I Found My Health—and My Purpose In Life
It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Six years ago, I was a freshman at Kalamazoo College, majoring in biology and tentatively planning to go to vet school. I was known for my ability to pack away refined junk food and not gain a single pound. I was a two-sport collegiate athlete, starting goalkeeper for the soccer team, acing my classes, and working in a research lab. By all measures, my life was wonderful. That is, except for my eczema.
I’d had it for as long as I could remember. As a baby, it was on my cheeks. Through middle school, it was the inside creases of my elbows and the backs of my knees. In high school, it was cracked, dry eyelids and painful, scaly skin around my mouth. In college, it also began to show up on my hands. I hated it with a vengeance. I’d tried all kinds of steroid creams and seen dermatologists, pediatricians, and allergists to no avail. I basically assumed I would be stuck with eczema for life.
In summer 2013, my sister sent me a few articles on the connection between eczema and food intolerances. At this point in my life, I was a full-blown sugar addict, and my definition of a vegetable was Ragu sauce or corn. I was skinny and fit, so clearly my diet was fine, right?
I was skeptical that changing my diet would do anything for my skin, to say the least. But I was desperate. I was sick of being asked things like “Is that paint on your hands?” (in neurobiology lab) or “Are you wearing pink eyeshadow?” (one of my relatives at Thanksgiving).
So, I began to slowly cut out grains, refined sugar, and dairy, replacing them with whole foods. I found Mark’s Daily Apple and ChrisKresser.com and spent nearly all my free time poring through evidence-based articles and research studies related to nutrition. I quickly transitioned to full paleo and found that eating a diet of fresh, whole foods from quality sources made all the difference in the world.
Not only was my eczema disappearing rapidly, but I had increased energy, less joint pain, and faster recovery from workouts. I slept better, got sick less frequently, and generally felt great throughout the day. It was almost as if I hadn’t fully lived the first seventeen years of my life, and was finally experiencing how great I could feel once the heavy fog of chronic inflammation had lifted.
I became a true believer in this new healthy lifestyle and dove further into research. I learned about the connection between the microbiota, leaky gut, and autoimmune diseases like eczema. And it made a lot of sense; I had experienced many of the environmental triggers known to cause microbial dysbiosis and leaky gut: repeated antibiotic use, heavy consumption of processed foods, etc. After eighteen-some years, I had finally found some answers as to why I had this awful chronic skin condition. And more importantly, some hope that it could be reversed.
My eczema improved significantly on paleo, but it didn’t go away completely. After many more hours poring through articles, I decided to try the paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP). Thanks to a few hiccups along the way (i.e. don’t eat a full forkful of raw sauerkraut if you’ve never tried it and have histamine intolerance), it was a slow process. I was full AIP for about seven months, and AIP/low-histamine for the last three before the last of my eczema cleared up. But hey, a year and a half is pretty good to undo the damage of eating nothing but junk food for 17 years! And I had the best soccer season of my career, even earning Academic All-American status, while on low-histamine AIP.
It soon became obvious to me that nutrition, gut health, and ancestral medicine was something I was truly passionate about, and that I should pursue it as a career. I switched from pre-vet to pre-med, got involved with research on the gut microbiome, and started looking into dual degree M.D./Ph.D. programs.
Today, I’m still eczema-free and am in the third year of my Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. My research focuses on the effects of diet and exercise on the gut microbiota and gut barrier function, and how this impacts health. (Our latest study was recently featured in the NYT.) I’m also a part-time research assistant for Chris Kresser.
I will be starting the M.D. portion of my training in the spring of 2019, after which I plan to practice functional and integrative medicine. It’s going to be tough to navigate four years of conventional medical school, but I hope that having the credentials and background of a traditional degree will allow me to be at the forefront of the movement towards a new and improved healthcare system—one that recognizes the power of diet and lifestyle to combat chronic disease and brings together the best of functional and conventional medicine. I also hope to perform clinical research that provides evidence for the ancestral approach.
In the meantime, I’ve started a blog at NGmedicine.com to help others discover the power of nutrition and optimal health. I am incredibly grateful to Mark and all of the other people who helped me on my journey, because I not only found my health—I found my purpose in life.
P.S. As for my diet nowadays, I successfully transitioned off AIP/low-histamine to full paleo and now hover in what Mark calls “the keto zone”—dipping seamlessly in and out of ketosis. I love the mental clarity, sustained energy, and improved management of my lingering SIBO. You can read more about my personal experience with a ketogenic diet here.
P.P.S. My husband also experienced major improvements in his health thanks to a paleo-type/primal diet. I may have to convince him to write his own success story some day!
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