In 2010, just a few months after my daughter was born, I was struggling with a handful of unexplained symptoms. From low energy, difficulty losing the rest of my pre pregnancy weight, joint pain, hair loss, increased sensitivity to the cold, bloating and skin irritations.
After a trip to my primary doctor and a full panel of thyroid labs, I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid (or underactive thyroid gland) is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough crucial hormones to keep the body in balance. My doctor referred me to an endocrinologist for further testing and evaluation.
The endocrinologist ran several blood tests to include an ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood test and a thyroid ultrasound. The results revealed there was more to the hypothyroid diagnosis and much more happening inside my body than I had symptoms for.
My endocrinologist changed my diagnosed to Hashimoto’s; an autoimmune disease in which white blood cells attack the thyroid tissue causing the hypothyroid symptoms. With 3 oversized thyroid nodules appearing on my ultrasound paired with high levels of ANA, my endocrinologist determined that I had been living with Hashimoto’s for at least 10 years undiagnosed.
Standard American Approach to Healing
My endocrinologist gave me a prescription for Synthroid; a synthetic medication to help supplement my thyroid levels. Within a few months, he guaranteed my thyroid levels would even out and I would feel great again. Within a year, my thyroid levels were beginning to even out, but my overall health and symptoms did not improve.I continued to return to the endocrinologist every few months for more routine blood work and medication adjustments. For the first few years, my thyroid levels continued to drop, my ANA’s would continue to rise and my symptoms got worse. During each quick visit, the doctor would briefly discuss my labs and testing and then write another prescription at a higher dosage. Not once did any doctor ever discuss root causes, remission or the impact of food, stress, sleep or environment on my disease.
During the exploration of the impact of my autoimmune disease, I continued to collect more diseases: Pernicious Anemia, Narcolepsy Stage 3 and difficulty metabolizing ferritin and b12. It seemed every time I went digging into my health, more was uncovered.
Natural Approach to Healing
As I entered my early 30’s I began having more symptoms: extreme mood swings, sugar cravings, long and heavy periods, lack of a regular cycle, more weight gain, water retention and skin irritations.
Bloodwork revealed that other hormones were now causing more issues for me. High estrogen, low progesterone, low thyroid and my chronic Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) was reactivated. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Doctors didn’t seem to know how to fix me and I was certain that there had to be a better way.
I started researching natural ways to reduce inflammation, improve thyroid levels and balance hormones. Quickly, I learned that an anti-inflammatory diet could help to reduce my antibodies. Reduced antibodies meant that my thyroid inflammation should also reduce whereby healing me of most of my symptoms.
I immediately implemented an anti-inflammatory elimination diet and permanently removed gluten from my life. In addition, I cut out soy, lactose and almost all processed foods. Within just a few days, the chronic joint pain was gone and other symptoms started to subside. My synthetic medication was replaced with a natural thyroid supplement and I could now read my lab reports and adjust my supplements, as necessary.
For a few years, this seemed to be enough to drop several symptoms and balance out my thyroid levels. However, I was still having issues with my hormones and reactivated EBV. This time, I took the focus off of just managing my autoimmune disease and underlying symptoms and began researching holistic ways to fully heal. This forced me to identify some areas in my life that desperately needed attention.
Since implementing the following 5 changes in February 2020, my health has drastically improved. My thyroid levels have evened out, my autoimmune antibodies are near remission, my chronic EBV is dormant and my hormones are finally responding to alternative therapies.
Five Ways to Improve Overall Health
#1: Order Regular Blood Work
Most doctors suggest bloodwork be taken 1 to 2 times a year. With my thyroid and hormone levels always changing at each blood draw, I increased the frequency to better track my levels and adjust supplements, as needed.
I now have a standing order with my phlebotomist for a thyroid panel and full hormone panels to be repeated every 6 weeks. This ensures that any major change, good or bad, will show up quickly enough for me to adjust my protocol before more damage is done.
If you are experiencing any chronic or autoimmune disease symptoms and are not yet in remission, I want to encourage you to work with your primary doctor to have regular labs drawn. This will ensure you are tracking your progress and successes.
#2: Improve Gut Health
For over 7 years, I have been strictly gluten free, soy free and lactose free knowing that these create inflammation. What I didn’t take into consideration before was the many other inflammatory foods such as: grains, nightshades, refined sugar, legumes and eggs.
In February, I fully committed to eating an anti-inflammatory, plant-forward diet long term. In addition to the gluten, soy and lactose, I removed all dairy, refined sugar, refined flour, legumes, hormone meats, all packaged and prepared foods. Within just a few days of being fully committed to this anti-inflammatory plan, my brain fog completely disappeared. I was waking up with energy in the morning for the first time in years.
Within just a few weeks after that, all bloating and gut discomfort disappeared. Then, shortly after my EBV went into remission. For the first time in my adult life, I was finally supporting my gut and detoxifying my liver in the way that I needed to.
My mornings begin with a cup of hot lemon water followed by an extra large spinach based smoothie with whole flaxseed for protein and fiber. I still eat 1-2 pounds of fresh vegetables a day and make every effort to get my protein from plant foods. A few times a week, I will eat an entree of wild caught fish or pastured animal foods, but always with 2-3 vegetable sides.
#3: Reduce Stressors
When we reduce stress, we can improve our overall health. Our bodies are able to sleep better, focus better, process foods through our digestion better and improve our mind. Naturally, I am a type-A, overly organized and scheduled mom, wife, business owner and community builder. At first, reducing stress in my life was not easy… and still sometimes, I find that I overcommit even when it’s outside of my ability.
However, the important part for me has been creating balance by implementing simple strategies that will hold me accountable.
PRAY AND BE THANKFUL
My day begins by praying and then writing down a list of things I am thankful for. I have a small book on my side table and my goal is to reach 1,000 things I am thankful for. This motivates me to take an extra 15 minutes for myself in the morning before the busy day begins. Just writing down a short list of things that we’re thankful for can help adjust our attitude for the entire day.
CREATE A WORK/LIFE BALANCE
As a self-employed business owner that also homeschools our kids, I knew it was important to create a balance to reduce stress. Even though my work hours have been cut back some, I am more productive now while also giving the kids attention throughout the day.
TURN OFF PHONE NOTIFICATIONS
In order to reduce the stressors caused by my phone, I have turned off all phone notifications but phone calls and text messages. This ensures that social media, apps, work email, personal email and other non-important notifications don’t get my attention unless I intentionally make the time.
#4: Sleep 8-9 Hours Every Night
According to the Mayo Clinic, an average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep at night. With all of the detoxing my body has gone through, my body needs at least 8-9 hours of sleep each night for me to feel optimal and energized in the morning. Being active during the day and creating a healthy bedtime routine has helped me to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
Each day, I make an effort to get at least 1 hour of activity a day outside. It may be 20 minutes, 3 times a day or a long 60 minute walk. The Vitamin D paired with the exercise, ensures my body will be ready for bed on time.
SET A SLEEP SCHEDULE
I use the app on my phone to remind me at 10pm to start getting ready for bed. This function also turns off my phone notifications, which is great for stress relief. My phone is also set daily to wake me up at 730am each morning and when my alarm goes off, I make every effort to not dismiss it, but get up and embrace the day. This sleep schedule ensures I have enough balance between awake time and sleep time.
#5: Remove Toxins
There was one common denominator that kept showing up as I researched ways to improve my health: excess toxins. I was shocked to learn how many toxins are in our everyday life and how dramatically they can negatively impact our health.
There are chemicals in seemingly everything. From dryer sheets, to cleaning products, to beauty products, to pesticides in our food and even chemicals in cookware.
So, here I was taking my health struggles head on while having to consider the impact of the toxins living inside of my home. One by one, I began removing toxic household products for clean replacements.
BEAUTY PRODUCT SWITCHES
Common beauty products are full of toxins. Who would have thought? With our skin being our largest organ, everything we use transdermally can have a major effect on our overall health.
I started by researching more about the common toxins to avoid such as: fragrance, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, triclosan, BHA and BHT, DEA, synthetic colors and artificial dyes. Then, I went into the bathrooms in our home and began identifying the beauty products that needed to be swapped for non-toxic versions.
The safest beauty products for your health are ones that are free from toxic chemicals. Some of my favorite brands include Dr. Bronners, 100% Pure, Native brand and Alaffia.
KITCHEN PRODUCT SWITCHES
For years, making healthy food for myself and family has been a top priority. But, lurking inside my kitchen was teflon pans, aluminum foil and lots of plastic containers that created a toxic environment.
DITCH TEFLON COOKWARE
Cookware can be toxic because of the nonstick coatings used on cookware and also the materials that cookware is made out of. One of the biggest culprits for tonic in my kitchen was the Teflon pan collection under my countertop. I had several non-stick Teflon pans in several sizes for different uses.
If you’ve heard of Teflon, then you should know that the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was in the production of these nonstick pans. Thankfully, DuPont, the maker of Teflon did stop using PFOA during production in 2013. Except for, what about all of us that bought Teflon cookware prior to 2013? Yes, like me!
Cookware with Teflon prior to 2013 can cause some people to have flu-like symptoms because the Teflon surface is scratched and overheated. Immediately, my pans went in the trash while I researched non-toxic pots and pans.
REPLACE ALUMINUM + ALUMINUM FOIL
Aluminum is used in over half of all cookware and we should be concerned. Some studies show that when aluminum is heated and comes in contact with an acid (like tomato sauce), it can cause potentially dangerous aluminum salts to leach into your food. We have since replaced all of our aluminum baking sheets with oven safe stoneware baking pans.
However, if you’re not completely ready to give up on the aluminum baking sheets, you can consider 100% stainless steel baking sheets. I would definitely recommend covering the baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper to prevent aluminum from leaching into your food.
NON TOXIC COOKWARE
In researching the safest non toxic cookware to replace my Teflon pans with, I stumbled across Xtrema. I learned more about their hand-crafted non toxic cookware and why it was the safest cookware for my health.
Featuring a PFOA-free and PTFE-free, 100% ceramic and non-toxic, non scratch and non-reactive is our absolute favorite brand, Xtrema Cookware.
We love that ceramic heats evenly and generates far-infrared energy, which means using Xtrema means that your food will cook from both the inside and the outside at the same time. This 100% ceramic and non toxic cookware can withstand very high temperatures and very low temperatures without breaking or reacting to food.
Not only is Xtrema Cookware FDA approved and meets all of the California Prop 65 requirements, but it also has no lead, cadmium or heavy metals. You can use this 100% ceramic cookware on the stove top, in the oven, in the microwave and on your grill. Xtrema pure ceramic cookware is even dishwasher safe.
CLEANING PRODUCTS SWITCHES
In April 2019, the FDA issued a final ruling on the safety and effectiveness of hand sanitizers. The FDA found that the use of sanitizers have been shown to encourage the proliferation of superbugs. This means that by over-sanitizing our homes with disinfectants that were designed to kill bacteria and germs is actually causing them to mutate into stronger, more dangerous germs.
Unfortunately, the majority of household cleaners on the market are guaranteed to kill germs. I was now on the hunt to find a non-toxic cleaner that was safe and effective at removing germs, not just killing them.
The safest household cleaner for your health is Branch Basics. Their cleaning products are free from preservatives, fragrances, GMOs and completely hypoallergenic. Not only are they non-toxic, but their products are extremely effective and only made with a handful of ingredients.
Their plant-based and mineral-based ingredient list starts with reverse osmosis purified water. Then, Branch Basics uses purified water is essential to the integrity of our end product. Common tap water is full of pollutants.
Making these 5 major changes have led to an extraordinary amount of healing for my thyroid, to balance my hormones and provide a better environment to raise our family.