While my autoimmune diagnosis story goes back years, I’m going to start with my actual diagnosis. It started when I decided to get a copper IUD. After being off hormonal birth control for two years, I thought it was a good time to give the IUD a try. What could possibly go wrong? I heard that it’s the most used form of birth control by doctors, and it doesn’t use hormones.
Immediately after the insertion I had the typical pain and cramping, but I also noticed an extreme fatigued starting to take over my body. At first, I assumed this was normal. The procedure to get an IUD is painful and I wanted to give my body time to heal. Then weeks went by. I was so fatigued I could barely get out of bed and when I did manage to get myself out of bed and out of the house, I was experiencing vertigo and felt lightheaded most of the time. During my one month follow up exam, the doctor seemed confused by my symptoms. She said none of it was related to the IUD, gave me a prescription for iron supplements, and told me to call if the dizzy spells continued. I felt like a crazy person. Were all these symptoms in my head? Was I just lazy?
Around this time I was due for my yearly physical. At my appointment the doctor did a thyroid ultrasound and was concerned by how my thyroid looked. She ran some blood work, and quickly diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (and, as a result, hypothyroidism). My first thought, like I think many autoimmune sufferers, was relief. Relief that I wasn’t crazy — these symptoms weren’t in my head. But did the IUD cause an autoimmune response? According to my PCP and gynecologist, no. Maybe it was just a coincidence (I started to hear this word a lot).
My second thought was, “So what steps do I take to feel better?”. She gave me a prescription for L-Thyroxine (thyroid hormone). And said that was it. I would take this hormone every day for the rest of my life, and hope to feel better. I asked about diet changes, possible food sensitivities, should I cut out alcohol, exercise more, lose weight, anything? She said no, there were no lifestyle changes I could make to relieve my symptoms. The only glimmer of positive information she gave me was that maybe if the hormone regulated my thyroid I would be able to lose weight, as weight gain is a symptom of hypothyroidism.
My relief of a diagnosis went from hopeful to crushed. How could there be no way to fix this? As a control freak this was not sitting well with me. There had to be something I could do. Waiting around for my body to continue to attack my thyroid was not okay with me. Turns out my stubbornness was the best thing to get myself on a path to healing.
As soon as I got home I started googling. It didn’t take much to find countless sources of research, articles, and blogs on the correlation between autoimmune disease and diet — these included scientifically and evidence based sources too, not just random blogs and forums. In an attempt to avoid binging on the black hole that is the magic interweb, I decided focus on a couple of specific resources.
I settled on two sources to start:
“The Root Cause” by Izabella Wentz PharmD.
Dr. Wentz is a clinical pharmacist so her information is based in science, and I thought it was interesting to hear from someone with a pharmaceutical background.
“The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook” by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt.
I enjoyed this book because it offers approachable, and easily digestible information about the autoimmune protocol, and how to begin implementing it in your life. I also ordered the Mickey Trescott’s “The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook” to get started on diet changes.
These books led me to the realization I needed a functional medicine doctor. I was already feeling overwhelmed by the diagnosis and drastic lifestyle changes I needed to make. While I will forever be grateful to my PCP for diagnosing me with Hashimoto’s and giving me a concrete reason for my symptoms, sticking with a PCP who didn’t believe in a holistic approach to autoimmune disease was not going to work for me. Through Dr. Wentz’s website I located an English speaking functional medicine doctor in Berlin (more on this in part 2).