The Endocrine System: Kristen's Thyroid Story
As I mentioned in my last newsletter on the thyroid gland, I was going to ask my wife, Kristen, to write up her experiences in overcoming Graves' disease when she had a moment to spare. As it turns out, she really didn't have any time to spare, but did it anyway…as a priority project. Here is her story, in her own words, on how she used natural methods to overcome what is generally considered to be an incurable disease.
Kristen's Thyroid Story
My introduction to natural health came early at the age of 16. It was the 70's, and my mother was one of those people who started reading all kinds of natural health books. She got me involved as well, and together, we were juicing, went on juice fasts, stopped drinking milk, stopped eating red meat, did colon cleanses, etc. She taught me the value of having a balanced body. I tried to live right and eat right because of the things she taught me.
Symptoms start appearing
Fast forward 14 years. I'm 30, and my life is out of balance. I had a successful real estate career and got too caught up in my work. The hours were long and not healthy. Plus my eating habits were not what they once were. I was now eating red meat as well as fried foods. I was on the run all the time and ate whatever was convenient. Add to that the stress of a divorce, a friendly divorce, but still emotional and stressful. (And no, that wasn't Jon. I hadn't met him yet.)
I was physically fit, or so I thought. I went to the gym several times a week and ran three to five miles every day. Nevertheless, "symptoms" started appearing. The first time I noticed something was wrong with me was when I was running. Suddenly, instead of getting stronger each day, I was progressively getting more and more tired and each day running a shorter distance. My heart rate wasn't coming down after running either. It just kept on pounding. It would even start racing while sitting in bed. I finally had to stop because I just didn't have it in me to go beyond a few feet. I'd been a runner my whole life and never had this experience before. I didn't know what to make of it.
After about a month of the tiredness and, now, full blown exhaustion, I decided to seek out advice from some health experts. I was put on all kinds of vitamin regimens with no change. The heart was always racing now. They did EKG's but said the heart was fine. No one could figure out what the problem was.
Over time I became sensitive to heat, and my skin became clammy. I lost the hair on my arms, legs, and a quarter of the hair on my head. No one noticed though because I had always had thick hair, but I knew it, and it concerned me.
Months later I dropped from a size 9 to a size 5. (By the way, that was back before they adjusted sizing to accommodate the fattening of America.) I was eating three large meals a day and a pint of Häagen-Dazs® but kept losing weight. When I saw photos of myself, I could see I was too thin and my eyes seemed to bug out a bit.
Six months after dropping to a size 5, suddenly everything reversed. I started gaining weight. I went from a size 5 to a size 12. Then my menstrual cycle stopped and my pubic hair turned completely grey. "What on earth is happening to me!?"
Months later my eyesight changed. I found myself unable to read signs at any distance on the freeway. Mind you, all of these changes took place over the span of a year and a half. And as bad as things were, it was only at this point that they started getting really scary. I was entering a freeway one day and accidentally knocked off someone's bumper. We were able to retrieve it thank goodness. Two weeks later, I was entering a parking lot and came around a corner and lost control of my car. I had a brand new car and ran it alongside a wall taking out the entire side of my car. I was watching myself in slow motion as I drove along the wall literally unable to pull away from it. The incident was terrifying and no one knew what was wrong with me.
My mother had made comments about my neck looking fat; I ignored her not knowing what that meant. Something was wrong with my throat though; for months, I would have choking incidents. It happened in the car a few times. I would be driving along and suddenly start choking and couldn't breathe. I'd have to pull over until it stopped. It was frightening. I had trouble sleeping at night because the heart was pounding so hard. My muscles were weak, and I was a mess.
Finally, a diagnosis -- Graves' disease
A chance meeting turned everything around. I was at a party one night and met a very nice female doctor. We ended up talking about what I had been going through and a look of recognition crossed her face. She reached out and touched my neck and said "Oh honey, it's your thyroid, you have a goiter." (As you may remember from Jon's last newsletter, you normally can't feel the thyroid when touching the neck -- only if it's enlarged. That's how she could identify the problem.) She said I would need to see an endocrinologist and gave me a recommendation. At last I was going to find someone to help me!
In May 1984, I went to see the doctor she had recommended, and he took blood samples. I came back to the office several days later to get the results. He told me in the gravest voice that I had ever heard that I had some of the worse thyroid levels he had ever seen:
|May 1984 thyroid levels||
23.4 mcg dl
Between 5 and 13 mcg/dl
Between 5 and 13
75 -- 175 ng/dl
He said I needed to have my thyroid taken out immediately. I was shocked. Then I said no and left.
He called me a day later and said, "Young lady, I don't care if you don't like what I told you. You have a serious disease and if you don't get treatment, you will die within a few weeks. If you don't want to come back here that's fine, but you must get help so please go to another doctor right away!"
He scared me, but I still didn't like the message, so I went for another opinion. I asked around and was led to the head endocrinologist at UCLA. Blood was drawn and I waited for the results. He also did a physical examination and said my thyroid was 4 times normal size, and my left eye was protruding more than the right which would account for the blurred vision. (Again, as Jon explained in the last newsletter, the bulging eyeballs associated with Graves' disease are caused by a build-up of fat behind the eyes, which pushes the eyes outward.) When I came back in to see the doctor, he had that same grave look on his face. He sat me down and said "You have the highest thyroid levels I have seen in 30 years! You have Graves' Disease." I asked what that meant, and he said, "Your thyroid is dead. We'll need to schedule treatment for you within the next few days. There are two ways to treat it, we can remove it by surgery or kill it with radioactive iodine."
I didn't understand the logic of the last statement so I innocently asked why they would have to kill it or remove it if it was already dead. He became flustered, stood up, and looked down at me sternly and said, "It's what we will need to do to save your life."
I asked another question because I wanted more information about the disease: I asked what caused it. He said he didn't know, he said it was generally known as a young woman's disease. Well, that wasn't very helpful. I told him the stress I'd been under and how out of balance my life had become. Would that have caused it? His response was "No, it had nothing to do with it." (I did find it curious that although he admitted he had no idea what caused it, he could be so definite about what didn't cause it.)
In any case, I didn't want the surgery or the radioactive iodine so I asked another question that clearly annoyed him. I said that I believe that god gave us all these body parts for a reason; if you remove or burn out my thyroid, wouldn't that disturb the balance in the body; wouldn't it make the situation worse?
He said they had to get rid of the thyroid, but I was not to worry because they would be able to balance me with drugs. I wasn't buying any of it.
I didn't want to do any of the recommended treatments and told him so, and he was getting more upset with me by the minute. He told me the same thing the other doctor did, "If you don't have this taken care of right away, you'll be dead within 2 weeks!"
I said just give me a few days to think about it. In the meantime, is there something you can give me to keep me alive while I'm doing that? In ultimate frustration, he blurted out, "Well, if I hear you've come back downstairs (meaning the emergency room) and you're having a thyroid storm, I won't rush." I asked what a thyroid storm was, and he said it's when all your internal organs explode. (Whaaaat??????!) He too succeeded in scaring me almost to death, but I was not going to give up my body parts without a fight. In the end, he prescribed Propylthiouracil for the thyroid and Inderal for the heart since the most immediate problem I had was the danger of a fatal heart attack.
As I was leaving he asked where my ride was, and I told him I had driven myself in. He was shocked. He actually didn't believe me at first. He said, "Do you know where people like you end up with your thyroid levels?"
I said, "No."
"In the psych ward," he replied. "Most of them try to kill themselves." I don't know why you aren't there now or how you drove yourself in."
I was taken aback by that, I told him I was tired but hadn't had any signs of depression at all. Other than the extreme exhaustion and everything else I was going through, I was actually feeling positive about life.
I couldn't wait to get away from the hospital. The experience with the doctor had been shocking and he had indeed scared me. I didn't want to die; I was only 30! I took the prescriptions with me because I needed to stay alive long enough to find a natural way to get my body back in balance. I had no intention of letting them remove or burn out my thyroid. I would find a natural way to beat this.
Finding a treatment
I knew in my heart that the reason I was sick was that I had thrown my body and mind out of balance. I needed to find a way to get back in balance so my body would heal itself.
I had heard of a natural healer named Ann Wigmore who had cured herself of cancer with wheat grass. Of all the books I had read, there was something about hers that struck a chord, so I set out to find her. I found out she had an institute in Boston, but when I called she wasn't there. I tracked her down and found out she was in LA visiting with friends and giving lectures. The people she was staying with were high profile (Dennis and Gerry Weaver), and I asked around and told people my story until someone gave me their number so I was able to leave a message on their answering machine.
Gerry Weaver received my message, and years later, I still remember what I said. "Hi, you don't know me, but I need your help. I heard Ann Wigmore is staying with you, and I need to talk to her. I'm 30 years old and the doctors told me I'm going to die within a few weeks if I don't get treatment. I'm too young to die and I don't want my thyroid taken out. Would you please call, I need help." My voice was shaking from fear and emotion and even as I write this, I'm welling up with tears. Writing this up has really put me in touch with how scared and terrified I was at the time.
I'm grateful that Gerry called me back. She was an angel. She told me that Ann was doing a seminar and we arranged to meet there. I was able to get a few of Ann's books so I could get started. Back in those days, there was no one complete book that talked about all the body systems and what you needed to do to achieve balance. I had to search through book after book to put the pieces together. Gerry was a trail blazer when it came to the health movement, and she put me in the right direction to get books on Enzymes, colon health, a book on water, friendly bacteria (probiotics), etc. I told Jon later that if his book Lessons from the Miracle Doctors had been out at that time I would have been able to heal within 6 months instead of a year! (Incidentally, by an amazing coincidence, although I never met him at the time, Jon and Gerry were close friends and constantly shared information on health and healing. It wasn't until three years later that Jon and I actually met and discovered the amazing connection we shared through Gerry Weaver.)
There were things Gerry knew that had not yet been put into print, so she invited me over to take notes. It was not easy given that the disease had debilitated my muscles, and it was hard to write. But the information was crucial so I hung in there.
I went to the doctor once a month for blood tests. I was determined to heal myself through natural means but also recognized the value of working with my doctor. My numbers were coming down, which validated the path I had chosen. It was working.
My divorce was finalized around this time. We sold our home, and I moved to a studio apartment. Unfortunately, we sold in a down market, so I started my new life with next to nothing to exist on. When I had been well and at my peak, I was the top salesperson in my office, and one of the top residential agents in Los Angeles, in fact. Now, I was too weak to work. The effort required to get up in the morning to get a glass of water was enough to exhaust me and send me back to bed. In fact, I was in bed for months and in danger of having a heart attack because of such prolonged inactivity. I had two episodes where I thought I was going to die. When I called the doctor, he said it didn't sound like a heart attack, so I didn't go to the hospital. I rested until it passed.
I had no money, but was lucky to get calls from clients I had worked with in the past who needed to either buy or sell their homes. I always felt there was a divine hand taking care of me. Somehow I always managed to pay my rent and buy food and get the supplies I needed for healing.
The program I had worked out for myself with Gerry's help addressed the physical, mental and spiritual components of life:
The physical components
- Foods: From what I read, I knew I had to get off all processed food. I went totally raw for a year. I ate what I grew in my apartment (sprouts) or bought organic from a local health food store. I understood that to heal the body I needed raw enzymes that would provide nutrition and would be easy for the body to assimilate.
I bought a Norwalk juicer and juiced vegetables every day using Norman Walker's Fresh Vegetable & Fruit Juices book as a guide. I also followed the guidelines in Ann Wigmore's book for growing sprouts for eating and blending. I had very little energy and remember practically living on sunflowers sprouts that I put in the blender to make a green drink per Ann's recipe. I grew my own wheatgrass and drank a few ounces every day.
My main meals were fresh salads with my own fresh dressing. I would also have some type of seed cheese or nut loaf, or raw soup.
I also made things that would help replenish friendly bacteria in the intestines like sauerkraut and Ann's rejuvelac drink.
- Internal Cleansing: I started my mornings off with watermelon juice to flush my kidneys. Later, I would juice a lemon to clean out bacteria in the gut and clean the liver. I also did wheatgrass enemas and wheatgrass implants several times a week with the aid of a slant board. (At that time I did not know about Jon's detox program, which would have saved me hours of work and months of healing time.)
- Exercise: The doctor told me to stay in bed, and I was categorically told not to exercise. However, I remembered an axiom from the 70's, "Exercise or die!" It may exhaust me, but I didn't believe it would kill me. I knew I had to get some kind of exercise, or I would only get sicker. From one of the books I read, I knew I needed to move the lymph fluid. There was a pool in the complex, and I had a friend come over and watch me swim. Just in case I did have a heart attack, she could pull me out. I would swim very gently for about 20 minutes, then go back to bed. Or I would take short walks down the block. It did a lot of good to get the blood moving, and I felt better for having done it.
Mental and spiritual components
I knew that changing my eating habits and exercising were very important, but if I had a bad attitude during this time, it would have negated the program. It would have been easy to be depressed or upset. I was very much isolated and alone. Neither my family (other than my mother) nor my friends understood, or tried to understand, what I was going through. Everyone wanted to throw a few vitamins my way and thought it was all in my head. My friends were off working and partying, and I rarely saw anyone during this time. For some reason, I had the strength to go through all of this alone. The little contact I had with Gerry was very helpful, but once I had what I needed I didn't want to bother her and kept to myself.
I kept a positive attitude about it all and meditated twice a day. I found out years ago, when I dislocated my tailbone and was in a great deal of pain, that being upset or angry was not healing. Someone told me at the time that I should love my body, not be mad at it. She said to visualize my body enveloped in a loving, healing white light. I tried it and found that my body would tingle all over. I could feel energy running throughout my body and it was soothing, healing, and the pain stopped. I remembered the lesson from years ago and at the end of my meditations, I would visualize healing energy flowing throughout my body. Once again I felt the soothing healing energy and knew it was speeding up the healing process.
Sticking with it
What I did to heal myself on one hand appears very simple, and the idea of it is indeed very simple. But it was difficult at first sticking to it. There were times when I felt better and had a normal dinner out. Normal meaning cooked food: fish, potatoes and cooked greens. I would immediately experience tachycardia. And if I had something really salty, like cheese, I would almost pass out since my heart was beating so fast. I did this a number of times before I got that it was not a good idea and faithfully stuck to the program.
Living on raw foods, especially if you are growing your own, can be time consuming. I grew the sprouts and wheat grass, made my own meals, and did my own juicing to keep costs down and to have control of everything I put in my body. For a year, my life was dedicated to growing or preparing food, a lot of rest, no stress, some form of exercise every day, and meditation. There was little room for anything else other than healing that year. It was a full time job.
The first 3 months were spent mostly in bed. After that I started to regain my energy and increased my exercising. My heart rate was still very fast, but was no longer at what I considered a dangerous level. I found that the Inderal the doctor had prescribed was making no difference and weaned myself off it.
After a year, my menstrual cycle returned, and the grey hair started to go back to its normal color. I was starting to live a more normal life. I felt I was in remission, and over the course of a month weaned myself off of the Propylthiouracil. I was completely off all medication by July 1985.
I went back to the doctor to get tested, and he confirmed that my "thyroid levels were entirely within normal limits." He said that I appeared to be euthyroid, (the state of having normal thyroid gland function.) He also said I could begin to get off of the Propylthiouracil. When I told him I was already off, he said, "Good job." Then he caught himself and said that I could have caused a heart attack by going off of it without knowing what I was doing. He then added that it was only a temporary remission. I would always have the disease and it would come back if there was any stress in my life and listed many other reasons it would come back. The whole time he was talking, I was saying to myself, "No it won't!" Despite the many severe stresses I've had in my life the last 25 years, it never did come back.
Over the years, I've shared this story with anyone who wanted to know how I kept my thyroid and got it functioning again. There have been many people in a similar position who wanted to know what I took for the thyroid to heal it. My response is I never took anything that targeted the thyroid. I worked to put my body back in balance so it would heal itself.
The sad thing is it never inspired anyone to try the natural route. When I talked to them months later, they all said they thought it would be easier to just cut the thyroid out. And at first glance, that does indeed seem to be true. But when I talked to these same people years later, they were all having severe problems getting "balanced out" with the medication. Many were severely overweight, but even worse had severe psychological problems that were affecting their lives and their marriages. I lost touch with them and have no idea how they are doing now.
Let me be perfectly clear. If my natural approach hadn't worked, if my thyroid numbers had not begun to drop almost immediately, if I hadn't begun to feel better, I would have gone back to the doctor and taken the medical route. I had no intention of dying to prove a point. On the other hand, as Jon makes abundantly clear in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, there are no guarantees when it comes to health and healing -- merely odds. I had every reason to believe that the odds were decidedly in favor of my pursuing the alternative route as opposed to the medical route -- a belief that was subsequently borne out by the reversal of my Graves' disease for the last 25 years.
For my part, I'm glad I put in the year of work I did. With a normally functioning thyroid, life has been very good.
Enjoy the following links to complete the entire newsletter series on the Endocrine System: