“I thought I was eating a really healthy diet but I was actually eating stuff that was stimulating my immune system.”
As a grad student in Toronto, Nattha Wannissorn excelled at everything she did.
She spent long days in the lab working toward her Ph.D. in molecular genetics.
And when not there, she dedicated herself equally hard to being healthy. She often spent a few hours a day body-building, followed a paleo diet, tried intermittent fasting and took supplements to support her body.
Yet, she was exhausted and depressed. Moreover, her hormones were out of whack, with her period coming about every 50 days.
Then one morning, she woke covered in eczema. The irritating skin condition, plus allergies, had come and gone throughout her life, sometimes as a small patch on her hand and other times covering her body. But this, decidedly, was the worst flare yet.
“I was tired. I was depressed. But I ignored it until it was yelling louder and louder at me,” she says. “Then I woke up completely covered in eczema and I could no longer ignore it.”
Going the Natural Route – Over Pharmaceuticals
Nattha thought she was doing everything right to be her healthiest self. But in reality, she was putting more stress on her body – on top of the rigors of graduate school.
Growing up, Nattha had often used steroid creams for eczema, but as a medical researcher, she had grown wary of the potential side effects of steroids and opted not to use them – or the antidepressants and hormonal birth control that doctors recommended.
“I was concerned about the side effects,” she says. “I had read Dr. Jolene Brighten’s book (Beyond the Pill) and learned that your hormones can be worse when you get off birth control.”
Instead, she wanted to rely on more natural approaches and on her body’s innate ability to heal. But to heal, she would need time.
“I took time off from grad school to figure out my health,” she says. “It was so debilitating that I could not continue to work in the lab.”
Erasing Severe Eczema with Diet
When Nattha met up a naturopath friend, she assured her friend she was doing just fine – despite head-to-toe eczema and drinking loads of coffee and other stimulants to stay awake.
She was clearly NOT fine. The naturopath recommended an elimination diet to uncover the specific triggers of her severe eczema and fatigue. Nattha had tried such a diet before, without success. She now understands that the previous diet didn’t eliminate key triggers for her.
Deciding to try an elimination diet again, this time she scaled back to just a few foods to calm the reaction in her body: rice, poultry, apples and greens.
“Within a week, my neck cleared up,” she says. “It was really fast.”
Within a month on the elimination diet, her allergies and eczema had completely cleared.
But why was she suddenly reacting to foods she had eaten her entire life? And why was she now allergic to her down jacket and faux-fur-lined boots?
“The stress caused me to be allergic to foods and materials I had been around my whole life,” she says. “My immune system went crazy because I was so stressed out.”
“I thought I was eating a really healthy diet but I was actually eating stuff that was stimulating my immune system,” she says.
When Nattha brought back foods, she found her true triggers. She learned that some of the foods on the paleo diet were actually allergens for her, particularly sunflower seeds, chocolate, eggs, paprika, wine and tomatoes.
“I was eating a ton of chocolate and a ton of eggs, and sunflower butter by the spoonful,” she recalls.
When she ate trigger foods, she noticed increased depression and pain.
Beyond specific allergies, Nattha attributes her reactions to histamine intolerance, where eating foods that are higher in histamines trigger the immune system.
Next Up: Healing Her Gut, Hormones and Pain
Gradually, Nattha refined her diet to the foods that wouldn’t trigger an immune response. She also stopped intense exercise and some of the supplements that she was taking.
She had been using a dandelion supplement, which she learned is related to sunflower seeds – a big allergen for her. That probably exacerbated her severe eczema flare.
Stress management was also critical to her healing. Taking time off from school eased the stress considerably. She also turned to regular meditation.
While taking a break from grad school, Nattha actually became a holistic health coach to better understand the science behind natural health.
Additionally, she addressed other health issues as she uncovered them.
Gut healing – She focused on healing her gut by eliminating parasites, yeast overgrowth (Candida) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Hormonal balancing – For hormonal imbalances, her naturopath treated her with herbs and acupuncture to address low estrogen and high progesterone. After a few months, her cycles were back to 28 days. She found that fasting delayed her cycle by a few days, so she stopped the practice.
Carpal tunnel – When her hands began going numb from carpal tunnel, she found relief with chiropractic adjustments. With adjustment to her C1 vertebra, Nattha immediately felt more straightened out and the carpal tunnel eased.
Scoliosis – The chiropractor also found undiagnosed scoliosis of the spine. Now, she gets upper cervical spine adjustments regularly to help her compensate for this, along with biofeedback training, massage, and osteopathic and craniosacral adjustments.
SI pain – For pain in her sacroiliac (SI) joints at the base of her spine, she gets pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF).
TMJ – For TMJ (temporomandibular joint), which caused pain in her jaw, Nattha saw a neuromuscular dentist. For that, the dentist treated her with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and EMD to stimulate the muscles in her jaw.
Eventually, she began wearing orthodontics with nickel, which she found she was sensitive to. During that time, her histamine issues increased and, once again, she had eczema – this time hydrotic eczema on her finger.
“I couldn’t sleep and in the morning would be grumpy and anxious,” she says. “Those were classic symptoms of histamine issues.”
The reactions stopped once she completed her orthodontics.
Balanced Diet, Balanced Life
These days, Nattha has regulated her eczema, moods, hormones, pain, fatigue and sleep. She rarely experiences flares, unless stress revs her immune system.
When she wants to eat chocolate or other high histamine foods, she takes Diamine Oxidase (DAO), an enzyme to calm the histamine response.
“You can’t break down histamines if you don’t have enough DAO,” she says.
After the elimination diet, she continues to follow an organic diet that eliminates or minimizes her personal trigger foods.
Nattha eventually returned to grad school to complete her doctorate. She now applies her scientific background, plus training as a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, to help health clients and as a copywriter for health and wellness products.
The lesson, for her and others, is that health regimens are not one size fits all. Some of the steps she took to get healthy actually contributed to her health crisis. It took finding her personal triggers to begin healing.
“I went from being a boot camp kind of person to someone who’s more into listening to her body and chilling out, respecting Mother Nature,” she says. “I understand and have experienced the side effects of natural health and that everything has a good and a bad side. You have to find what works for you.”
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