This is Part 5 of My Big Fat Autoimmune Mess! series. The other posts in this series include:
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. The information in this post cannot be used to treat or diagnose any disease.
I’ve put off this post for awhile because I wasn’t quite sure how to put it all together or how to link it to all my different posts related to my autoimmune struggles. Many of the things I did to take care of my Big Fat Autoimmune Mess seemed to simultaneously take care of my Hashimoto’s Disease (you can click the links to read the series if you haven’t already). Just goes to show – everything is connected.
While some of my journey felt organized and well-planned, the vast majority of it did not.
In most cases regarding my health, I like to approach things from an experimental and analytical perspective, only changing 1-2 things at a time and waiting for the results before moving to the next intervention. But, this scenario was different…
I was a mother with a newborn and a toddler, living with daily chronic pain. My hands were covered in rashes and I loathed every diaper change because I knew washing my hands made them burn and bleed. My patience plummeted from the consistency of my symptoms.
I experienced overwhelming post-partum anxiety, which turned out to be a problem with my eyes (Binocular Vision Dysfunction). But, my journey to obtaining that diagnosis involved multiple panic attacks, trouble with my balance, and a visit to the ER for a CT scan of my brain to rule out MS.
On top of it, I tested positive for autoimmune antibodies towards my lungs, kidneys, and joints, and was continuously plagued with the thought of what could happen if those antibody numbers continued to grow and cause irreversible damage.
While I didn’t feel panicked, I knew the clock was ticking.
I believed I could reverse all of it. I just had to find the right pieces to the puzzle. But I didn’t want to wait around to discover the solution, especially while actively suffering from chronic pain. I wanted relief, and I wanted it fast.
There is a good ending to my story. I did reverse all of my symptoms, and completely eliminated any trace of Hashimoto’s Disease from my body, which was a complete and unexpected surprise.
BUT, I can’t quite tell you exactly what did it… which is why this post isn’t easy to write and why I’m going to apologize ahead of time for how crazy long it is. It might feel like a hodgepodge of things, because that’s basically what it is. There is no direct way to balance the immune system – it’s a plethora of things. I was throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck.
So, I will list everything that seemed to work for me. And while not every intervention was a complete “game-changer”, I believe the majority of them moved the needle just enough to make a difference. Eventually, I hit my stride and experienced massive healing in a short amount of time.
**FYI – for the past few years, I’ve seen a chiropractor and acupuncturist regularly as part of my overall autoimmune management. I’m not going to go into detail about those in this post because, while they are definitely helpful and keep me balanced, they were not THE solution. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have needed to do all these other things! I want to mention it, though, because it’s important to know what else I was doing in the background to paint the full picture.
The First Step – The Autoimmune Protocol Diet and Gut Healing
As soon as my symptoms hit and didn’t ease up, I knew the first thing I had to do was focus on my gut. I already go into great detail about what I did in my post listed below and suggest you read it (if you haven’t already), as I believe healing my gut was the springboard for reversing my symptoms.
I also worked with my doctor to address nutritional deficiencies which were: Vitamin D, magnesium, iron, zinc, and a few others. I won’t elaborate on this, but the reason I point it out is because I think an anti-inflammatory diet, paired with targeted supplementation, gave me the necessary foundation for all the interventions I talk about next to be so effective.
The diet/supplementation can be a long process and I knew results wouldn’t come overnight. So, during that time, I incorporated other interventions as short-term solutions to my chronic pain.
Searching for Relief from Chronic Pain
To give you an idea of the type of pain I was experiencing, it penetrated deeply into my bones and muscles, all throughout my body – a burning, aching type of feeling… sometimes like my muscles were being slowly pulled apart. The only things that brought relief were an extra hot Epsom salt bath or high-pressure massage.
I also experienced pain in my joints, particularly in my fingers and toes, which made sense when I tested positive for a few antibodies associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis. They felt bruised and sore. Thankfully, no swelling.
I discovered 5 interventions, that when combined together, made my pain disappear completely. It was rare for these not to work.
- CBD Oil
- Krill Oil
To briefly summarize exactly what I did and why I chose these:
CBD oil was trending during this time, and I kept reading about its benefits for chronic pain and reducing inflammation. What really got me thinking though was when I learned we all have an endocannabinoid system in our body that promotes homeostasis (internal balance).
Endocannabinoid receptors are found all over the body – in organs, cells, and even the brain. CBD oil contains cannabinoids that nourish this system, and can help reduce inflammation, and therefore the pain that comes with it.
So… I figured, why not give it a shot?
I started with a 5mg dose once per day, but didn’t feel much of a difference. I continued to inch my way up to a higher dose and found that 10mg, twice a day, gave me almost 100% relief. The best part was that it only took about 10-20 minutes for me to feel its affects. So, if I was really having a bad day, I could take care of it quickly.
CBD quickly became one of the most useful interventions I’ve ever tried. Easily within the top 5. I will use it for life.
I think I tried about 4 different brands? But landed on Endoca as my brand of choice because I love their overall purpose and mission. I use the RAW CBD drops. I started off with the 30mg bottle (blue label), where 1 drop contains 1mg of CBD, but then I switched to the 150mg (red label) bottle, where 1 drop contains 5mg CBD because it was more cost-effective given my daily dose.
Turmeric and Krill Oil
I am combining the turmeric and krill oil because they worked best together (for me), and they managed to wipe out any remaining pain the CBD oil didn’t tackle.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been heavily studied, showing multiple benefits but the two I’m most interested in are its ability to reduce inflammation and pain, particularly for arthritis. (You can read more about the benefits of turmeric here).
The supplement I chose was this one by Gaia and noticed a difference immediately, so I stuck with it. Two pills a day, one in the morning and one at night.
I added in krill oil due to its large amount of omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation. I’ve had really great experiences with using fish oil in the past, and chose the krill oil route because its less likely to contain heavy metals. (You can read more about the benefits of krill oil here.)
I took 2 capsules of the Radiant Life Krill Oil along with my turmeric supplement each morning and night, and they almost always wiped out my residual pain.
My chronic pain during the day was manageable because I was always a short distance away from my CBD oil. If the pain ever returned, I quickly took a drop and felt relief again within 10-20 minutes. But, I was still bothered by the pain during the middle of the night and didn’t really want to wake up and walk to the fridge (I refrigerate the CBD oil).
Fortunately, I found another solution – grounding, or sometimes referred to as “earthing”. When I first learned about this, I was like “Yeah, right…” but, I began to notice instinctively, particularly during the summer, I took off my shoes to walk barefoot in the grass. I craved it.
(If you don’t know what grounding is, Frank sums it up in this guest post on Kelly the Kitchen Kop, along with homeopathy, which I’ll talk about in a second.)
So, we bought this grounding sheet for our bed and well, maybe you can guess… it took care of the pain at night immediately. This is a game changer because of the impact it made on my pain levels. Not to mention that we both sleep soooo much better when using the grounding mat than when we don’t.
And finally, the one that takes the cake – homeopathy. All the pain in my joints and muscles that lasted for months, was taken away overnight from just one dose of a remedy called Medorrihinum, as prescribed by my homeopath.
After that, I dropped the high-dose turmeric, lowered my CBD dose (I still take 5mg a day just to keep inflammation in check), and ditched the daily krill oil. Haven’t used them since.
If you’ve never heard of homeopathy, please read my posts:
It’s important to note that I worked with a professional, classically trained homeopath to pinpoint the remedy that worked for me. There is no way I would have been able to pick this remedy on my own, even with the knowledge I have after studying homeopathy for 4 years. What worked for me might not work for anyone else because homeopathy is so individualized – one of the many things that makes it so cool, but also frustrating at the same time. 😉
The Next Piece: Addressing Trauma and Anxiety
As I stated in my introduction, during this time, I experienced intense anxiety. You may call it post-partum anxiety, and that’s what I thought it was for a while, but… I noticed something very specific about it after I started having panic attacks.
My panic attacks only happened in grocery stores or crowded places, while driving, or out on walks/errands with my kids, and they always accompanied a specific feeling of dizziness, which I can now better describe as feeling like I had one too many drinks. I could barely walk in a straight path and ran into the sides of doors more often than I’d like to admit.
This led to constant, chronic anxiety and stress. My fight-or-flight response was always turned on, even when I was not in any apparent danger. The continuous bombardment of stress makes healing from autoimmune disease very difficult. There was never a moment for my body to rest or modulate my overactive immune system.
I knew that if I wanted to reverse my autoimmune symptoms, my anxiety needed to be addressed. The only problem was – I didn’t know what was wrong with me. To make matters worse… I switched to a different brand of magnesium supplements to save money (big mistake), and started to experience tremors in my hands and arms.
The tremors paired with my dizziness really freaked me out, and after a particularly bad day, I decided to head to the ER. They took a CT scan of my brain, thinking I could possibly have Multiple Sclerosis. Thankfully, everything came back clear, but I was still without answers. Fortunately, my doctor helped me figure out my tremors were a result of low magnesium, but the dizziness still remained.
Binocular Vision Dysfunction
After a few searches in a Facebook group regarding post-partum “dizziness,” I found a hint to a potential diagnosis of Binocular Vision Dysfunction. The quick definition is: one of my eyes is slightly misaligned with the other eye.
The list of symptoms I found matched so perfectly that I realized I’ve probably been suffering from it for years, but always thought it was a symptom of my Hashimoto’s/brain fog. A few months later, I went in for testing and received my official diagnosis confirming my suspicions.
(If you want to learn more about the symptoms associated with Binocular Vision Dysfunction, click here. My doctor mentioned she’s noticed a trend over the years – many people with autoimmune thyroid or mixed connective tissue disorders also have this.)
The solution to my problem were a pair of glasses with corrective lenses. I received them a week after my appointment, and after a rough 5-7 days of adjusting to them, finally started to feel relief. For the first time in a decade, I could browse an aisle at the grocery store, glancing quickly at various items, without feeling drunk.
With the help of my new lenses, my anxiety started to lift. Not completely, but at least enough to where I could go out on walks and run errands with the kids and feel like I was in control of my body. It brought me peace, and my body was given the restful time it needed.
White Light Therapy and Blue-Blocking Glasses
After months of living with the chronic anxiety and lingering threat of panic attacks, and then rapidly reducing it by removing the “threat” using my corrective glasses, I expected to go through a period of chronic exhaustion as my body caught up and recovered from the constant stress.
And I was right.
I woke up exhausted, was exhausted all day, and around 6pm, I would have a small surge of energy, and then have a ton of trouble falling asleep. These are all symptoms of cortisol imbalance/problems with my adrenals.
(If you are unfamiliar with cortisol imbalance/adrenal dysfunction/HPA axis dysfunction, read this article. It is very helpful for anyone trying to reverse an autoimmune condition.)
There’s a plethora of things you can do to help restore balance to this system, many of which I was already doing – eating healthy, balancing my blood sugar, optimizing my sleep (as much as I could with young kids), etc.
But, I still struggled.
Some people reach for adaptogenic foods/herbs/mushrooms. I tried them for about a month, but didn’t feel any real improvement. Instead, I decided to use light therapy to help balance my cortisol levels. I can now say it was one of the most significant and helpful things I’ve ever done. The best part is that it’s simple.
Basically, I needed to give my body the proper signals so it could start or stop producing cortisol at the right times throughout the day. What I needed was a strong cortisol awakening response (also known as CAR) in the morning, and it was evident, due to my sluggishness, that I did not have that.
To help facilitate a strong CAR, I did a few things:
- I set an alarm and woke up immediately upon hearing it. No snooze button. No going to the bathroom and going back to bed.
- I forbid myself from looking at my phone upon waking, as the blue light is disruptive for cortisol production. Instead, I opened my blinds and immediately stared at the natural daylight, which is the proper signal that it’s time to get up and get moving! Produce cortisol! We also bought a white-light to help mimic this natural daylight during the winter/darker months.
- I spent at least 20 minutes in this light before moving on with the rest of my day.
- Absolutely no caffeine. I also ditched chocolate for a period of time because I noticed I reacted to the small amount of caffeine it contains.
During the day:
- I went for a walk at least once or twice a day, even if it was cold and snowy. The more natural light, the better.
- I stopped napping, and man… that was tough. Every day, around 2pm, like clockwork, my body tanked. If I took a nap though, I usually woke up feeling awful and depressed, and could not fall asleep when it was time for bed. Since I didn’t ever feel refreshed or restored, I knew the naps had to go.
Then, at night, I implemented a couple things to tell my body it’s time to go to bed. This included:
- Wearing blue blocking glasses as soon as the sun went down to block the blue light from my phone, laptop, and house lights. I wanted my body to know, without a doubt, that it was time to wind down before going to sleep.
- I made an effort (didn’t always succeed though), to shut off my phone and laptop at least an hour before bed, and spent that time reading or doing something relaxing before going to sleep.
I repeated this same routine for weeks, and sure enough, I started to feel my body return to a more normal state – woke up feeling great with sustained energy throughout the day, followed by a nice cool-down before bed.
You know, I’ve debated about including this or not, but decided to because faith and spirituality can play a major role in healing from… anything. I am a Christian and practicing Catholic, and I believe God has the power to renew all things, even the most broken, and that includes our human bodies.
So, I attended a Catholic healing service. I wasn’t really after autoimmune healing, but rather, I went to seek relief from my panic attacks and driving anxiety because I hadn’t yet found a clue that it could be related to my eyes. I thought that perhaps, my panic attacks were related to a car accident I had on the freeway back in 2013 because it was a traumatic experience.
This service was over an hour away at a church we’ve never been to… no pre-registration involved. And interestingly, one of the healers said he wasn’t certain he had the name 100% correct, but stated God wanted to heal someone named “Hannah” from troubles that happened as a result of car accident long ago. My name is Anna, so not too far off. Kind of ironic.
Could that have been me? Perhaps. I will never know. But what I do know is I found a lot of answers following that healing service…
The Final Pieces
After combining everything I just discussed (which is a lot, I know), I was in a really, really good place.
My diet expanded. No more chronic pain. My skin rashes were gone. I felt like I returned to where I was prior to my second birth before everything fell apart. I had stable energy, a stable mood, and required just a little bit of thyroid hormone medication due to my Hashimoto’s, to give my body what it needed.
The only problem was, despite my lack of symptoms, my blood work was not showing any evidence of improving. My ANA Antibodies and many of my mixed connective tissue antibodies were still positive. Yes, some did go negative, and some did go down… but others went up. Not crazy high, but still not in the direction I wanted to see.
But, given how stable my health was otherwise (I was symptom-free for about 6 months), we thought it was a good time to conceive our third child. I wrote a very detailed post on how we went about preparing for conception, which covers much of what I talk about below.
To summarize though, I was concerned my antibodies could potentially cause problems with conceiving/carrying a pregnancy full-term, and I was determined to do everything I could to ensure those little buggers didn’t give us any problems.
Thus, I set out on a new adventure to further reduce my antibodies.
My initial inspiration came from Dr. Brooke Goldner, who completely reversed her severe case of Lupus. What struck me about her story wasn’t the fact that she reversed her symptoms (because I already did that), but the fact that she completely eliminated any sign of disease from her body. That means negative ANA antibodies, negative Anti-DsDNA antibodies, etc. And now, many years later, STILL doesn’t have any sign of Lupus in her bloodwork.
Her protocol for reversing autoimmunity involves something I never even considered up until that point – a raw, vegan diet with specific guidelines like no oil, high water consumption, etc.
I decided to stay on a personalized Autoimmune Protocol type of diet, but integrated a few pieces from Dr. Goldner’s protocol into my daily diet (I did not go full-on vegan). Here’s what I did:
- I ate more raw vegetables – broccoli, salads, radishes, carrots, garlic, onions, etc. At least 8 cups a day, but I always aimed for more.
- I reduced my intake of roasted, fried, and sautéed vegetables, sugar, all oil (except olive oil, which I did not limit myself to any specific amount), and meat. I also ate more fish, sardines, anchovies, and oysters – at least 2 to 3 times a week.
- I drank at least 96 oz of water a day, but tried to aim for even more.
After making these changes, I noticed one major thing – I feel so much better when I eat raw vegetables.
But, while I was doing this, I was also simultaneously doing other things! Remember? I told you this was all a hodgepodge…
One other symptom I was fighting for awhile, the first time in my life, was a herpes simplex viral (HSV-1) outbreak all over my lips, nose, and mouth. I didn’t even know I had this, but it is a virus commonly associated with autoimmune disease, so I’m not surprised. Just not sure why it all of a sudden reared its ugly head. I fought it for a good 6 months, and found it strange that even after healing my gut and reversing every other symptom, it still didn’t go away.
Well… I was over the breakouts. They are painful. So, I asked my acupuncturist for help and she suggested an oral herbal supplement called Herbal AVR. It’s a Chinese herbal supplement, and I cannot pronounce any of the ingredients, which is kind of scary because I like to vet all the ingredients in the supplements I take.
Sometimes though… you just have to trust, you know? This is one of those times where I’m really happy I spent many years finding the right people for my healthcare team. I trust my acupuncturist and decided to give it a try.
Within just 1-2 weeks of taking those herbs, my mouth cleared up. After 6 months! That’s all it took. Where was this supplement at the beginning?
But, then, I added… you guessed it: one more thing!
I first read about systemic enzymes (also known as proteolytic enzymes) in Dr. Izabella Wentz’s book: Hashimoto’s Protocol: a 90-Day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting Your Life Back. These enzymes can modulate the immune system and bring it into balance, and… lower antibodies! Exactly what I want.
In the book, she mentions:
“Systemic enzymes break down inflammatory cytokines that are seen in autoimmune disease and contain protease that may also be involved with breaking down pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. These enzymes also speed up tissue repair by reducing inflammation. Additionally, the enzymes reduce the antibodies to foods and to the thyroid by breaking down the CICs that are formed in autoimmune disease.”
Many of the studies use a supplement called Wobenzym. I thought about trying it, but put it on the back-burner for years because of how expensive it is. But then, I found another brand that made it more affordable.
It’s called Fibrenza and I buy it here (I subscribe to save money). I take 2 capsules in the morning and 2 at night on an empty stomach at least an hour before eating. It’s very important to take them away from food (otherwise they just double as digestive enzymes).
Well, then guess what happened?
Something about this final combination of things (diet tweaks, Herbal AVR, and systemic enzymes) clicked. Within just 2-3 weeks of introducing these changes, I started to experience hyper-thyroid symptoms – anxiety, heart palpitations, etc.
I knew right away I was on too much thyroid medication. While working with my doctor, I reduced my dose by ¼ grain, thinking that’s all I had to do. But, I was wrong. Because now, months later, even while pregnant, I… for the first time in over 10 years, am not taking any thyroid medication.
My Hashimoto’s antibodies are negative. I no longer have any evidence of Hashimoto’s Disease in my bloodwork. Just like Dr. Goldner was able to do with her Lupus.
After explaining this phenomenon with my acupuncturist, she brought up a good point and mentioned that the herbal supplements, paired with the diet, IgG supplements (which I talk more about in my post about healing my leaky gut), and systemic enzymes could have significantly reduced my body’s viral load.
Many autoimmune conditions, especially Hashimoto’s are linked to viruses and infections the body can’t seem to clear (read: Could a Virus Be Your Hashimoto’s Root Cause?). Once you clear or dramatically reduce these, amazing healing things can happen! Like total regeneration of your thyroid!
As for my other antibodies (Anti-ANA, Anti-DsDNA, etc.), I haven’t gotten them tested to see if they are gone too, but I plan on having them tested before I give birth in August. But even if they aren’t completely negative, I know I’m on the right track. Plus, post-partum is always tricky and presents a greater risk for flaring, so I could experience an uptick in antibodies. We will see.
For now, though, I am confident I am so so so close to putting this all behind me for good. Now that my Hashimoto’s is gone, I know this is possible, and not just for me – but for all of us.
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!