Updated: Nov 14, 2019
I don’t believe that anyone just wakes up one day with a chronic illness. Unless someone has a genetic condition, diseases are a direct result of poor diet, inflammation, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and environmental toxins. What causes disease are not always the toxins and microorganisms themselves, but our body’s inability to remove them and fight them off.
While no one can say exactly how my sister developed Crohn’s disease, we know that it was because her body simply could no longer handle both the food she was eating and the harmful toxins in her body. Every body is different. They detoxify differently, metabolize and digest food differently, and respond in different ways to the environment. This is why some people eat processed foods their entire lives and feel fine, while others develop autoimmune disorders, allergies, chronic diseases, and cancer.
My sister was one of the less lucky ones whose body responded to the overload of toxins in the form of a chronic illness. Here is the story of how my sister, Miriam, was able to heal from Crohn’s disease, to the point where she was able to get off all prescription medications and now lives a symptom free life.
When Miriam was diagnosed at age 11, her doctors made it clear that it was an incurable disease and she would likely be on medication the rest of her life. They said she would likely require surgery to remove part of her colon at some point.
If you aren’t familiar with the disease, Crohn’s is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a term used to describe two diseases involving inflammation in the digestive tract- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include recurring diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue, and reduced appetite, all of which my sister experienced. While there are blood tests that can assist in the diagnosis of Crohn’s, my sister was officially diagnosed after getting a colonoscopy where the doctors saw the severe inflammation in her large intestine.
The process to get an accurate diagnosis was lengthy and likely contributed to the progression of her disease. For years the doctors told us she just had IBS that was likely caused by food sensitivities. These overlooked symptoms continued to get worse until Miriam’s pediatrician finally referred her to a gastroenterologist. Blood tests showed inflammation and abnormal white blood counts, and an emergency colonoscopy in the hospital was immediately ordered. The colonoscopy confirmed a Crohn’s diagnosis, and her doctor recommended immediate hospitalization and high doses of steroids. A family trip planned to Arizona was immediately cancelled and our family’s painful and rocky journey towards holistic healing began.
The first two years
After the diagnosis, Miriam was immediately put on Prednisone, an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant medication. There were some unpleasant side effects, such as face swelling, but we were hopeful it would lower her inflammation and allow her to return to a normal life.
From ages 11-13, Miriam spent time in and out of the hospital, trying different medications as we prayed for results. She had several steroid injections and was on Imuran and Asacol, both known to treat Crohn’s and other IBDs. Miriam was so unresponsive to the treatments that she required months of home schooling due to her pain, discomfort, and weakness. It was the most difficult time that our family endured. The conventional drugs were not helping Miriam and the side effects included the very symptoms we were trying to eliminate.
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” -Bernard Shaw
My parents both grew up with very conventional medicine, never having exposure to any type of alternative medicine. They were not ones to argue with doctors, always following their advice when it came to medications, medical tests, and procedures. However, my parents were uneasy thinking that my sister would be sick the rest of her life.
From the day of my sister's diagnosis, my mom spent several months researching Crohn’s disease and finding both local clinics and physicians around the country who had success in treating chronic diseases. They tried absolutely everything: acupuncture, energy healing, special diets, chiropractic work, homeopathy, Chinese herbs, and functional medicine.
After two years of trial and error with no luck, they came across Dr. Yu, a local alternative medicine physician who specializes in uncovering hidden infections caused by food allergies, heavy metals, and parasites. He’s helped cure people with stage 4 cancer who’ve been sent home to die and countless others who visit him from around the world. I could write ten more articles on Dr. Yu’s practice alone, but what’s important is that he was the first alternative medicine doctor who was able to help my sister.
Through meridian testing, Dr. Yu uncovered parasites in Miriam’s large intestine. She spent months on homeopathic formulas and parasite medicine, immediately noticing an improvement in symptoms. The stomach pains she had suffered from for two years, the pain that would awaken her at night in tears, was finally starting to dissipate. The improvement felt like a miracle. She continued to make steady improvement with Dr Yu’s care including much needed weight gain.
Meanwhile, my sister was “fired” from her gastroenterologist for not listening to his recommendation to stay on the conventional medicine route. My parents did continue with a different GI doctor who was more flexible with their decision in finding alternative approaches.
My sister made what appeared to be a full recovery, sticking to a low inflammation diet and following Dr. Yu’s protocol.
Conventional medicine has its place
I wish I could say that it was all was fine from here on out, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Though we are not exactly sure what changed, her health began to decline again during her junior year of high school. The stomach pains returned, as did the weight loss, diarrhea, and fatigue.
Of course our first instinct was to take her back to Dr. Yu. For months Miriam went back to a strict diet, took the homeopathic remedies that worked the first time, and even saw a few other functional medicine doctors to get additional opinions. However, nothing seemed to work this time around and my parents felt hopeless. My sister had lost so much weight, was in severe pain, and had no energy.
Miriam ended up being hospitalized again where she needed a feeding tube, several steroid injections, and a blood transfusion. The doctors finally put her on Remicade, a medication that blocks the action of TNF, a protein released by the immune system that causes inflammation when too much is produced.
Remicade is a newer drug and the long term effects of taking it are unknown. Some people do not respond well to it and there are several known side effects, including cancer, but my sister was running out of options and needed something strong to lower the inflammation so she could start digesting food and absorbing nutrients again.
Remicade is administered through infusions and you have to follow a strict schedule to make sure you get your next dose before the previous one wears off. Miriam was healthy enough to start university in the Fall, but she had to come home every so often for her infusions and any traveling had to be planned around her next treatment.
At the same time, Miriam began using low dose naltrexone (LDN), an effective, off-label use of naltrexone which at low doses is used to treat diseases such as Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis.
Healing the gut
After meeting with several holistic medicine specialists, it became clear that if Miriam ever wanted to be off all medications, she had to heal her gut to prevent future flare ups. Each functional medicine doctor has a different gut healing protocol, but if they’re any good, they should all follow a few basic steps. They should eliminate harmful microorganisms living in the gut, replace harmful bacteria with good bacteria, and seal a leaky gut, a digestive condition in which harmful toxins and bacteria are able to seep through the intestinal wall and cause damage to the rest of the body. Leaky Gut Syndrome is often said to be an underlying cause of several physical and mental conditions.
Miriam followed a strict protocol of supplements such as probiotics, IGG Protect, and L-Glutamine. She also followed a strict diet and avoided gluten, dairy, processed oils such as canola, sugar, and all processed foods with added chemicals. Her healing diet was high in healthy fats, easy to digest proteins, fruits, and vegetables. She continued using LDN and finally after three years on Remicade, Miriam decided that she was ready to wean off it.
Against all recommendations by her GI doctor, she started to space out her doses more and more until she eventually stopped all together. The risk in stopping Remicade is that the body doesn’t always respond to it if you try and get back on it again later. This meant that if Miriam had another flare-up there was a high probability that she would not be able to rely on remicade. However, she felt confident about her alternative healing protocol and felt that her body was strong enough to take the chance. While stopping this medication had its risks, there were also risks in continuing the remicade and her doctors had no intention of taking her off of it.
Miriam’s life today
Today at age 22, Miriam is once again off all medications and has been stable for four years. She periodically follows up with a functional medicine doctor and Dr. Yu for additional immune and gut support, and sticks to a strict gluten free diet with everything else in moderation. She is currently traveling the country, working on farms and learning about sustainable farming practices.
I think a good indication that her gut is fully healed is that even when she gets an infection that causes GI distress, it no longer leads to a flare up the way it would in a Crohn’s patient. This past summer she contracted parasites while living on a farm in Israel for five months and suffered several months with GI issues and symptoms. She was able to live with the parasites until returning to America and has returned to normal after taking the parasite medication. Even with the parasites, her body was able to digest and absorb food and nutrients. She has also said that when she has GI symptoms now, it feels vastly different than it felt when she had Crohn’s. Though the symptoms are similar on paper, it is a completely different type of pain.
The importance of diet
Imagine being told at 10 years old that you have to eat a strict gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free diet, free of processed oils and packaged foods. No more breakfast cereals, pancakes, sandwiches, ice cream, or pasta. For a kid raised on the standard American diet, there is no news more devastating than that. Now imagine being told that on top of that, nuts are too hard on the digestive system and certain fruits and vegetables are inflammatory and must be avoided as well. Not only did my sister try every diet out there, but her dietary rules were constantly changing because my parents were trying to figure out which diet she felt best on.
Especially in the beginning, it was hard for my sister to follow the diet. She wanted to be able to fully participate in birthday parties and going out to eat with friends. At a young age, it was difficult for her to understand the importance of avoiding inflammatory foods because she didn’t notice an immediate change in symptoms. While on Remicade a few years later, she was able to eat almost anything without negative symptoms because the treatment suppressed the body’s inflammatory response. But by this age, she better understood the importance of diet and never returned to the diet she once had as a child.
Though people swear by being able to heal diseases through almost every diet, it was the GAPS diet that worked best for Miriam. This was her go to diet when she felt a flare up coming on and the diet that helped her heal the second time around. As she got older, it was easier for her to follow the diet because she understood the importance of it in her healing journey.
However, she no longer sticks to the GAPS diet and follows more of a vegan based diet, which her body completely agrees with. She eats natural foods as much as possible, limiting anything processed or high in chemicals and additives. Although she prefers to follow a vegan diet, she has learned the importance of listening to her body. In times where she has felt like her body was under high stress or fighting off an infection, she will eat ghee or homemade chicken soup for it’s healing benefits. Just as one diet does not fit all, one specific diet in its entirety does not necessarily fit all moments of her life. Flexibility in diet and learning to listen to her bodies response has helped guide her to a lifestyle that fits her needs and may change during different stages of her life.
While her doctors and others may call it a miracle, I know that it’s because of the months and months my mom spent researching a cure that my sister is healthy today. When one doctor or treatment didn’t work, she moved on to the next. It can be so easy to get discouraged when dealing with an illness and because all bodies are different, it makes it that much harder to find a cure.
No diet or treatment fits everyone. There are people who claim to have cured Crohn’s by following 100% fruit diets, raw food diets, cooked food diets, paleo, GAPS, low FODMAPS, and the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD). Some people swear by acupuncture and reflexology while others have success with homeopathic remedies and chinese herbs. It is important to remember that what worked for someone else might not work for you.
Here are a few things my family has learned on this long journey:
You can’t trust everything your doctor tells you
Always do your own research and find a second, third, and fourth option
Conventional and alternative medicine can and should be used together
Diet and disease are everso interconnected
“Incurable” is a word that conventional physicians use because they don’t understand the importance of addressing underlying causes of an illness
The body is amazing and can heal from anything
Everyone responds differently and there is no one size fits all when it comes to medications, diets, and treatments
Listen to your body. It is our most powerful tool and is constantly telling us what is helping it to be strong and what is causing it harm.
Never give up on the body’s ability to heal
It’s been a long journey, but Miriam’s illness has opened up our family to the amazing world of alternative medicine. Everyone in my family has been to Dr. Yu and has found success in multiple forms of alternative therapies. We all live a much healthier lifestyle now, eating real foods and always seeking natural treatment options first.
However, we also know that conventional medicine has its place and have found a happy medium between the two. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs during many stressful years, but this experience has definitely brought our family closer together. My siblings and I are lucky to have such dedicated and supportive parents who are willing to do anything for us.