It’s not well known, even among my close friends, that I was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) when I was 19. I had caught mononucleosis working at a cafe, presumably from one of the mugs I handled, and within 3 weeks developed swelling, extreme stiffness, and pain in many of my joints. The problem began in my knees and spread from there. My shoulders and elbows were affected, as well as my hands and toes. My knees swelled the most, up to 3x their normal size at the onset. After an examination and serum testing by my M.D. at the time, I was told I had rheumatoid arthritis, a very crippling auto-immune disorder, and would likely have it for life. When I asked how that could be, I was only 19 and otherwise very healthy, I was told, “sometimes this just happens.” I was sent home with numerous prescriptions and zero follow-up care.
“If you desire healing, let yourself fall ill.” RUMI
For those of you who have not had any experience with RA, let me describe it for you. My whole body was exhausted but restless, and my bones ached, radiating from the joints, which were stiff and hot to touch. They would lock when I was still for any length of time but I was too exhausted and ceased up to move. This was before the internet, without cable TV, and without a telephone in rural Ontario. Blessed sleep was my only reprieve from the pain.
When I was able to sleep, with the aide of the medication I was given, I would invariably wake crying because I had tried to move in my sleep and my joints had locked. I don’t know how else to describe it. So, if it was my knees, I would have to flex extend flex extend flex extend very quickly 4 or 5 times until I heard a loud crack and the pain would subside. If it was elbows, ditto, except I had to use my other arm to get the first arm moving, which worked as long as the other arm wasn’t locked. Shoulders were particularly bad, because when they locked it was almost impossible to release, and I could not jump up to wrestle with it because I had to get my knees and elbows working first. I felt like the tin man, constantly ceasing up whenever I was still. The RA I had was called migratory, meaning it moved around from joint to joint. I never knew what I was going to wake to.
My only relief was a very hot bath and I would crawl (yes, literally crawl) to the bathtub, run it full, climb in, crush Tylenol 3 pain killers (I couldn’t swallow anything but liquid from the mono swelling of my throat) and sleep. When I woke I would repeat the process or crawl back to bed, crush and take more pain killers, and try to sleep again. This was my entire life for the first 2 months of my diagnosis. The only food I ate was instant hot chocolate and pasta, which I had in the house, because driving my manual transmission car was impossible with my knees.
It’s now over 20 years hence, and I do not suffer from anything remotely like the prognosis above. I still experience the joint pain and locking from time to time, at present in my right elbow and hand, but not consistently, and only in response to certain foods. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you what saved me. It was entirely accidental.
I ran out of food and meds and had only water to drink. And within 2 days I was able to move such that I could do very brief yoga poses. I would sleep, wake, get moving, crawl to the room to do yoga, drink water, crawl back to bed to sleep. Wake, repeat. Within a week I was almost totally pain free, with most of the swelling gone. The doctor’s response when I returned to ask: “sometimes this just happens.”
I felt she got a lot of mileage out of that phrase.
A subsequent visit to a ‘specialist’ rendered no answers. I was told my leg muscles were not strong enough so my knees were inflamed (note that at 5’5″ I weighed 110lbs and had been very fit prior to the arthritis). I inquired if that was also the problem with my toes and fingers. Was I not exercising them enough also? Would he like to see me exercise one of my fingers right now? Needless to say, we mutually agreed further visits to his office were not warranted.
Of course my legs were not strong! I had spent the better part of 2 months sleeping and wasting in pain!
Answers did not come until almost a decade later, actually, when my stepmother inadvertently discovered that when she switched to decaf coffee for my father’s health that her arthritis went away. Had I tried it?
And so I did. And so I discerned that caffeine was causing the symptoms. Suddenly the reason why I was so much worse during university lectures (when I would sip coffee) was clear! And, why I had gotten better on a water fast: the Tylenol 3’s I had been crushing and living on were flooding my body with caffeine (still can’t take them today). It’s the equivalent of 4 coffees in terms of pain – I guess it must affect the liver more deeply. I have also discovered that wheat and sugar make the effect worse, probably due to their impact on inflammation and immunity. So the hot chocolate and pasta were not helping either. The water fast was what had relieved my suffering! And I learned first hand how, with clients with extreme food intolerances or inflammation, a water or fresh juice fast can change everything!
Over the years independent scrutiny has led me to understand how the liver detoxifies substances like caffeine and how to use herbs, homeopathics, and nutritional supplements to boost that function. Today I can enjoy a cup of coffee with caffeine once to twice a day, because of the use of homeopathics. The reason I have any pain at all right now is because I this week took a remedy that has brought it out again to treat something else (common in homeopathics before they resolve the issue, but I digress). (Revisiting this post a month later, I am totally pain free, even if I have 3 cups a day, which I rarely do.) Before that, I could not tolerate any caffeine without developing some discomfort – for at least a decade. But at least I knew what was causing the problem. Eventually I found homeopathy and discovered how to resolve symptoms that my body was stuck expressing. If you haven’t tried this incredible medicine for an unresolved health issue, you seriously want to! Sometimes the journey to answers is winding and long. But now, due to my experiences I feel I am much better able to understand client health struggles and effective treatment considerations.
Just some other incredible improvements I have seen in chronic health issues due to herbals/ homeopathics include:
long term acne resolving
long term eczema and psoriasis disappearing
bowel issues disappearing
chronic cystitis resolving
chronic migraines resolving
chronic fatigue resolving
chronic and acute mental health issues resolving (bipolar, schizophrenia)
sleep issues resolved
energy and mood issues resolved
chronic dental caries stopped and reversed
flatus and acid indigestion resolved
chronic deep indurated cysts resolved
sacro-iliac pain gone
chronic constipation resolved
chronic strep throat and tonsillitis resolved
chronic nightmares and night terrors resolved
addiction tendency resolved
If you or anyone you know would like help with RA or another “incurable” debilitating disease, you can refer them in confidence, knowing I am a woman who will not give up on digging to find them a solution. Just because a cure is not understood yet does not mean it doesn’t exist. I truly believe God has given us every medicine we need in nature to cure all illness we experience. I am happy to work to help you find what will work for you. Namaste!
It’s no surprise the Paleo diet was the most Googled diet of 2017, with numerous converts raving about their weight loss successes and an explosion of really stellar holistic health gurus wholeheartedly advocating its benefits. (Dr. Mercola, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, Dr. Josh Axe, and Robb Wolf, just to name a few.) And for good reason. The upside of following a diet which shuns processed foods yet allows you to eat until satiated and consume plenty of tasty meat while still losing excess fat is clear. And YET. *Insert long, drawn-out sigh.*
And YET. I still consistently read misinformation all over the internet. The Paleo diet/ lifestyle is all too frequently mistakenly dismissed as dangerous or unhealthy.
Of course it’s understandable that people don’t like paradigm shifts in the theories that underpin their understanding of things. And the Paleo diet does that, in spades. Not only does it expose the corrupted ‘science’ of Ansel Keys and the subsequent impact on government food recommendations in the West, but it also questions our assumptions about the diseases that have become a normal aspect of ageing while simultaneously overturning the whole ‘a calorie is a calorie is a calorie mantra’. So, it turns out, fat doesn’t make you fat, whole grains are not good for you, saturated fat doesn’t cause high (bad) cholesterol or heart disease, type II diabetes and chronic inflammation are totally avoidable symptoms of autointoxication and not a de facto part of growing old, 3 square meals a day with snacks in between is not optimal for health, occasional fasting is good for you, and fat, red meat, and whole eggs are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. The Paleo diet is just plain hard to get one’s head around.
So it’s easy to see how someone who has a lot invested in the status quo of dietetics or who has dogmatically married him/herself into any of the above camps, would oppose and even demonize the Paleo diet. Let’s look at one such example.
Berardi then fails to address how ‘the evolutionary arguments don’t hold up,’ although he does link to the above abstract from research on early hominin diets – with zero translation or context. But my interest in such research is mere curiosity, since I don’t think we can study ancestral nutritional habits without some conflicting theories. Nobody I know has got a time travel machine. Yet. I have one friend that got the VR helmet-visor-thingy for playing games and let me try it and the experience was unbelievable and made me think something like time travel and hologram rooms could be possible and also suddenly want to binge-watch Star Trek TNG and Dr. Who all over again… but I digress. Point is, who can claim to know 100% for sure what people 60-2.6 million years ago did or didn’t eat? And are we really going to dismiss a diet over discrepancies in the information we have?
The evolutionary argument for an ancestral diet is not essential to me. I know it has some validity, looking to our evolution for clues as to what we are best suited to eat and why. But even if current Paleo theories are accurate, just because it was done in the past doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most beneficial thing to do going forward. Adaptation is another very complex issue to unpack. No, what compels me to give any credence to this diet is not at all based on a philosophy of evolution. I’m not married to any particular philosophy with regard to food other than the general principle that nature knows best. For example, I believe in the nutritional superiority of whole, natural, free range, nest laid eggs from chickens who are well cared for over factory fed and caged hen laid eggs or eggs with the yolks removed or worse, artificial egg whites. I am sceptical of science when it thinks it knows better than nature herself. I’ll take a handful of nuts or sprouts over the fanciest protein bar any day. But even that philosophy I bend when it comes to say, a green powder that is formulated to be beneficial as a dietary supplement and not available as such in nature. So you can write me off as a hypocrite now if you were looking for an out and don’t earnestly want to read my perspective on why the Paleo diet really is the bomb.
I follow and advocate a Paleo or modified Paleo diet not because of some evolutionary argument, but because I am a clinician and it’s clinical data I am concerned with. Show me outcomes. How do people do on it? What are the benefits and contraindications? How easily is it implemented and what are the results when it is? And, in my experience, when placed side by side with vegan, vegetarian, raw foodism, a simple whole foods diet, the zone diet, the Mediterranean diet, and low calorie or low fat diets, a Paleo or modified Paleo diet comes out superior almost all of the time. I began this journey fully committed to my whole grain and low fat habits and did not easily let them go. But my personal experience, supported by clinical results, has pushed me onto a different path. I had to dig for a better understanding of why my son and I, then client after client, did so well on a Paleo/ ancestral/ or slightly modified Paleo diet. It really spins conventional dietetic thinking on it’s head.
With very little exception, grains are not optimal foods for health. They are deficient in proteins and healthy fats, and offer very little by way of micronutrients. Their fibre content is constantly touted, but replacing them with vegetables, which are also high in fibre, makes that point moot. They are often heavily processed and spike insulin which causes a whole host of endocrine problems in the long term, not to mention contributing to metabolic syndrome and diabesity. Where they do excel is in offering a very cheap, readily available, easily malleable, palatable and filling source of energy. In terms of macros, that’s essentially all grains are: dressed up, nutrient deficient sugar. And unless you’re an athlete, you do not need any excess tasty, carbohydrates on your plate. Furthermore, contrary to popular misconception, there are zero negative ramifications of metabolizing fats and proteins for energy vs carbohydrates in the vast majority of the population. In fact, I would say it’s almost always superior.
As for (bovine) dairy, from a Paleo perspective, IMHO Mark Sisson has done the best job of dissecting this issue, so you can read that here, if you are so inclined. Mark is an incredibly intelligent, articulate, and thorough investigator of all things Paleo/ Primal and you will be richer for reading anything he writes. My own experience is not formulated due to Paleo doctrine, but again, taken from clinical experience and external research.
Dairy, as it exists today in North America, is extremely inflammatory for most of the adult population and many of the youth I have seen. (Keep in mind, people do not come to me in good health.) When removed, inflammation markers and symptoms drop drastically. In many cases, long-standing skin, digestive, lymphatic, mucous, histamine, asthma, and brain issues improve drastically when it is removed. I have not found that to be the case of raw or pastured whole dairy or home fermented organic dairy, as about half of the clients I see do well on that. Sometimes adding digestive enzymes bypasses the problem entirely. Other times the beta-casein is the issue, in which case New Zealand whey or raw milk is tolerated while commercial domestic milk products are not. Sheep and even better, goat milk, seems to cause far fewer problems for most sensitive individuals I have treated. Coconut milk is a great alternative, but it does not offer the amino acid profile that animal dairy does. So this is a very individual consideration.
Again, I care not whether Paleolithic humans ate it or not. My opinion is based on observations of whether humans today thrive on it. And frequently, especially where there is gut dysbiosis or rampant inflammation, I see the answer to be no. However, after removing grains and other inflammatory foods and healing the digestive system, many people who initially were hyper responsive to dairy no longer react to it, myself included. I attribute this to modern industrial processing of dairy (non-optimal feed, animal stress hormones from abusive farming practices, hormone induced lactation, antibiotic fed bovine, pasteurization, and homogenization), digestive bacterial imbalances that result in a lack of the enzymes to digest dairy properly, or an immune-system response due to damaged gut permeability. Often I find temporarily removing dairy helps in client outcomes, with low to moderate dairy added in, depending on client preferences, after some time reducing inflammation and increasing insulin tolerance. Despite this, I would not say I feel dairy is an optimal food, based on how strongly it is involved in inflammation.
As for lentils and legumes, I wholeheartedly embrace them and know Paleo communities are divided on this. Research shows that these anti-nutrients (lectins and phytic acid) that concern the dogmatic Paleo peeps are largely removed by soaking and cooking or soaking and sprouting, as is normal with lentils and legumes today. Some clients with dysbiosis still cannot digest them, even after proper preparation, so they steer clear, as do low carb and keto Paleo dieters because of their higher carb content. As such, they are also contraindicated in clients who are in the weight-loss stages of a healthy diet or who still demonstrate insulin resistance. But if clients can tolerate and enjoy them, their protein content, prebiotic content, micronutrient content, low cost, and minimal processing redeems them in my opinion. While a strict Paleo approach may shun them, in practice I’ve found few people care about rules as much as results. When clients have all the information I encourage them to choose according to what suits their particular needs and goals. In my practice, I focus primarily on the grains, sugars, bad fats, dairy, or processed foods that do seem to cause tremendous harm when I guide clients about what to avoid.
Now that we’ve addressed some of the misinformation circulating about the Paleo diet, let’s highlight exactly why I feel it’s superior to other diets I’ve tried or seen to date:
it promotes avoiding the most inflammatory, harmful, and addicting foods: processed foods, low quality fats, sugar, grains, and commercial dairy
it emphasizes the role of healthy fats in the diet, which you will understand better after reading the work of Weston Price
it emphasizes the role of proteins in a healthy diet
it highlights the role of insulin in weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and inflammation, and provides a clear blueprint for avoiding that
it is not extremely restrictive, and with just a little training around some new go-to dishes, most clients find it very easy to embrace while still enjoying a diversity of foods
it can be personalized and adjusted in terms of carbs, depending on the needs of the client, with very quick weight loss if desired by increasing fats and keeping to very low carbs, inducing ketosis
staying in ketosis creates a diet that eliminates sugar cravings and helps greatly in addictive food behaviour
it encourages responsible farming practices and consumer education around farming ethics
it inadvertently boycotts many of the foods most involved in heavy mono-cropping, irradiation and pesticide use
it provides a blueprint for going gluten-free that focuses on what is optimal to eat, vs what to avoid and sub-par replacements
it highlights the importance of lifestyle in dieting and teaches sound lifestyle practices
it provides a blueprint for eating that can be easily adapted to a GAPS protocol for dysbiosis issues
it advocates a return to using the whole animal for food, not just the muscle meat, reducing waste and promoting a deeper appreciation for taking a life to sustain oneself
it advocates using nutrient dense veggies and fruits in season, as tolerated
it’s diabetic friendly and can reverse type II diabetes completely when done right
it’s epileptic friendly and can be used clinically to stop epileptic episodes
it’s schizophrenic friendly and can help manage psychosis
it’s the best diet I have seen for stabilizing mental health and mood issues due to the need for stable blood sugar in these conditions
it’s the best diet for bone and dental health
it is sensible, easy to understand, and doable
it highlights the role of food in gene expression, and, to my knowledge before any other diet had done so
the absence of packaged foods means a lot less waste produced, with most waste being completely biodegradable
it supports farmers and cultivating a relationship with farmers
it can be tweaked to accommodate a lacto-ovo vegetarian preference, a strict vegetarian preference (with supplements), or a more raw food preference, with clients who are resistant to animal foods, helping them to shift from heavily processed, packaged, inflammatory foods to a more whole foods diet – with guidance (very difficult without guidance)
it’s delicious and extremely versatile in the kitchen, no matter your cultural food preferences
In summary,despite many probably well-meaning warnings on the internet by some rather respected folk, if you haven’t tried a Paleo diet and are seeking an effective weight loss solution or to improve your health, my clinical experience and research backs it as very healthy and sustainable diet for many. I think the prejudice it receives in mainstream dietetics will take further time to dismantle, as science and EBM start to reproduce the data that pioneering clinicians have been documenting. As always, if you have any questions about how to implement a Paleo diet or need guidance using diet to improve your health, I am here to help.