“My MS diagnosis was a turning point in my life. I could choose to take medication and continue my unhealthy diet and lifestyle, or I could take control of my life, my recovery and commit to making diet and lifestyle changes. I chose health and happiness and began the Wahls Protocol the day I was diagnosed.”
– Jennifer Gurske
On April 1, 2017, Jennifer Gurske received news that was simultaneously scary…and a bit of a relief. Unfortunately, this was no April Fool’s Day prank. After years of looking for answers to a number of health issues, she finally had a diagnosis: multiple sclerosis (MS).
For two decades, Jennifer’s health had been in decline. Beginning in her 20s, she felt unusually tired and had trouble thinking.
In her 30s, the fatigue grew to where she could no longer work, exercise or join in social outings. Even showering took a massive effort.
At the most frightening point, she woke one day with a numb torso, and within a week, numbness in both her hands. She went for an MRI and a few days later, the daunting diagnosis came back.
“I received an email from the MRI technician that contained a lot of medical speak,” she says. “I asked my husband to translate it. He turned to me and said, ‘They are diagnosing you with MS.’”
That was 16 months ago. Today, Jennifer has virtually no multiple sclerosis symptoms, and feels better than she has in 20 years.
Turns out, her diagnosis was the nudge she needed to make some lifestyle changes and take control of her health.
Finding Answers via Functional Medicine
In the years preceding her diagnosis, Jennifer had been searching for reasons to explain her fatigue, sleeplessness and gut issues.
With a family history of thyroid problems, she expected to find abnormal readings at some point. But each year, tests showed normal thyroid ranges.
On a co-worker’s recommendation, she sought help from a functional medicine doctor who ordered more extensive testing. Functional medicine refers to an approach that looks for the root cause of symptoms, rather than simply trying to get rid of the symptoms.
“We did a slew of tests, and turns out, I wasn’t crazy!” she says. “I had pretty severe adrenal fatigue as well as hypothyroidism. I felt such relief that someone was going to help me get past these health challenges.”
A thyroid result that may be normal in conventional medicine can be a red flag in functional medicine. Functional medicine practitioners use a different range for “normal” because patients can still experience symptoms in those ranges.
With supplements for her adrenals and thyroid, and a gluten-free diet, she felt better – for a while. Then in early 2014, vertigo came on that she just couldn’t shake. For three months, she struggled with severe dizziness, despite trying medication, acupuncture and cranial-sacral therapy.
Jennifer asked her ear, nose and throat doctor if she should get an MRI, but he said he didn’t think it was necessary at that time. Finally, the vertigo went away on its own.
Yet, her problems were far from over. In fact, the fatigue deepened.
“Even though I had stopped working out completely, I had trouble waking in the morning, napped every weekend day and usually fell asleep in front of the TV around 7:30,” she says.
Finally, an MRI uncovered MS. While the news was unsettling, Jennifer felt relief to finally have an answer, and she believed, a plan to address it.
Choosing Diet over Pills – to Treat Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Over the years, Jennifer had read about the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, the Elimination Diet and the Wahls Protocol as ways to reduce inflammation. The previous year, her husband – a medical professional – had also read “The Wahls Protocol,” a book by physician Dr. Terry Wahls. The book outlines the diet Wahls used to treat her own multiple sclerosis symptoms. Within a year of starting the diet, Dr. Wahls had gone from a tilt/recline wheelchair to completing an 18-mile bicycle tour.
The day of her diagnosis, Jennifer and her husband decided to start the Wahls Protocol. She headed to the store to stock up on the vegetables and organ meats that would provide key nutrients as part of the diet. It also eliminates gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugar and eggs.
“My MS diagnosis was a turning point in my life,” she says. “I could choose to take medication and continue my unhealthy diet and lifestyle, or I could take control of my life, my recovery and commit to making diet and lifestyle changes. I chose health and happiness and began the Wahls Protocol the day I was diagnosed.”
Then she faced her first post-diagnosis appointment with her neurologist.
“He talked for 20 minutes about medications and strongly suggested a clinical trial for MS,” she says. “When I told him I was doing the Wahls Protocol instead, he was not excited and strongly urged me against it. If this was as good as I was ever going to feel, I thought, ‘I might as well try the diet.’”
Discovering More Pieces of the Puzzle
Yet, the diet wasn’t as easy as taking pills. She had to cook every meal to consume the required foods each day, including nine cups of vegetables.
“I hadn’t cooked a meal in years, but I was willing to learn,” she says.
Fortunately, all that work turned out to be worth it. Just one week after starting the Wahls Protocol, Jennifer noticed changes in the numbness in her torso. Three months later, the numbness had disappeared completely.
“After 11 months on the diet, I felt better than I had over the last few years,” she says.
Yet, she still had lingering fatigue and cognitive issues. She sought help from Ryan Frisinger of Kosmic Animal in Austin. Frisinger recommended she take the 23andMe test for a genetic look at her health propensities, as well as other lab tests.
Jennifer’s genetic profile indicated a sulfur sensitivity, yet the Wahls Diet included a high amount of sulphurus vegetables.
She also learned she had a MTHFR gene mutation (methylation), a genetic variant that causes a key enzyme in the body to function at a lower rate than normal. MTHFR can be associated with a number of health issues, including IBS, depression, anxiety, migraines, miscarriages, heart attack and stroke.
Through testing, Jennifer also learned her body was fighting active Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), AKA mononucleosis, along with nutrient deficiencies (i.e. B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, etc.), and heavy metals toxicity (primarily mercury).
Jennifer worked with Frisinger to supplement for methylation, detox from the metals, treat EBV and adjust her diet. For 10 weeks, she eliminated all sulphur foods, nightshades and high-lectin foods, and did breathing and grounding exercises, got more sunshine and tried Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
“After four weeks of working through this protocol, I felt amazing! I hadn’t felt that good since my 20s,” she says. “I detoxed all the sulphur out, and the fatigue and cognitive issues improved. I could remember peoples’ names and conversations better.”
“Every day, I feel better,” she adds. “My stomach is never upset and I wake up refreshed every morning. I wake up now and take a shower! I was so tired before that showering felt overwhelming. And I’m excited about getting back into exercise and going to social outings with family and friends. I can stay up past 9 p.m.!”
Steering Her Own Ship
Over time, Jennifer’s diet has become a mix of the Wahls Protocol and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), another paleo-style diet. Now, she even likes cooking.
“There’s an element of cooking now that I really enjoy, of finding recipes and experimenting,” she says. “Plus, there are so many cute kitchen aprons!”
She’s grateful that her husband was on board from day one, encouraging her to try the diet and eating alongside her even as her diet became more and more restrictive.
Jennifer’s health challenges motivated her to help others find answers as well. Thus she became a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC). Through her practice, Serendipity Health Coaching, she helps people address health issues such as autoimmunity and achieve better overall health.
Most importantly, she urges and encourages people to take control of their health.
“You are your own best advocate,” she says. “It takes time for people to gain the confidence and strength to ask for tests and make the health decisions that are in their best interest, and say, “I’m steering this ship,’” she says. “That’s what I had to do to get to the place I’m at.”
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What works for one person may not work for another. Consult your health practitioner for professional health advice.