Having suffered from multiple health conditions including a debilitating neuromuscular condition, 7 painful and mysterious diseases, plus 2 autoimmune disorders for over a decade, I know first-hand what it takes to heal from seemingly impossible conditions.
– Mary Ruddick, BA, CNC
Mary Ruddick’s Sweet Victory
The Beginning of a L–o–n–g Decline
The first 17 years of my life were quite typical of a healthy child and teen, growing up in Dayton, Ohio. I rarely got sick and when I did it was an average cold or flu. Then, when I was 18, I traveled to the Bahamas for a semester abroad. We camped in rustic cabins on the beach and spent our days studying marine ecology and scuba diving.
A month into the semester, 15 out of the 30 students fell ill with high fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea. I was one of them. My fever reached 106 degrees and stayed there for six days. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and ice baths would not bring it down. We were on an impoverished island without access to modern medicine, so on the 7th day I was evacuated with several others to a hospital in Florida. I was given some medicines, and when I stabilized, I was sent back to the Bahamas to continue my studies. My fever had broken, and I thought for sure that I was on the mend. But nothing was ever the same.
From Bizarre to Debilitating
My symptoms went from unusual to bizarre to debilitating. I began craving candy; something that I rarely permitted myself to eat before. I went from running 70-plus miles per week to barely being able to walk to the bathroom. I developed a tremor, brain fog and struggled to memorize and communicate. Seizure-like episodes became frequent and my immunity tanked. My circulation became impaired, and unless I was lying down, my legs and my hands would become blue and painful. I began sleeping for days without waking, and on some occasions, fell asleep while driving! The bones in my legs felt like they were being crushed in a vise.
I developed endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Barrett’s Esophagus. I was sent to specialists all over the country in an attempt to understand why I was so ill.
It took 3 years to get an answer: I had an active mycoplasma infection, a bacterial infection that causes chronic flu-like symptoms, and that I later learned is a trigger for autoimmune conditions.1Bacterial Infections and the Pathogenesis of Autoimmune Conditions; Sherbet, G., BJMP 2009:2(1) 6-13; http://www.bjmp.org/content/bacterial-infections-and-pathogenesis-autoimmune-conditions The infection had been ravaging my body for three years. The doctor put me on strong daily antibiotics, which I stayed on for two years. Initially I felt better, but I still required over a dozen medications just to be able to function.
Many Diseases, Many Doctors, No Answers
As the years progressed I declined further and had to drop out of college my senior year. I developed kidney disease, non-alcoholic liver disease, carpal tunnel syndrome and two autoimmune thyroid diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. By the seventh year I was no longer able to take care of myself and had to move back in with my parents for full time care. At that time, I was so weak that I could no longer hold a coffee cup or a book on my own. Sitting up was difficult and showers impossible. I spent all my time in bed, waiting for death and wishing for relief from all the pain.
A Doctor Finally Links My Timeline to My Symptoms
My parents learned about a highly recommended neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specialized in difficult-to-treat cases. But, by this time I was totally disillusioned with doctors and the medical system in general. It seemed to me that they couldn’t admit that they didn’t understand my illness, so they concluded I must be imagining it, or may be causing it in some way. It was endlessly discouraging and frustrating.
But this doctor was different. He postulated that all my various organ diseases could be related. He asked about my timeline to see if he could make sense of root causes. After hearing my story, he began poking and prodding me. He appeared to be very excited. He asked me a variety of questions and pricked my purple legs with a needle. I couldn’t feel the pinpricks until he got above my waist. To him, this meant nerve damage, so he ordered several tests.
When I returned for the results, he diagnosed me with three conditions: neurologically-based postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or “POTS,”2http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org/page.php?ID=30 Ehler-Danlos Syndrome or EDS, and small-fiber peripheral neuropathy. The neurologist believed that all of these were related and triggered by the very high fever I experienced in the Bahamas nearly a decade before.
The Beginning of Control
Now that I had names for my collection of symptoms, I became my own medical detective and healing director. My goal was to eventually get off all 17 medications and recover my previous good health. I was mostly bed-bound at the time, so I threw myself into research, reading medical journals, www.PubMed.com, and books written by doctors who focus on healing at the root cause level.
Eliminating Grains & Sugar Cured My Fibromyalgia
I began finding books written by doctors who had also been sick and were now in remission and who used alternative health and diet modifications. I learned that carbohydrates have a negative effect on both circulation and the nervous system,3Are Carbohydrates Essential for Human Nutrition? © 2002 American Society for Clinical Nutrition; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/75/5/951.2.full#xref-ref-4-1 so I decided to cut them out of my diet.
When I removed carbohydrates from my diet, something miraculous happened: my fibromyalgia and muscle pain disappeared!
I Cured My Autoimmune Thyroid Disorders with Targeted Supplements
I learned from Dr. David Brownstein and Dr. Sherry Rogers’ books that thyroid disease is often caused by deficiency, so I began a targeted supplementation program, and in a short amount of time, my autoimmune thyroid conditions normalized for good.
I read in Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum’s book, From Fatigued to Fantastic, that carpel tunnel syndrome was also associated with more nutritional deficiencies so I followed his recommendations and within 4 weeks my carpel tunnel syndrome of several years disappeared for good.
I learned about polysaccharides — and how they regulate the immune system. I began taking them, and for the first time in nearly a decade I went an entire year without any infections. Loved ones around me were getting sick and I was not. My ANA score (ANA is a measure of immune function) became normal, indicating that my immune system was no longer attacking itself.
Polysaccharides were key for me to becoming autoimmune disease-free!
But… I still had a long way to go and very little energy.
Exercise in Micro Doses Built Strength and Stamina
I decided to slowly add exercise into my regimen, beginning with very small movements. Once I had built up a little strength I began using a stationary bike for 30 seconds per day (that is not a typo: 30 seconds was all I could muster.) It was grueling. Each week, as long as I did not feel worse the next day from the increase, I added 30 more seconds, and so on. By the end of a year I could take some walks and even bike for 40 minutes a day. With a few key supplements and the wonderful support of my family, I began working part time. It felt so good to be a contributing member of society again, and to be part of my community.
Eliminating Sugar & Scary Movies Helped My Immune System
I learned a great deal about the immune system and what helps or hinders it. I learned that sugar suppresses the immune system for 48 hours after it has been consumed.4Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis, Sanchez, A., et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nov 1973;261:1180_1184. Bernstein, J., al. Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1997;30:613 I realized that I could not afford that kind of a gamble with my delicate system, so I cut sugar out completely.
I stopped listening to my favorite rock music and only played classical. I stopped watching scary movies — in studies, they have been shown to suppress the immune system5Fear: A Psychophysiological Study of Horror Film Viewing; M. Adam Palmer Texas State University-San Marcos; https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/3220/fulltext.pdf?sequence=1 — and watched only comedies because laughter improves immune function.6Humor and Laughter May Influence Health IV. Humor and Immune Function; Bennett, M.P. et. al., Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Jun; 6(2): 159–164., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686627/ I spent less time with stressful individuals and more time with those that made me feel good. I learned that meditation reduces stress and fosters healing,7Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress; http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858so I began a daily meditation practice.
Nutrient-Dense Foods Key to My Healing
I dove into healing diets. I tried Kris Carr’s anti-cancer diet for 6 months, and I even followed the Gerson Therapy (anti-cancer) diet. For me the juicing and vegan approach brought short term detoxing benefits, but were not adequate for strengthening my immune system over time.
And then I discovered the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” which was written in 1939 by Weston A. Price, a dentist and researcher, and which completely opened my eyes. The Weston A. Price diet is an ancestral approach which emphasizes nutrient-dense foods like bone broth, grass fed & pastured meats, organ meats and raw dairy. I told myself that I would do anything to get better, and I meant it. When I had a craving for raw liver, I knew I was deficient in those nutrients and on the right healing diet!
I found an ancestral nutrition mentor who educated me about two diets that follow similar principles of the Weston A. Prices approach and which are often used with great success for neurological, cancer and autoimmune conditions: The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet and the Ketogenic diet.
I jumped in with both feet. My mentor guided me through the process, and thankfully set my expectations that I might feel much worse on the diet before I got better. No matter how awful the diet might make me feel, I agreed to give it 6 months, and dove in.
The Last Mile
The first month was rough. At first I felt like I had the flu and my nose ran non-stop. But, despite feeling worse, I was making good progress. By the end of the first week my body temperature regulated, and I was no longer freezing or burning up. By the end of the first month I had a check-up with my neuromuscular doctor at the Cleveland Clinic. He did some nerve and circulation tests and became very excited. He asked me what I was doing and stated that he had never seen a POTS patient respond so well. He was right. I was doing much better. My legs were no longer purple and painful despite my standing more often to work or cook.
I came back from that check-up convinced that I was on the right path, even though it would take 3 total months to start feeling really good on the diet. Within four months of that visit I was able to taper off all remaining medications. I was elated, and so grateful for the wise counsel of my nutrition mentor!
Victory is Sweet
I now had more energy and my workouts became easier. My lifelong allergies disappeared, and for the first time ever I was able to eat dairy without complications.
I decided to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree. After a year and a half of the GAPS + ketogenic diet, I put my breathing machine in a box, threw out the rest of my medication, and had a clean bill of health. My doctors all sweetly fired me, stating that I was no longer ill. All my lab tests were perfect. My organ damage, nerve damage, and autoimmune conditions had all resolved themselves! One doctor even asked me to lead groups at the Cleveland Clinic. It was an amazing time. I got off social security disability, and I moved out west to formally study nutrition.
Today I own my own business and spend my time teaching others how to heal themselves. Looking back, I once felt that my years of disability robbed me of any purpose I might have had. Now I know that it was essential for me to go through that terrible and long chapter in order to use my full experience and knowledge for the benefit of others.
The healing journey is not easy. It requires you to die to your old self, to be open to new possibilities, and to take full responsibility for your life. It’s a primal and often solitary journey. If you embrace the challenge and stay the course, you’ll find gifts you never thought to ask for. Natural treatments are not always well known, the path is definitely not straight, but healing is possible and victory over dis-ease is very sweet.
— Mary Ruddick, BA, CNC
Take good care!
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1. New research reveals that POTS may be an autoimmune disorder8Autoimmune markers and autoimmune disorders in patients with postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Blitshteyn S.,Lupus. 2015 Jun 1. pii: 0961203315587566. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26038344
Image Credit: Mary Ruddick