Resolving Chronic Pain With a Plant-Based Diet: My Story
Managing pain on a whole food plant-based diet is a real solution to many dietary, chronic, and autoimmune problems. At first I was skeptical, but here I am writing to tell you what the power of plants has done for me!
As all significant stories with happy endings start off: Once Upon a Time…
A great Disney princess once said, “The cold never bothered me anyway”… this is absolutely not true for those plagued with Reynaud’s Disease. It’s a battle every day and even more so in the winter months.
Perpetually cold and aching hands, white and blue fingers and toes, and risking frostbite is probably not something our famous princess had to deal with. Sadly, no amount of dressing warm or wearing gloves can “fix” this phenomenon. Not even moving to a different or warmer climate (trust me, I’ve tried).
But what if there is a “fix”? What if Reynaud’s Disease (or even other kinds of pain) can be reversed and managed by what we put inside our bodies instead of what we do externally?
Well, there is a way and here is my experience becoming pain free from the inside out:
What is Reynaud’s Disease?
Reynaud’s Disease causes restriction of blood flow to the extremities – fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, and in some severe cases, nose, ears, lips, and nipples (whoa there).
When subjected to cold or stress, the blood vessels constrict limiting blood flow which can cause numbness, pain, and for the skin to change colors to ghostly white or a dingy blue.
What in the world causes this? For most people, it’s lifestyle related or because of a pre-existing condition that is due to carpal tunnel syndrome, prolonged smoking, or a variety of arterial diseases. In my case, it’s hereditary. (Thanks, Grandma!)
Ever since I was a little girl, I had abnormally cold hands and feet. I thought nothing of it because it was normal and didn’t bother me. When I was 12, that’s when aching and pain started to creep into my life and hands. As I aged, the pain got increasingly worse and would spread into my forearms, then to my elbows, and then sometimes to my shoulders!
Before seeing a real hand doctor, all of my family members with medical backgrounds unofficially diagnosed me with Reynaud’s disease.
As I researched what Reynaud’s disease was, I could quickly relate my symptoms to Google’s list of symptoms. I would think, “Check, check, check… Okay, that’s what I have, but now what?” The recommended actions to improve the disease were simple, but results varied from case to case like:
Dress warmly. Wear gloves. Live in or move to a more moderate climate. Don’t stress. – None of these worked for me. Trust me, I had spent 14 years trying all sorts of things outside of ibuprofen and Tylenol to improve the aches and pain.
My triggers (or “attacks” as it’s called) stemmed from very simple things like sudden temperature changes – going from cold to hot or vice versa, just staying in one extreme temperature, strenuous labor with my hands and arms, or emotional triggers like nerves and stress. For me, none of these situations were seasonal. Something happened every day to cause pain and discomfort.
The eerie part about this phenomenon is what happened to my hands and feet visually when an attack happened. My fingers and toes would turn solid white. It can happen at the oddest times for the weirdest reasons. One time I accidentally hit my hand on a desk and broke my fingernail. I wasn’t too distressed about it, but my body freaked out and my hand turned numb, then blue, and then the pain came! Picture below:
The sad part about being uncomfortable or in pain for so long is that it becomes a norm; something you live with and adjust to in order to power though with life and every-day tasks. There came a point where I didn’t want to accept this as a norm anymore. Here’s the story:
Journey to Relief
Having moved up north for school, there were some frozen and stressful days where I couldn’t write my lecture notes legibly. I would get back home and literally couldn’t read what I wrote that day! I studied music and wielded a trumpet in my hands for sometimes up to 7 hours a day during concert seasons. Some days seemed unbearable.
For example, I almost publicly wept in front of my whole university marching band one night when it was 12 degrees and snowing before a game. I wanted so badly to breathe hot air through my thin marching gloves, but my section buddies yelled at me across the field not to do it because it would make them colder from the condensation created by my breath.
As silly as this was, I even feared that my single self would never find a guy who would want to hold a perpetually frigid hand. Not cute, right?
Enough was enough. I wanted to get down to the root of the problem.
After I graduated college and moved back home to teach, I went to see an orthopedic hand doctor who quickly confirmed that I indeed had Reynaud’s Disease. He prescribed some medicine to improve blood circulation.
While it did improve circulation, some unfortunate side effects had me lightheaded, walking around with bright red hands and feet, and sporting bloodshot eyes! I was done with the scary zombie look and quit the medicine until I could think of something better for my body.
A Whole Food Plant-Based Miracle
At this same time, I also struggled with cystic acne. This, coupled with my Reynaud’s, spurred me to investigate why I was experiencing inflammation in my body.
I researched my heart out about inflammation and how to reverse it. It all had to do with what I ate. I learned what foods cause inflammation and destruction and what foods reduced inflammation and nourished the body.
You literally are what you eat! Consequently, a Whole Food Plant-Based diet saved my health and here’s how I eased into it and the results that followed:
The first thing I did was get off caffeine. If I was going to get healthy, I thought I’d nip the Dr. Pepper/Mountain Dew addiction right where it needs it. It was one of the hardest things to let go, but the mental clarity and energy I got from it was amazing!
Once I was confident that caffeine wouldn’t be a part of my life anymore, I stopped eating meat. Living in TX where steak and BBQ reigns supreme, this idea is a cultural abomination! But when I did stop, I felt lighter and my pain started to decrease. Honestly, this wasn’t too hard for me because I was never a huge meat eater or craver.
The second next step was to go dairy-free and all animal product-free. I knew this would be more challenging because come on… CHEESE! Chips and queso, pizza, and basically any form of melted cheese was a consistent weakness of mine. I also loved to bake and cook with butter, milk, heavy cream, eggs, and all of that dairy goodness.
Although it was initially hard to navigate life without cheese, I learned how to avoid dairy AND be satisfied without it. Quitting dairy produced the fastest and biggest results for my body because dairy was the fastest and biggest source of inflammation.
After going dairy-free, my hand pain virtually disappeared and my cystic acne became non-existent! I don’t have to stop tasks because my hands hurt. For example, I can scrape ice off of my car without tears. I can hold my instrument and open jars without too much strain. My hands are consistently WARM now because I’m not gumming up my body with harmful inflammatory foods. But best of all, I no longer think about how my hands ache and wish for a cure!
In conclusion, a whole food plant-based diet is perfectly designed to reduce inflammation and to reverse/manage lifestyle diseases.
I hope you are encouraged to finally make changes for your own health or that it leaves you wanting to research more about a whole food plant-based lifestyle and its benefits. This story of healing is one of many that I have experienced since becoming aware of what I put into my body, and I can’t wait to share more with you!
What are you hoping to remedy with a whole food plant-based lifestyle? Let’s talk in the comments below!