“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates
In optimal conditions our body’s immune response is a marvelous system, protecting our body against foreign invaders (such as bacteria, viruses, environmental pollutants, etc), injury, and infection. For some people, however, this system has a few flaws.
My hubby is one of them. Instead of fighting foreign matter, his immune system aims at its own tissues, resulting in severe damage to his body and the development of an incurable, yet manageable, autoimmune disease called Multiple Sclerosis or MS for short
As stated by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmune diseases are the number two cause of chronic illness, which can affect nearly every organ or part of the body.
Worldwide, an estimated one in ten people is currently struggling with an autoimmune disease of some sort. More than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified and new ones, including some very exotic and rare diseases, are popping up every year.
Not sure what an autoimmune disease is? You might have heard of some of these: lupus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Just to name a few.
ALSO READ: 16 Foods That Fight Chronic Inflammation And Taste Great
When an Autoimmune Disease Turned Our World Upside Down
In 2007, I was just finishing up some experiments in the lab for my thesis (studying the synthesis pathways of cancer- and infection-fighting compounds in certain plants) at the University of Belgium, when I received a short and frightening phone call from my husband to come home as fast as could.
Apparently, a colleague had just brought him to the doctor (and home afterward) who told him to go to the emergency room asap, because something really bad was going on.
I think I never rode my bicycle as fast through the city center as that day. I managed to do the 10 km (6.2 miles) in less than 30 minutes during rush hour! I am sure I missed a few red lights and wasn’t probably being the safest driver on the road. Luckily, I managed to get home without ending up in the hospital myself. We do crazy things when our loved ones are in danger, right?
When I arrived home, we immediately jumped into the car and drove off. Though he had been feeling a strange sensation in both his legs the whole day, he could hardly use his legs or stand up by the time we arrived in the hospital.
THE VERDICT – MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
After spending a whole week in the hospital and multiple hellraiser-like tests and MRIs, not knowing what was going on, Multiple Sclerosis was the final verdict.
Though my husband didn’t fully realize what that meant at that time when the word MS was dropped into the room our whole world collapsed. We had a neighbor with MS in a wheelchair and my dad’s cousin lost most of her eyesight and feeling in both hands after a really bad episode or flare-up.
I once did a full study on MS during my studies an absolutely knew what was going on. Since MS comes in many forms and gradations, I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and not frighten my husband even more with the knowledge of what might or might not happen to him.
ALSO READ: 14 Easy Ways To Eat Healthier Every Day
Scroll down to learn more about MS and how we fought it through the power of WHOLE FOODS!
What The Heck Is Multiple Sclerosis?
For reasons that are still unclear, in people with MS, the body attacks their own fatty insulation material (myelin) that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.
Just as with electrical wiring, the insulation is important to make sure electric signals are transported correctly and the information arrives at the destination. MS targets the central nervous system (CNS) and causes damage to important cells and tissues – altering, slowing or stopping nerve transmissions. Hence all the neurological issues people with MS experience.
After we got the final verdict, all the other odd neurological episodes he had experienced in the past suddenly became very clear. How were doctors able to miss the link all these years. Systematically they failed to link lesion (or scars) on his brain and spine tissue, an epileptic attack, and a whole week of losing the feeling and taste in his tongue and left side of his body to a neurological disease.
Every time he was released from the hospital with the words: “You are fine. Not sure why this has happened, sir! But Don’t you worry!”
Meds Don’t Cover Your Back, WHOLE FOODS do!
Though our future didn’t look so bright… we never gave up and love gets you through the most peril situations. But how we reacted to the disease and made peace with it is a story for another time.
In today’s article, however, I want to focus on how we got rid of pharmaceuticals and let food (and lifestyle) be the one and only medicine.
Our journey of managing MS started at the pharmacy. The power of the white coat, as some like to call it, was still very strong at that time. I studied pharmacy and biology and the young and maybe naive person I was believed meds are created to make people better. The pharmaceutical world, however, is controlled by governments, banks, and other well-paid people who aren’t looking for a cure. Managing symptoms is what they are after. Again a story for another time.
I just want to say that when the doctor told us weekly expensive interferon shots – which made him sick every week – were the only answer to manage his disease, we blindly believed him and fell into the expensive chemical trap.
Since his immune system was too active, attacking his own body, the meds were there to suppress his overactive immune system. Makes sense, right? Only later we started to ask questions like why is this happening and shouldn’t we be looking into finding the root cause and start treating the real issue instead of shutting up the immune system which plays an important role in our daily life.
His immune system was constantly put to rest, therefore he caught almost every germ that passed his body. Also, even though taking these meds, he still got some weird neurological issues from time to time. It’s what they call MS flare-ups.
ALSO READ: 10 Yummy Immune Boosting Foods
Time for CHANGE
Though we were mostly cooking at home, the Belgian cuisine is rich in meat, butter, cream, and cheese. And let’s not forget the wine or famous Belgian beers that go with that meal.
Though my health wasn’t as bad, I wasn’t the most healthy girl either. I inherited high cholesterol levels and heart rhythm disorder from my dad’s side and was slightly overweight.
My little family was struggling. The more I thought about it, the more I realized these meds weren’t the answer. Though the medical world does many wonderful things, it messes up a lot of things too.
Though meds like the interferon shots my hubby was taking may cover you for a certain percentage (around 30-40%), it doesn’t tackle the issue or root cause. Though it is still unclear what causes MS, food, stress and other lifestyle factors seems to be important triggers that cannot be ignored.
Inspired by a woman’s story who was in a wheelchair and changed her diet to Paleo and was walking around again, we were convinced that there were better ways. But Paleo wasn’t our, well especially not my, way. Too much meat for this animal lover.
Confused by all the healthy eating info out there, I decided to take up a 4-year after work/weekend holistic health and nutrition course to nurture us back to health. Best decision ever!!!!
Preventing and Reversing An Autoimmune Disease with REAL Food
Step by step, or should I say bite by bite, we implemented the things I learned. We both started to feel better. My hubby’s MS flare-ups stopped, my heart rhythm condition and cholesterol improved and I lost a few pounds too.
We became less stressed, took up daily-ish exercising, stopped eating that much meat and incorporated green smoothies into our life. Gradually we eliminated most processed foods, dairy, gluten and meat and increased our intake of fresh veggies and fruits. Things started to get better and we saw some major improvements to our health.
Although he was still taking the weekly shots, he just felt better. His body was able to cope with the meds and he didn’t get sick all the time. His body was slowly healing itself from the inside out. And what was more important, No more MS flare-ups or neurological issues.
ALSO READ: Eating Less Meat: Its Importance and Benefits
Time To Throw Out The Meds and Let Whole Foods Do Their Magic
Since it was always our dream to travel and live abroad, we moved to Cambodia in 2014. Moving out of Belgium and Europe, however, also meant goodbye cheap medicine and health care. The weekly interferon shots came at $1200 a month, but Belgium health care had our back so we only paid about $10-15. But this was all going to change.
Not willing to pay $1200 and no health insurance that wanted to cover his disease for a reasonable price, he decided he was ready to quit his meds from one day to the other, trusting the power of whole foods, exercise and stress management.
One day he told me:
“This is our dream and we are not gonna let MS ruin all the fun. I’ll quit my meds and we’ll see what happens! If we have to come back then at least we lived our dream for a while…”
And that’s what we did… fast forward to today… we are still living our dream in SE-Asia. No flare-ups, no meds, no other complaints. He hasn’t felt better in his entire life.
Though MS is still incurable, for now, changing diet and exercise can make it go away and improve the quality of life!!
When it comes to diet I’m an advocate of the Acid-Base (or alkaline) balance of our body and clean eating, which all boils down to eating more whole foods that leave alkaline residues in your body and eliminating all processed foods.
These foods are basically fruits and vegs. Things like meat or grains leave acidic residues. This is why I think diets such as Paleo (even though they eat a lot of animal-based protein they still eat a higher percentage of fresh veggies and fruits) and (mainly) plant-based diets high in veggies and fruits work so well for people with an autoimmune disease, such as MS.
Also, inflammation and our gut health play an important role.
It is all about how much and what we eat. If we look back into time, you’ll see that saturated fats aren’t the real issue. Ever since saturated fats have been blamed to be the culprit of many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, etc the world hasn’t improved by going fat-free.
In contrary. Ever since we started to use more convenient foods – such as ready-made dinners, tomatoes in cans, cereals, fat-free yogurt or cream, etc – numbers of these diseases have gone through the roof.
Since we experienced the many benefits of eliminating processed foods and choosing real foods instead we have seen dramatic improvements to our health.
Though we still eat gluten-containing products on occasion, the focus in our diet is 80 percent on veggies and fruits and the other 20 on grains, nuts, seeds, oils, etc.
Until 2016, we also included some dairy, meat or fish on occasion (flexitarian diet). My hubby still has some on very rare occasions, but these days we mainly live a 100% plant-based or vegan life and feel great.
And of course no or close to no processed foods like canned tomatoes, chickpeas, baked goods, refined grains, refined sugar, etc.
Combined with a daily-ish exercise routine (5 times a week) of somewhere in between 20 min to 1 hour, we have never felt as good as we feel know. And most importantly, we haven’t taken any meds to control our health issues since we moved to Cambodia in 2014. No issues whatsoever. Impressive, right.
Well, you can achieve the same.
With this story I want to show you a possibility, another way, to fight disease but it will require some, maybe even a lot (depending on your current lifestyle) effort to make the change. Take it easy and let the food do its healing magic!
Eating Less Meat: Its Importance and Benefits
Semi-Vegetarian: What is Flexitarian or Semi-vegetarianism?
Ohh and something else! Get stress under control, move to another country or quit your job if must. But stress and health or autoimmune disease don’t go well together!
Small note: though I have a scientific and holistic background, I’m not a doctor. If you have MS or any other disease please do not stop your medication from one day to another without getting proper nutritional advice.
Thanks for reading. I hope this information was helpful. Until next time!
Crazy cat lady, life and food lover, certified biologist, and holistic health coach.