body using a natural chelation supplement. However, my biggest toxin was stress, which I’m still learning how to manage.
2. Replenish – Nutrients & Energy
I had leaky gut, which made me susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. We ran a functional test to determine my deficiencies, and then replenished those nutrients. Replenishing my energy was also critical for my recovery. I tried to budget 10 hours for sleep/rest each day.
3. Repair – Gut & Tissues
By removing my triggers, replenishing the nutrients I was missing, eliminating sugar from my diet and consuming a probiotic, my leaky gut healed. My joints and other damaged tissues also began to repair themselves.
4. Reconnect – Yourself, Food, Family & Community
Before I got sick, if you told me there was a spiritual aspect to healing, I would have laughed. Ironically, it was a critical step in my recovery. It involves reconnecting with:
- Yourself :
I allowed myself to slow down, and to answer some tough questions including: What’s my purpose? What does success look like? What makes me happy?
- Your Food:
Most of our digestion begins in our brain, not in our gut. So, just like we prepare the kids for bed, I now prepare for a meal. Instead of eating on the run, I sit down with my family and enjoy their company. And, I proactively thank God for allowing my body to digest and absorb all of the nutrients in my food.
In addition, even though I have a Ph.D. in Nutrition, I realized that I didn’t really know what’s in our food. So, I launched an investigation in search of the truth, which I reveal in Hands Off My Food!: How Government and Industry have Corrupted Our Food and Easy Ways to Fight Back. Knowing the truth has helped me make better choices for my family.
- Your Family:
Instead of allowing the diet and lifestyle changes to cause tension in my family, I brought them along with me on the journey. For instance, my children and I garden and cook together. I taught my 7-year old how to read food labels and how to conduct product comparisons so that he could opt-in to the new lifestyle I was creating instead of feeling forced. So far, it’s working.
- Your Community:
Feeling supported and connected to people was critical to my success. I spent time assessing my relationships to determine which were nurturing and which were toxic. I made a choice to leave the toxic ones behind, and spend time fostering the loving relationships. Essentially, I started making time for the people I love.
If you believe you have an inflammatory condition, please don’t lose hope. Please don’t settle for, “we can’t find anything wrong” or “there’s nothing we can do to fix it.” I reversed my disease largely because I was determined to heal myself and to move forward with my life. You can too!
Believe in yourself and never give up hope. Never stop searching for your answer. You’re worth it!
Dr. Sina McCullough is the author of Hands Off My Food!: How Government and Industry have Corrupted Our Food and Easy Ways to Fight Back. She also hosts www.HandsOffMyFood.com. She earned a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science and a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior, both from UC Davis. She was the Director of Research and Development for a supplement company and has taught Biochemistry and Bioenergetics at UC Davis.