Later this fall I will reach my one year anniversary of following the autoimmune protocol. At this point last year I had been in an acute flare for about two months and my health was starting to rapidly deteriorate.
I’ve been thinking about last fall a lot recently. I remember the trip we made to visit our families in early September, it was the last trip I would be able to make to our home town for a long time, I remember trying to attend an important conference I had been planning on for months and needing to be propped up in a chair with a heating pad, a sweatshirt and wool socks on my feet just to try manage my joint pain while I was out of the house. I remember the weekend my mom had to come from out of state to clean my apartment and batch cook food for me because I had become basically bed ridden, I remember debating surgery and realizing that if I went through with it I would probably lose my ability to have biological children. I remember it all sadly and vividly. Autoimmune disease had stolen my life and, at that moment, my future.
Out of desperation, I started on the autoimmune protocol. Within three weeks many of my acute symptoms had started to subside, after a few more months I was able to restart many of my pre-flare activities, and by the summer my weight and physical appearance had recovered. That being said, I still have ulcerative colitis. It is in remission, where it will hopefully remain, but my body has still learned that it can respond to a problem by attacking itself and it cannot unlearn that.
So, what does it mean when we in the autoimmune protocol community use the term reversing autoimmune disease? After all, that is the full title of Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body.
To me it means reversing the triggers, reversing the symptoms, and reversing the damage.
Reversing the Triggers:
There are many things that can trigger our development of an autoimmune disease. One of those things is genetics and we have no control over that one. However, genetics only play a small role. Other triggers can be illnesses such as an infection in the gut, lifestyle issues like poorly managed stress and a lack of sleep, medications, and food. I have personally found that certain foods, coupled with not enough sleep, too much stress and medications such as cold medications, hormonal birth control, and antibiotics are my primary triggers. Over the past year I committed to a long elimination period on AIP to allow my gut to kick-start the healing process, I have now slowly begun to reintroduce foods one at a time allowing my body a chance to tell me if something is an issue. I no longer take any cold medicine when I come down with something, but instead stick with natural remedies. I have gone off of my hormonal birth control and opted for a non-hormonal IUD instead, and I have not found any need for antibiotics.
Reversing the Symptoms:
In removing the potential triggers from my life I quickly saw a decrease in my symptoms. At first, I finally stopped bleeding. Then, my joint pain began to subside. My abdominal distention and pain decreased next and after that I was having regular bowel movements for the first time in my life. After all of these typical symptoms resolved I started seeing improvements in things I had never recognized as symptoms before. My sleep started to improve, my skin cleared up, my mood regulated and I was just healthier over all.
Reversing the Damage:
The best way for me to truly tell how much of the damage in my colon has healed would be to have a colonoscopy, however that would actually jeopardize my health at this point so I am not going to do that. I can say however, that the gradual changes I have seen in my digestion and overall health indicate to me that healing is taking place. My immune system is getting stronger. When I get sick, I get better quickly without antibiotics. My bowel movements are regular and healthy without the help of medication or even natural supplements, and my weight is finally down to a very healthy range. These are all signs of decreased inflammation and thus healing.
I think sometimes big claims of cures can make people with autoimmune diseases hesitant. We have all been down many roads that have promised success. Before finding the autoimmune protocol, I tried every supplement, every steroid, every natural remedy and every other diet from GAPS to Paleo to SCD and did not find a cure and the thing is AIP isn’t a cure either. Reversing autoimmune disease doesn’t mean that you get to go back to eating pizza and popcorn when it is all over and suffer no consequences. What it means, is that by following the protocol and removing the triggers, you can regain your life and your future free from the weight of autoimmune disease.