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Healing my CFS/adrenal fatigue
on January 27, 2012
WOW. This book is outstanding. Others have reviewed the book's content, and they do it far better than I could. So, instead, I'll attest to the healing power of this diet.
Over a year and a half ago, I became sick. Super sick. So sick I was unable to get out of bed. I eventually realized my adrenal glands were shot. So I quit my job and school and took time off, expecting to recuperate within a few months. Ha.
I researched and researched, pouring over everything I could read online. I had a Candida infection (resulting from allopathic drugs) that never went away. I'd literally feel poisoned, especially after eating. My immune system was a mess. I had zero energy. I suffered severe chemical and mold sensitivities and began to develop hives. I started developing arthritis in my knees and fingers. Some days it was so bad it prevented me from knitting/crocheting, two of my favorite pasttimes. I experienced constant congestion and back-to-back sinus infections. My body was in terrible shape. I'm not a dramatic person by nature, but I assure you, some days I wasn't sure how much sicker one could get before the body just gave up altogether. I kept getting weaker and more exhausted by the day. For months, I didn't leave the house. For the record, I'm 32 years old. (Mind-blowing, isn't it?) After several months of research and trial and error, I discovered the adrenal issues were a symptom of a much larger problem - severe leaky gut and gut dysbiosis.
If the preceding paragraph sounds like hyperbole to you, I can't say I blame you. Before my experience, I'd have been skeptical too. I had been preparing to study biochemistry in grad school. Before I became ill, I thought chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases could merely be 'managed.' In blind faith, I had accepted what the medical establishment tells us. That was fine, until the medical establishment failed me...repeatedly. I gave up on allopathic medicine and knew it would be my responsibility to heal myself. As much as this illness has consumed me, it really was a true wake-up call. A blessing in disguise.
So I researched. Boy, did I research. I took vitamin/mineral supplements. I got my detox pathways up and running again, as per Dr. Myhill's methylation protocol. I followed her advice for supporting mitochondrial health. I started eating meat. I had been a vegetarian for 16 years, but I was so sick I had no difficulty adjusting to eating meat again. In fact, I craved it. Things improved slightly, but my quality of life was still abysmal.
Finally, a few months ago I happened upon some website extolling the GAPS diet. I looked into it but figured I was already eating a clean (mostly) paleo diet, so I didn't need to buy this book. I didn't think it was that different from what I was already doing. When I had to stay home on Christmas day because I felt so toxic and crummy, I decided to purchase the book.
So, sure I had already eliminated processed foods and gluten. But I still ate cheese everyday. I still ate sweet potatoes and oats. I still ate a lot of fiber. This book showed me the error of my ways. These things are fine for a healthy gut. But my gut was a complete wreck and needed special help. More importantly, this book showed me what I WASN'T eating that I needed to be eating: lots of bone broth and marrow, organ meats, and lots of ferments, amongst other things.
I started following the GAPS diet intro on January 1st of this year. The first two weeks were brutal. I had been toxic for so long that I was used to feeling lousy, but the die-off this diet produced was intense. In the book, she stresses the importance of managing die-off; but, because I was so toxic, there was really little I could do. The diet alone, even without the introduction of probiotics, sauerkraut, and kefir was enough to produce rapid die-off.
Then early last week, it was like the fog broke. Gradually, I started having more energy. I announced to my shocked boyfriend that I wanted to go for a walk in the park like we used to do. We did. I suffered no repercussions from it, whereas before GAPS it would have taken me days to recover. I now go for a 30-45 minute walk nearly every day. I can't stress how utterly amazing this is. I prayed that GAPS would help me. It was my last resort. However, I never expected it to work this quickly. Truth be told, I'm still stunned.
I'm nowhere near fully recovered. I've still got toxins circulating. I still feel die-off, but it is nowhere near what it once was. True, I take other supplements. However, since starting GAPS I have stopped taking the majority of my supplements, simply because I no longer need them. At long last, my diet is providing the nutrients my body has been needing all along for repair (particularly cholesterol and saturated fats, which are sadly demonized in our culture). I probably sound like a crazy person because I'm so, so excited about this book and this diet; but if you're sick like I was, you know all too well what it's like to live in a chronically ill body. I don't know what percentage of CFS is caused by gut dysbiosis, but I know that mine was. If yours is, this is, without a doubt, the diet to follow.
Because I'm having such rapid success on the intro phase, I intend to stick with it for a few months. Some people fly through it in a matter of days before starting full GAPS. That's the nice thing about this diet; you move at your own pace and let your body be the guide.
I'm also curious to see how this diet helps me with the mental health issues I've contended with since childhood (namely fits of debilitating anxiety, ocd, and depression that have become increasingly severe in the last few years). I had tried several SSRI's over the last ten years until a new doctor put me on Adderall (which is nothing more than a mixture of amphetamine salts and is very, very hard on the adrenals) after diagnosing me with ADHD. The SSRI's never worked. I'd be happy if GAPS prevents my anxiety from getting worse, but truly I'd love to see the anxiety eliminated permanently. At this point I have no expectations. After all, I've lived with the anxiety for 30 years. But if anything can help, I firmly believe it'll be this diet.
This book saved me. Reading success stories of people recovering from CFS is what got me through the worst moments. I hope my story does the same, and I will update again in a few months as I progress along my GAPS journey. I wish you all the best of health.
UPDATE 4/10/12: Spring has sprung here. I no longer seem to be affected by pollen, which in previous years gave me terrible allergies and sinus infections. In fact, I have not had a sinus infection in months. The arthritis symptoms are completely gone. I've lost 15 pounds and walk an hour or more just about daily in addition to my chores around the house. Also, for the last 3 months my monthly cycle has been just that (cyclical). In the 20 years I've been menstruating, I've NEVER once had a regular cycle. Now it's literally every 28-29 days. There has been no improvement on the mental stuff yet; in fact, the die-off seems to be temporarily making it much worse.
UPDATE 3/1/13: I've been on GAPS for over a year now, with no deviation. No cheating whatsoever. I can honestly say I don't miss any of the "normal" food that I used to eat. This stuff is just so nutrient-dense that I don't ever think of eating anything else. And I used to literally be addicted to sugar. So, that's pretty cool. As to my progress - physically, I'm not much stronger than I was six months ago. But I'm still light-years ahead of where I was two years ago. Still taking walks, doing chores, knitting, able to function like a human being. I'm experiencing new die-off symptoms (caused by breaking up biofilm in my gut with probiotics and systemic enzymes, I believe) like visual disturbances, rosacea and other rashes, adrenaline rushes, numbness/tingling/burning in my extremities. Apparently, these things are all typical for Candida overgrowth. I'm not surprised that I haven't experienced more physical improvement. My Candida infection was/is quite severe, and I've always anticipated that it would take several years to recover. Happily, though I am able to report a significant improvement in my mental well-being. My depressive episodes started to lift just a few months into GAPS, and now they are all but gone. My favorite improvement by far, however, has been with my anxiety and panic attacks. It took about a year, but they are about 85% gone, at this point. I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to have some relief from this torment for the first time in over ten years (most of my adult life).
It should be obvious, but in case it's not, this protocol is not (nor does it claim to be) a quick-fix. I've had gut dysbiosis (and many, many rounds of antibiotics) since birth. It takes a long time to undo decades' worth of damage. The diet is only the base, although Dr. Natasha says that for many GAPS folks, the diet alone is enough. In my case, after the infection is gone, I will still need to detox, fix my adrenals completely, get my metabolic hormones back in order, and perhaps chelate. I have no delusions about how long this is going to take.
Thanks to all of you who have commented or contacted me over the past year; it's been wonderful swapping stories and information. I'm very grateful to you all. Here's to continued healing! :)
UPDATE 11/13/13: A lot of healing occurred this year. A lot. I now walk 4-5 miles almost everyday. I am doing so much more than I have in the last few years. I am still quite toxic but can now tolerate an infrared sauna, which is great for detox, every other day. (My adrenals were too weak, and I was so toxic my body could not handle it before.) The little things that used to require so much effort are back to being a routine part of my life, i.e. doing my hair, wearing make-up, etc. I feel more like my old self than I have in a long, long time. Occasionally, I feel even better than I remembered. There are still periods every few weeks of fatigue and die-off, where my IBS symptoms act up, anxiety and brain fog skyrocket, and I feel rough. But I haven't had one panic attack! What I (and my fella) are most excited about is I actually get to celebrate the holidays this year! I missed out on them the past two years, so I'm making up for that. Lots of GAPS baking and so forth. I have read most of the other reviews here, and I am so happy about and moved by how much this diet is helping people with chronic, so-called "untreatable" conditions. My thoughts are with all of you, and I want to wish everyone happy holidays!