May 3, 2011
I was sick. Scary sick. My symptom list was long.
Loss of balance. Blurred vision. Night sweats. Brain fog. Weakness and numbness on one side. A noticeable limp. Fatigue. Vertigo. Sleeplessness. Irritability. Impatience. Mood swings.
On my 34th birthday, Dr. Sharp gave me a laundry list of possibilities, with the final being a punch in the gut: multiple sclerosis. But first, he suggested seeing a chiropractor, who reawakened my innate sense of what the human body needs to be healthy.
I slowly unlearned all that standard American food vending giants taught me over the previous three decades. Faster is better. Bigger is better value. Cheaper is good. Long shelf life is great. Fries are like a vegetable. Artificial is fine. Have it your way. Go no-fat. Go low-fat. Go no-carb. Fortified with vitamins and minerals. Soda’s like water. Run for the border. Eat a fourth meal.
Simultaneously I wended my way through the health care system seeking a definitive diagnosis. Eight months, two MRIs, a spinal tap, and something called an evoked potentials test later, I had my diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.
“It’s progressive, but we can slow it down,” the big-city neurologist’s words echoed in my ears. My children were 6, 4 and 2.
He prescribed a regimen of immune-dampening self-injections every other day. It causes flu-like symptoms for 24 hours. It may destroy one’s liver.
“What about eating a really good diet?” I asked. “Sure, it will make you feel better,” he said in a tone of voice that suggested I’d just asked if the tooth fairy was real.
I agreed to the injections. I spent every spare moment researching my diagnosis. It’s an inflammatory disorder. It’s an auto-immune disease, meaning my body was attacking itself. No known cure. The best known prescriptions would extend time between flare-ups by a few months. Prevailing theory was that the immune system needed to be kicked down a few notches. But what if my body was as an exhausted, delirious boxer swinging at her own corner? What if my body was desperately crying out for something else?
My body wasn’t always attacking itself. I had been an avid athlete and exercise enthusiast. The human body is in a constant state of programmed cellular death and replacement. I wondered if I could turn back the clock and that the old saying “you are what you eat” was more than an adage borne of folk wisdom; and what would happen if I made sure that as my body was replacing cells, it had the very best of raw materials?
After seven weeks of the injections, my liver cried foul. The neurologist advised stopping the injections.
“I’ve got nothing else for you,” he sadly told me.
He was shocked to find me visibly elated by this news. Whole (not processed), real foods, namely vegetables and fruit, were to be my medicine, to paraphrase Hippocrates.
Fresh produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before it arrives on most Americans’ plates, according to an Iowa State University study, among others. From the moment it is harvested, the nutrients in fresh produce begin to break down, becoming less nutritious during each passing minute and mile. I needed the healthiest food possible: vegetables and fruits fresh-picked right off of a local farm.
My disease did not come upon me quickly, nor would I become well quickly, but with the first day of “crowding in” fresh fruits and vegetables, I began to feel better. In two weeks, I was feeling happy and energetic again. In two months, I felt nearly like my 20-something self. To quote a certain congresswoman at a recent town hall meeting, “Fruits and veggies are great,” but I now know better: that they are not just great, they are essential.
Humanity has survived for millions of years by eating what nature provides. Only in the last 50 or so have we drifted from that, with disastrous health consequences. A doctor recently asked me if I thought a cure would be found for my disease. I responded that if all I have to do is change what I’m eating, is that not a cure?
Local farmers markets are beautiful food systems. Not only do they provide fresh fruits and vegetables, they also reduce the amount of fossil fuel required to transport those foods. They keep your money circulating in your own community. They keep local lands well-tended and viable.
I hope my story inspires you to shop verified local farm stands. If I can reverse my disease, I hope you will be inspired to “cure” what ails you in the same way.
Cutting to the happy ending: I found highly knowledgeable local farmers; I relearned what it means and why it’s important to eat in season; I am eternally thankful for the miraculous results. I’m now 41 and medication-free.