By Looking Beyond the Latest “Anti-inflammatory Superstar”
Back in the early1980s, when I was in my 20s, I had an inconclusive diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with episodes of swollen and painful knees. They always cleared up within a few days or weeks, so I figured that it wasn’t any big deal. At the same time in my life I also had a few episodes of “ulcerative colitis” requiring massive doses of prednisone. In addition, I suffered with seasonal allergies. One doctor explained that these three conditions were all related, and that I just had a problem with my immune system. When I turned 47, RA hit me like a ton of bricks. This is what I remember about my disease:
- My hands throbbed with such intense pain that my husband had to stop holding them. In bed, I pulled the blanket up with my teeth. I kept pliers at my desk to pinch the ink cartridge in order to remove it from my printer. My hands wouldn’t close into a fist.
- My wrists were so painful and stiff that I could not lift a heavy kitchen pan. An accidental bump with the steering wheel of my car brought on a jarring pain.
- I felt like there was a pebble in the heel of my shoe. Even though I wore the widest shoes I owned, pain in my toes and on the outer edges of my feet made walking difficult.
- My hips and shoulders ached so much that there were nights that I could not sleep.
- My knees were ruining my life. The pain was disabling. I was crippled. My husband had to pull me out of a chair. When he was not around, I chose chairs with arms so that I could push myself up and out with my elbows. I could barely walk my dog.
The only places I did not have any pain were in my ankles and elbows.
Pills did not help for long
My first step to overcoming my illness was to investigate “alternative medicine doctors,” those practicing “natural medicine.” I drove 3 hours for my first appointment and left the visit very excited. This doctor told me that the “weakness in my immune system” began in my intestines, and also that I had a hormonal imbalance. Both diagnoses sounded perfectly reasonable. He prescribed natural hormones, lots of enzymes, and a ton of supplements, costing more than $800 a month. One year later I was worse, not better. My second “natural practitioner” used completely different supplements; however, with the same results. At age 50, I was left with a depleted bank account and an embarrassingly long list of useless supplements. Only the prednisone prescribed by my original rheumatologist kept me functioning.
Over my years of medical care all three rheumatologists I saw offered the exact same “cocktails:” They started with prednisone, then added methotrexate, and then wanted me to take a biologic immune system suppressor agent, such as Enbrel. The drugs seemed to have worked for a while, but then they didn’t. I kept both prednisone and OTC drugs, like Tylenol, in my purse and car all the time “just in case.” I am not alone with my treatment failure. Both my sister and father had rheumatoid arthritis. Drugs for both, and multiple surgeries for my sister, did not save them. They are now confined to wheelchairs. I have a neighbor with RA who calls the drug, Humira, “her salvation,” but she is always in pain and crawls up the stairs. I have read many similar stories on the Internet.
I “googled” my cure
Then, finally, a single tiny event changed my life: I googled the words “diet” and “RA.” Up came Dr. McDougall’s article entitled, “Diet: Only Hope for Arthritis” There it was, all my questions answered, in one single article, so it appeared. But, after all I had been through with all the “natural” and “conventional” doctors I was a bit skeptical. I refused to buy another book or spend one more penny on unproven claims. Fortunately, Dr. McDougall offered a free program on his website. I jumped in with painful knees and feet the very next day and followed the diet perfectly for fours months. I freely admit that there came several times during my journey over the past two years—especially after my knee replacement operations—when I strayed to the dark side of eating.
In exactly 10 days my fingers became pain free, and the swelling and stiffness were gone. I remember that day vividly: I squeezed my husband’s hand with all my might and joked with him, “Let me know if you need me to open any jars!” All my other joints cleared up over time. Within fours months I was left only with severe knee pain. Both knees were unfortunately already far too damaged to expect the diet to help. I had my right knee replaced in July of 2013 and my left knee in November of 2013. I was 52 years old.
If you have natural curiosity like me, you will probably try the newest pharmaceutical prescribed by your specialist MD, along with turmeric, tart cherry juice, extra kale, or whatever is this year’s “anti-inflammatory superstar.” It’s OK to experiment, but please don’t waste too much time, like I did. Delay may have cost me my knees.
Now, after approximately two years on the McDougall Diet I am completely off all meds, even the OTC drugs, which I used to buy in large bottles. Every single pain mentioned above is completely gone except for two tolerable problems: I still have a bit of knee pain because I haven’t fully recovered from my surgeries, and I also have some wrist pain. But, this time my wrist pain only happens if I try repetitive lifting of 25 pounds or more at the gym. I haven’t seen a rheumatologist since I got off my drugs, and I don’t feel the need to. If I do see a doctor in the future, I don’t plan on bringing up my diet. I have found that doctors are, at best, disbelieving of food as treatment and, at worst, hostile when a patient goes against the grain. I now think of Dr. McDougall as my doctor.
The search is over for me and I am fully on board. I am so grateful that I am able to eat lots of filling starches—I can actually live on this diet! Nowadays I eat oatmeal every morning with fruit. I never get tired of potatoes so I eat them at least once a day, often twice, usually topped with something like curried vegetables, vegetable chili, or lentils. I rotate grains like brown rice and quinoa so I don’t get tired of them. I eat about two pieces of fruit a day. On the weekends I might cook a little fancier by making one of Mary McDougall’s recipes.
I now really enjoy gardening and I am finally able to do heavy yard work again and walk long distances with my dog and my husband, Bob. My work is in graphic design. I also want to talk to people who have debilitating arthritis like I once had. I am happy to answer your questions, tell you my experiences, and exactly what I eat to stay well. Contact me on Dr. McDougall’s discussion forum. I am “Lesliec1.” Also find me on facebook: Leslie Bescher Craine.