Beating Dermatomyositis and IBS with a Paleo Diet
By: Paul Hile & Grace Osborne
Months after my fiancée (Grace) and I had begun dating, a large deer, not much of a high jumper, leapt through our windshield on the way to her folk’s house in west Illinois. The accident was a bloody mess, and the blood wasn’t ours, thankfully. Or… err…not so thankfully. Well, needless to say, there were several days of bitter soreness and dozens of showers dedicated to removing the glass from our hair. But, as time passed, the few cuts we had began to heal and as I continued to feel better with each passing day, Grace was getting progressively worse. In and out of ten different doctor’s offices, she was pricked, poked and prodded until she was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease: Dermatomyositis. She was 19.
For over a year, she lived day-to-day, coping as one does with a muscle degenerative condition. As I watched my young, athletic girlfriend loose her body and spirit to a cocktail of toxic medication, including prednisone and methotrexate, and an illness that weakened her by the minute, I too let my own health deteriorate, though, without any coherent reason.
At its worst, Grace’s autoimmune disease took her from being a triathlete, swimmer and life-long yoga practitioner to stationary, nearly immobile on her couch. By the end of summer, 2009, Grace could no longer walk up the stairs by herself, wash her own hair, get off the couch without help, or even stand for longer than a few minutes. On one occasion, as she and I stood on the bank of the Mississippi River, only five minutes from her house, enjoying a sunset, her legs gave out from underneath her and she fell hard. But, this didn’t stop her; she kept on chugging.
As the prednisone, methotrexate and azathioprine worked their magic, Grace gained nearly thirty pounds, and so did I. I stopped working out, stopped caring what I ate, slept far too little and was altogether too stressed. In a matter of months, I went from 155 pounds to 185 pounds. Around the same time, I was also ‘diagnosed’ with IBS, something I had dealt with for a lifetime.
To combat all of this (rapid weight gain, IBS, horrible blood levels) Grace and I tried to live a “healthy” life style. We both tried a vegetarian method of eating, and within weeks, we felt worse than we ever had before. Something desperately needed to change, but we couldn’t figure it out, so we kept walking uphill.
Eventually, we stumbled across the Zone diet and did our best to weigh and measure our food, though, with some confusion. We didn’t cut out wheat completely, but we did limit it. With a lower carb intake and a steady, high dose of medication, Grace’s muscle pain started to go away, as did the rashes on her hands, and her doctor proclaimed her in remission. I took up running and soon registered for the 2011 Kentucky Derby Marathon, intent on raising money and awareness for Juvenile Myositis. On one particular day, Grace even managed to run an incredible 2 miles with me. All seemed to be going well, but looking back, it was just the calm before the storm. While I was running more and leaning out, I still wasn’t feeling well. By race time I had raised over $2,500 but I wasn’t able to run the entire race. I did finish, but with a time I don’t care to mention. The next week my body was sore, tired and angry. Frustrated, I ditched Zone and ate what I cared to eat. Both our diets faltered, actually, and that summer Grace’s Dermatomyositis relapsed and we were back to square one. Again, we needed a change. We were going in the wrong direction.
In the summer of 2011, Grace and I were introduced to the Paleo lifestyle thanks to her brother, Luke. Grace—a trained biochemist and pre-med student now conducting research at the CDC in Atlanta—was immediately convinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence contributed to Paleo, and began to follow the diet fairly religiously. Though I was originally skeptical, and all too fond of far too many baked goods (which Zone had still permitted me to eat, in moderation) I too took the Paleo vow, and ate a strict Paleo diet for thirty days. On the drive from her house in Illinois to our college in Michigan, she read aloud Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution, rereading pages of the more scientific parts so I could understand them (God bless her).
Two weeks into eating a strict Paleo diet, Grace’s doctor called to inform her that her blood work was once again normal. By the end of the thirty days, we had both lost over ten pounds each, and were feeling better than ever. My stomach problems, once diagnosed as IBS, no longer existed. Grace felt like moving, she smiled, which was a true sign that things were getting better.
Now, Grace is doing physical therapy to regain muscle strength and flexibility. She still can only lift around 5 pounds, climb only a few steps before feeling tired, and is pretty exhausted at the end of the day, but the fire is back in her eyes. She is continually researching autoimmunity and Paleo, and has developed a menu for her own needs, including bone broth, zero dairy, no nightshades or eggs, mineral water, high protein and massive amounts of veggies. We both sleep in the pitch black and try to get around 9 hours of sleep a night.
I’ve been Crossfitting at home and local gyms (not yet able to get into a CrossFit box) and have felt better than I did when I trained for the marathon. Each of us is down nearly 30 pounds, and have completely adopted and welcomed the Paleo lifestyle into our lives. We swear by it, even to our family and friends who think we’re either crazy or wrong for eating the way we do.
There’s much speculation over how Grace contracted her autoimmune problem, but it is what it is: speculation. The reality is the cards have been dealt and we’re playing with what we got. Grace hopes to receive her medical degree in the next several years and register herself as a Paleo physician. I hope to join a CrossFit box when I move to Atlanta and compete in the 2012 season. One day we will certainly be able to look back at all of this as our medical history, and that makes us truly happy. For now, we take comfort in sharing Paleo meals when we’re together, working on our new website (thepaleopair.tumblr.com) and living happily, one day at a time.