For Julie Michelson, her health – and quality of life – are in the numbers:
She was once diagnosed with five autoimmune disorders.
She was once on 10 medications.
And she once didn’t expect to live past 50.
Instead, she now has virtually zero symptoms of autoimmunity, is down to just one medication and is thriving at age 51.
“I feel better than I did in my 30s,” she says.
A Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis
Julie’s health ran relatively smoothly until her early 30s. As a newly single mom of three young children, she worked hard to be a hands-on parent while in grad school for equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Then at age 34, pain and fatigue changed all that. Within a year, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“It just kind of came out of nowhere,” she says. “I had no family history and no familiarity with the disease.”
Julie’s RA became so debilitating that she had to drop out of grad school to devote what little energy she had to her children.
“I was initially a very active, very involved single mom,” she reflects. “Over a 10-year decline, I became less active and less involved.”
A Clue: Celiac Disease
RA is an autoimmune, inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing pain and fatigue.
Trying to calm the inflammation, Julie began taking disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). But they didn’t seem to help at all.
In fact, nothing helped the pain, fatigue and brain fog until a few years in, when she found an important clue. Her middle-school-age son had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, leading Julie to go gluten-free with him.
Off gluten, Julie found a measure of relief from RA. Not surprisingly, testing turned up that Julie was celiac too.
“I noticed that the joint pain was slightly better,” she says. “This was after years and years of the doctors telling me there was nothing I could do that would matter.”
Looking back, Julie recalls years of gut issues, particularly in her teens and twenties. In hindsight, all signs pointed to celiac disease.
5 Chronic Illnesses, 10 Medications
While a gluten-free diet did calm the pain a bit, her health struggles still snowballed. She soon added more diagnoses to the list, including fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s disease and Raynaud’s syndrome – five chronic illnesses in total.
Trying to help her multiple autoimmune disorders, doctors piled on the prescriptions, including DMARDs, NSAIDs, biologics, muscle relaxers, narcotics, proton-pump inhibitors and statins. Some were solely to counter the side effects of other medications.
“At the end of 10 years, I was on 10 prescriptions,” she says. “None of them were working.”
The stress and worry of Julie’s declining health wore on her and her children.
“My daughter, who was then a teenager, came to me and said, ‘Mom, please don’t die and leave us,’” Julie adds. “I was mid-forties at the time and my dad had passed at age 54. I had of course never verbalized it to my children, but I didn’t think I would live to see 50.”
“I couldn’t promise her I wouldn’t die,” she adds. “What I could promise her was that I would do everything I could.”
From Low-Fat to a High-Fat Diet for Autoimmunity
Fed up with the lack of results on medications, Julie followed the only real lead she had so far on feeling better: diet changes.
After going gluten-free, Julie had dropped eating grains altogether. Next, she tried the Bulletproof Diet, created by Dave Asprey. It prescribes large amounts of vegetables with some grass-fed protein and healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocados, olive oil and grass-fed butter. On the diet, Julie sidelined sugar, sweeteners, processed foods, corn and nearly all dairy.
Ironically, she had spent her life trying to avoid eating fats, given a family history of heart disease.
“I had been on a low-fat diet my whole life because of my dad’s family,” she says. “So that was the missing piece. It was at that point less about what else I could eliminate and more about what was I missing, which was healthy fats.”
Through testing and trials, Julie also found and nixed the foods to which she was sensitive.
On the diet, Julie noticed that her pain decreased almost immediately.
“Dave Asprey and the Bulletproof diet were huge,” she says. “That was really the piece that helped me start to heal enough to start to come off of my medications and get my brain working again.”
Meditation for Sleep, Energy and Pain
Adding mind-body practices also proved critical to managing Julie’s stress. Likely not coincidentally, her health had started to become unhinged following a particularly tricky time of life.
To manage stress, she started meditating 20 minutes every day.
“The second really big piece that made a really noticeable shift was creating a routine meditation practice, like 20 minutes, twice a day,” she says. “My meditation practice was helping me, for the first time, wake up with energy. That was remarkable for my sleep, my energy level and my pain level.”
Helping Hashimoto’s Disease
For years, Julie suspected thyroid issues, but doctors assured her it was normal. Then, well-researched, she turned up at her doctor’s office asking for a full thyroid panel. Only then did she learn she had Hashimoto’s disease – and had been on the wrong thyroid medication (T4) for years.
“Basically, I was telling my doctor how to prescribe for me from what I learned in my research,” she says.
With accurate results, she then got on the right medication for Hashimoto’s.
Eventually, Julie found a functional medicine doctor to help her look for root causes behind her autoimmunity: Dr. James Howton at Restore Health in Loveland, CO.
Testing uncovered numerous toxicities that could be contributing to her autoimmunity, including mold, mercury and lead.
To detox, Julie found her body responded best to gentle practices such as sweating in an infrared sauna, taking binders and using an ionic footbath. While she tried IV chelation for a while, her body didn’t tolerate it well.
Muscling Up Her Mitochondria
While diet provides much of her needed nutrients, Julie takes supplements to support her mitochondrial health. She recently started N-acetyl cysteine (NAD) IV treatments, which she describes as “remarkable.”
NAC, a form of the amino acid cysteine, is an over-the-counter supplement to improve numerous biological functions. It helps boost levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.
“Going after energy has really been the key for me,” she says.
No More Pain and Fatigue
These days, Julie continues the diet, detox, meditation and supplement routine that has left her feeling pain-free and full of energy, effectively reversing her multiple autoimmune disorders. And fortunately, she’s back to participating 100 percent in her life.
She remains on just one medication, for Hashimoto’s disease.
Her diet is now a mix of paleo and keto, combined with intermittent fasting. She normally eats one to two meals each day in a shorter window of time. Then, she fasts the rest of the time.
Her experience not only transformed Julie’s health; it also pivoted her career. She went back to school to become a certified functional medicine health coach who focuses on others with chronic illness.
However, it’s been a tough year. In January, Julie sustained a concussion in a high-speed headbutt with a horse, temporarily impairing her memory and language.
To regain her brain, she did hyperbaric oxygen therapy daily for three months. She took personalized supplements for brain healing, neuron growth and mitochondrial support. And she turned to a Chinese medicine specialist. All that helped her get her memory – and complete sentences – back again.
Then a couple of months later, she contracted COVID-19. While the virus symptoms were mild, it did spike her autoimmune inflammation.
Fortunately, the healing regimen that reversed her autoimmunity helped bring down the inflammation.
“I am now back to pain-free and feeling great,” she says. “And my brain’s working again. I’m looking forward to the second half of the year.”
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