Running Marathons after Debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis
am a 40 year-old female competitive marathon runner, 5 feet 3
inches tall, weighing 110 pounds, and I am extremely athletic
and fit. I do an intensive strength-training program every
morning and then go back to the gym at lunchtime to do an hour
of "cardio." In my late 30's I was an exceptionally gifted long
distance runner and began to train very hard to qualify for the
2012 Olympic Trials. I was still a long way off, but that was
the goal I lived for.
This all changed in December of 2008,
the day after I qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. I
had been training 3 times a day for almost a year when I was
struck down with painful arthritis. High as a kite on my success
and achievement, I started limping the next day. My orthopedic
doctor thought I had suffered from a simple injury. But this one
event soon became one of many seemingly endless "injuries,"
including several neuromas in both feet, and numerous types of
tendonitis and joint inflammation, which lasted throughout 2009.
Even though I was forced to take many months off from running, I
still kept getting "injured." A short time later, I developed
inflammation in my jaw, my right hand, and elbow. I practically
lived in my orthopedist's office, getting one cortisone shot
after another every few weeks in different joints and living on
the anti-inflammatory medication, diclofenac (Voltaren,
Cataflam), for almost a year.
orthopedist finally told me, "Look, this is beyond bad luck, I
think you need to get tested for autoimmune diseases, like
rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, or maybe gout. I was absolutely
shocked. I had heard of these, but I didn’t think they happened
to healthy, active people like me. I dismissed his comments as
ludicrous, but after another couple of months, because of my
progressive disability, I could no longer ignore him. I felt
very depressed. I was crippled with what three doctors
eventually told me was rheumatoid arthritis.
Bowel Problems and More
At about the same time my joints were failing me my digestive
system started going absolutely haywire. For years I had
suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) on and off. Three
years ago, my gastroenterologist did an endoscopy and diagnosed
me with acid reflux, followed by a treatment with a proton pump
inhibitor, Protonix, for the next three years. Because of the
side effects from the diclofenac, I got to the point where I
couldn't eat any longer; my stomach and esophagus were painfully
inflamed. I had terrible nausea, unbearable stomach cramps, and
constant bloating. I felt terrible. While all of this was going
on, I was eating a diet heavy in dairy, meat, and processed
foods, which I then thought were healthy. I gained six pounds. I
was also taking about 30 vitamins and other supplements daily.
How could I be so sick?
My orthopedist begged me to see a rheumatologist. Before
making that appointment I went on the Internet to look up the
side effects of all the prescription drugs that this doctor
might prescribe for me. I was absolutely horrified. I actually
started to cry and instantly felt that there was no way on this
earth I was going to take any of these. The side effects were
like taking cancer chemotherapy and I quickly realized that I
would have at least 6 grave new problems on top of all the other
stuff going on. Any medication that lists leukemia as a possible
side effect should not be called a treatment—it should be called
a death sentence. I decided then and there that I would die
slowly and on my own terms.
Discovering Foods that Cause Autoimmunity
My next effort to save myself was to go to Amazon.com and
type in "Living with RA." All of the books said the same thing:
diet and food allergies/leaky gut syndrome/candida and
prescription meds (especially the ones I was taking) can cause
RA and other autoimmune diseases. Fortunately, these books
started me looking at my diet. I went off Protonix, diclofenac
and most of my supplements cold turkey that day. Next, I made an
appointment with an immunologist.
The immunologist tested me for everything under the sun via
blood, stool, and food allergy testing. I was also tested for
several autoimmune disorders. The diagnosis was an allergy to
eggs (whites and yolks), which was likely caused by all the
medications I was taking. Beginning December 1, 2009, I removed
all eggs and egg products from my life. I soon realized on my
own that dairy was also a problem. That’s when I found Dr.
McDougall and became a healthy vegan. Within a day or so, my
symptoms started to improve and have kept improving over weeks,
and now months.
My Whole Life Has Improved
My bowel movements are now the best I've ever had. Looking
back, I actually don't think I had had a normal BM since I was a
baby. My stomach and intestines are completely comfortable now.
Instead of having constant muscle soreness from the workouts, at
worst, I now have only mild fatigue in my muscles after a hard
workout. For the past several years, I would wake up multiple
times in the middle of the night tossing and turning and then
get up exhausted the next day. I put that down to age, too. Now
I sleep like a baby and wake up feeling refreshed, it's
My cholesterol had remained at about 220 mg/dL for the past
seven years, with my "good" cholesterol being very high, so none
of my doctors ever batted an eyelid. In February of 2010, after
my diet change, my cholesterol reading was 160 mg/dL.
Another thing that amazes me is how little I need to eat now.
I used to need to eat massive amounts of food each day and now I
need so much less. I think this is because my body is now
getting real food with real nutrients. As soon as I went off the
meds and stopped eating eggs and dairy, I lost the six pounds I
had gained with the RA. It literally shed within two weeks. I
think most of the excess weight was from the bloating and
inflammation I had suffered with the RA.
Some of My Practical Steps
On beginning my new diet, I went through my pantry and
removed 90% of the food. Then I went on a few big shopping trips
to Whole Foods and bought only vegan items. I pored over vegan
recipes, writing down all the recurring ingredients in order to
make a shopping list to restock my pantry. I now think a week in
advance about what I want to eat in order to have fresh foods
available. Sunday evening is my big cooking time. Every week I
make a vegetable soup (with just water, vegetables, a few
spices, and quinoa or brown rice). This lasts me for the week. I
eat the soup every day with my lunch and use the extra broth to
cook rice and in any recipe that calls for broth. I bake a vegan
pasta dish and eat that also a few times during the week. I
prepare my own dressings, sauces, and granola. I take all my own
food to work every day. When I leave home for more than a few
hours, I bring an apple, smoothie, or some snacks along.
My Running Is Back On Track
January 2010, after three weeks without any meat and dairy
products I was able to start running again. This was after 13
months of pain and disability! I am now off of all my
medications. I ran the elite Boston Marathon on April 19, 2010
with no pain nor injury, whatsoever. I am now training for a
half marathon in August and a full marathon in October. I may
never be able to qualify for the Olympic Trials, but I am going
to keep trying for 2016. The most important thing is that I am
now completely free of joint inflammation and pain—and I can
Adopting a vegan diet has been enlightening and has changed
my whole life for the good. I can't look at Western foods the
same, ever again. They repulse me. When I see the meat and dairy
products now, I see illness, pain, and suffering. I also think
of the suffering animals and our failing environment. My
involuntary internal reactions make it easy for me to abstain.
- Meredith Fishman
Dr. McDougall's Comments:
Why do doctors continue to prescribe toxic, expensive, and
proven-ineffective medications for arthritis when diet is such a
simple answer? Maybe a recent experience of mine will help you
understand, not the answer to, but the gravity of, the problem.
During the last Advanced Study Weekend of February 2010 Nortin
Hadler, MD, a professor and an allergist, immunologist,
internist, and rheumatologist (arthritis specialist) from the
University of North Carolina School of Medicine, spoke to our
group. (You can
watch his lectures on the Internet broadcast or
listen to his podcasts, I have great respect for Dr.
Hadler’s knowledge and willingness to write and speak out about
the harms and lack of benefits from heart surgery (bypass and
angioplasty) and early detection testing (PSA and mammograms). I
invited him expressly so that you could hear someone else
besides me condemn these common medical practices—and he was as
outspoken about these malpractices as I have ever been.
We had lunch together on the Friday afternoon of the first
day of the conference. Even though I tried to avoid the subject
for political reasons, our conversation eventually did get
around to diet and arthritis. Dr. Hadler clearly expressed his
belief that there is no connection. I asked him to provide me
with a single scientific article that supported his viewpoint.
He could not.
During the 3-day conference three people, including Meredith
Fishman, who had each cured themselves of inflammatory arthritis
by changing to the McDougall diet, confronted Dr. Hadler with
their remarkable stories (I played no role in these encounters).
Afterwards, each of them separately told me about their
experience. They explained that his response to their story of
healing was pleasant, but each was left with the feeling that
the doctor had no real interest in learning more about their
food-induced miracle and did not really believe his or her
At the end of the conference I gave Dr. Hadler more than 30
pages of materials that I had written which included 28 letters
and research studies published in the world’s most respected
scientific/medical journals showing how a diet like mine could
dramatically improve and cure people with inflammatory
there are no scientific papers published that show that diets
like mine fail to benefit inflammatory arthritis.) In response
to my gesture to share valuable knowledge, he told me he was too
busy writing his own articles to read what I had written. I also
suggested that as one of the world’s most respected arthritis
doctors he should conduct research that would either prove or
disprove my claims. I do not expect any further conversations
with Dr. Hadler on this matter.
As demonstrated by the Hadler experience, change will never
come from confronting the misinformation held by health
professionals by using undeniable scientific evidence and
concrete patient examples. I believe the only hope is for
consumers to become informed about the real costs, hazards, and
ineffectiveness of current drug therapies and to learn how
simple it is to prevent and cure most of these inflammatory
forms of arthritis with a healthy diet, just like Meredith
Fishman and many of my other patients have done. Then to spread
the truth by example and by word of mouth.