In 2006, I was 17 and still in high school. I remember when I started to feel sick. It came in waves, several times a day. It consisted of chills, cramping, diarrhea, weakness and burning acid reflux. Surprisingly, I hid it well. Over the course of 7 months, battling this by myself due to embarrassment and stubbornness, I lost 30 lbs. Later, I learned this was due to malabsorption. I lost my after-school job due to poor attendance and I dreaded leaving the house.
I became nauseous, vomiting occasionally. Then came the pain in my right side (I learned later, this pain was caused by the ulcers in my ileum). It became painful to walk. One particularly unbearable night, tears streaming down my face, I looked to Google for an answer. Predictably, I was frightened at the search results. I woke my mother at midnight, panicked, telling her about the symptoms I had been enduring for months.
The next day, the tests started. An ultrasound, CT scan, and bloodwork. Then an endoscopy, and colonoscopy (At the time, they used conscious sedation for colonoscopies. I woke up during the procedure, in distress, which was quite traumatic).
The diagnosis for Crohn’s disease came a few days later. I was started on steroids and an anti-diarrheal. I asked questions like, “Why did this happen?” and “Are there any foods I should avoid?”. Doctors told me that no one knew what caused Crohn’s. It could be genetic or it could be bad luck. I was told that my diet didn’t matter and I would need to be on medication for the rest my life. They told me this was an autoimmune disease and nothing could have stopped it and nothing could have changed it’s course. Every single APRN, PA, and doctor told me the same thing.
After some trial and error, my gastroenterologist found a combination of medication that worked for me. Pentasa 500mg (8 gigantic pills a day) and Loperamide 2mg daily or as needed. I became uninsured after I turned 18, and Pentasa was very expensive. My gastroenterologist was kind enough to give me samples to help stretch out my costly prescriptions. I began experimenting with my dosage to see how long I could go without my medication. I could never go more than 2-3 days without the pain coming back.
Fast forward to 2016 when I became vegan after watching the movie Cowspiracy. I watched Forks Over Knives, and became fascinated with all of the plant based doctors (though I remained a self-proclaimed “junk food vegan” until June 2017). I joined vegan support groups, and I kept seeing recommendations for Dr. McDougall and The Starch Solution. I emailed Dr. McDougall to ask him about Crohn’s disease. He graciously replied with a lot of information. He was confident and encouraging. I read The Starch Solution and started eating copious amounts of potatoes, rice, beans, corn, lentils, oats, starchy vegetables, non starchy vegetables and some fruits. My digestion improved, my joint pain vanished and my asthma essentially disappeared. I lost 20 lbs in 3 months. I recommended the Starch Solution to anyone that would listen. Nearly everyone responded the same way, “Don’t potatoes make you fat?” or “I would gain weight if I ate all those carbs!”.
One day, I was absentmindedly listening to Dr. Michael Greger’s live Q&A. I overheard him mention that people with Crohn’s disease should not consume nutritional yeast. I was floored. Just hours before this, I had eaten a baked potato loaded with nutritional yeast!
After stopping yeast, I was able to get off my anti diarrheal medication (Loperamide) within 3 days. The medication I had needed for ten years! Medication that allowed me to leave the house and function like a human being. The whole time it was as simple as not consuming yeast?! The agonizing hand eczema I had acquired around the time I was diagnosed with Crohn’s- that vanished too after I eliminated yeast. I was shocked.
This made me question other food intolerances I might have been unaware of. Through trial and error, I realized that mushrooms, bananas, and soy seemed to cause inflammation and aggravate the ulcers in my ileum. After eliminating those foods, I was able to stop taking Pentasa. When I was doing my medication experiments, I could not go longer than 3 days without the pain returning and now it has been about 6 months. No medication needed.
I spent over a decade feeling like a victim to my genetics. If only I had known about the healing abilities of starch. If only I had known about yeast aggravating Crohn’s disease. Instead of feeling helpless, I could have felt empowered. I am in awe of Dr. McDougall, and his four decades of consistent success with something as simple, cheap, and delicious as starch. I am so grateful for the tireless efforts of Dr. Greger, always searching for the truth.Thanks to these pioneers of plant based nutrition, I feel like I am in control of my health. It is my goal to help and inspire others in the same way.