Nissa is one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met. She’s calm, witty, energetic and a small tight ball of passion. Her eyes sparkle, as if they are about to tell you a secret story.
She also happens to have been diagnosed with M.S. at the age of 24, and has managed to reverse these symptoms.
Nissa is a qualified Naturopath, and practices in NSW.
This is her story, as told to me.
1. What were the circumstances leading up to your diagnosis?
I had been travelling around Australia but I came home to Newcastle because my body felt weird. I had pins and needles in my whole body, I couldn’t walk straight, half of my face had dropped and was tingling and I was terrified that I had experienced a stroke.
I went to an after hours doctor surgery and was admitted to emergency that night.
A few days later after many tests I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 24.
I didn’t really know what that meant, but I had visions of wheelchairs and I was terrified.
2. What was that diagnosis like for you emotionally?
I had done the M.S fun run in high school, but that was the extent of my knowledge of M.S. I didn’t know anyone else with M.S, so I feared the worse.
Many questions went through my head; will this kill me?
Do I get better after this? Will I be in a wheelchair soon? Do I have to change my life plans?
3. Were you always “healthy” before your diagnosis, or did you need to make some lifestyle changes?
I grew up in the country on a farm with big vegie gardens and I was a healthy kid. However in my early twenties my body started to feel ‘weird’. I remember having showers where the water hurt my skin; I also remember getting such bad vertigo and dizziness that I admitted myself to emergency when I was 19.
4. Where did you look for healing advice?
After struggling with M.S relapses for a few years and being in and out of hospital too many times I had a cathartic moment when I decided that my life has to get better than this.
At the time I was taking medication, and was under the care of neurologists and M.S specialists but I was still sick. So I started doing some research myself.
I had heard about ‘The Overcoming M.S’ book by fellow M.S sufferer and medical researcher George Jelinek so I ordered the book, went to the retreat and implemented the evidence based diet and lifestyle approaches recommended.
This whole process gave me the most important medicine I had not come across yet – hope.
Hope that I could get better, that I could run again, that I could live a full and healthy life. I read countless stories of people around the world reversing their symptoms of M.S using diet and lifestyle changes and living well! I thought- I can do this. I must do this. I need to survive.
At this stage I started studying to be a naturopath so I could better understand how to heal myself.
5. What were the specific steps you took?
I learnt to meditate daily, I started taking vitamin D, started a gratitude diary, I removed gluten and dairy from my diet, I started to exercise more, and I committed to the Wahls diet; a Paleo eating plan of 9 cups of fruit & vegies daily.
As I started experimenting with changing my diet, following nutritional medicine protocols and lifestyle changes I started to feel better!
The Wahls’ diet protocol involves eating:
- 3 cups daily of green leaves, such as kale and rocket or garden greens, which are high in vitamins B, A, C, K, and minerals.
- 3 cups daily of sulfur-rich vegetables from the cabbage and onion families, as well as mushrooms, and asparagus.
- 3 cups daily of brightly colored vegetables, fruits, and/or berries, which are a good source of brain protective antioxidants.
- Wild fish for animal-based omega-3s three times weekly.
- Meat from grass-fed animals as a source of B vitamins, and omega-3s.
- Organ meats for vitamins, minerals, and CoQ10 weekly.
- Seaweed for iodine and selenium daily. (Ask your GP to assess your thyroid function before adding iodine to your diet.)
I have now been off medications and symptom free for five years.
I simply have my life back.
I can run, dance, work, have lots of energy and am in great health. I now work at ‘Inspirational Health’ clinic in Newcastle. My story of recovery has been published in Terry Wahls 2015 book ‘The Wahls Protocol’-A radical new way to treat all chronic autoimmune conditions using Paleo principles.
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6. What were the mindset challenges you faced?
As I was going through my recovery I found a fabulous book called ‘The Healing Code’ by Dermot O’Connor. Dermot had also been diagnosed with M.S, and today is in great health. I used his exercises on ‘the psychology of health recovery’ to get me through my down times.
Using his exercises I learnt to envision a future where I was well and healthy- in my vision I am walking down the beach at 80 years old (not in a wheelchair).
Confronting my fear of the future and implementing a positive healthy vision of my future was a huge step in my recovery.
7. How important has the health of your gut been on this process? And why?
Interestingly when I was sick with M.S I was also having issues with my gut. I noticed that whenever my I felt sick in the belly I experienced neurological symptoms such as headaches, migraines, dizziness and vertigo.
Research shows that there is a strong link between the gut and the brain. This is through a few complex mechanisms, including the health of our gut bacteria- the gut micobiome.
Eighty percent of the human immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. Alongside it are the trillions of symbiotic bacteria, fungi and other single-celled organisms that make up our guts’ microbiomes.
Excitingly, emerging research suggests that it is the health or dysfunction of this gut microbiome that influences the autoimmune attack on the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves in M.S. The microbiome theory is gaining so much steam in academia that a coalition of four U.S. research centers called the MS Microbiome Consortium recently formed to investigate the role of gut microorganisms in the disease.
“The gut is well-positioned for an important role in the development of autoimmune disease, including M.S.,” says Ilana Katz Sand, an assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and member of the MS Microbiome Consortium.
8. What steps have you taken to nourish your gut?
As I changed my diet, removed all sources of gluten, boosted my intake of vegies and added fermented foods, such as kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut into my life I started to feel better. I now take a multi-strain probiotic supplement daily, and consume fermented foods regularly. If I stray from my diet both my gut upset and my M.S symptoms start to come back.
Here are some last dietary tips to start your recovery:
- Remove all sources of gluten from your diet to both protect your brain and reduce autoimmunity.
- Add antioxidant rich foods to your diet such as blueberries, green tea, turmeric, and cocoa daily to protect your body from the damage of MS, reduce brain fog, and improve mental clarity.
- Add fermented foods to your diet (such as sauerkraut, kefir, miso or kimchi) to support the complex link between healthy gut bacteria and the brain.
- Eat rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, chia, and flaxseeds to reduce inflammation.
This has really prompted me to look even closer at my diet to see how I can start to do even more work. You can get into contact with Nissa via her website.