Healing gastrointestinal and inflammatory illness on a whole food plant-based diet

As a 30 year old sporty, energetic and sociable person I was taking my health for granted. I thought that chronic illness happened to other people. Then everything changed.

After an unfortunate series of antibiotic prescriptions and a period of poor diet, I started to have gut issues like I had never had before. This included constant bloating, severe constipation, abdominal pain, heartburn and more. I was eventually diagnosed with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in October 2017 and placed on herbal antibacterials and a low-FODMAP diet. When this didn’t help, my gastroenterologist prescribed a course of conventional antibiotics. But my issues only got worse. Despite continuing with the SIBO diet (which excludes lots of fruits and vegetables) and trying several supplements recommended by naturopathic practitioners, I still had no relief.

I then decided to try a of low carbohydrate diet, rich in eggs and meat. In March 2018, after a few months on this diet, I woke up one morning with a swollen and very painful finger. A month later, 2 fingers flared up. Then it was 4 fingers, pain in other joints, tendonitis and muscle weakness. My fingers also started to change colour from red to white with the cold temperature.

The doctors suspected rheumatoid or inflammatory arthritis and Raynaud syndrome. In the meantime, I was also diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) with over 50 follicles, a feature of this condition, in one ovary. Additional symptoms at the time included, tingling and numbness in my hands and feet and insomnia.

I was offered long term medication for the arthritis, but this was not a path I wished to take. I started to search for answers myself, believing there must be a natural way to heal.

The turning point was my discovery of the health benefits of a natural, low fat whole food plant-based diet (gluten free), herbs and spices and the power of pure, fresh celery juice on empty stomach. I began this diet in October 2018 and my health has finally started to improve. After a few months my gastrointestinal symptoms had improved immensely — no more heartburn, stomach pain or constipation — and the bloating reduced significantly (celery juice was a great help here!). After a year on a whole food plant-based diet, I have no signs or symptoms of arthritis or PCOS. In fact, my latest ultrasound scan in October 2019 showed completely normal ovaries.

Bloating due to SIBO

So what were the key elements of my diet? This is what has worked for me. For breakfast, celery juice and lots of fruit, including a daily portion of wild blueberries. For lunch, a big salad with lots of leafy greens and raw vegetables and for dinner, a cooked meal with lots of vegetables. I have included many anti-bacterial foods and herbs such as raw garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, sage, cloves and cinnamon. I have avoided processed oils, gluten, soya, table sugar and all processed foods. I keep the diet low in fat, only including small amounts of nuts and avocado. I drink plenty of herbal infusions, including mint, nettle, lemon balm and camomile. Other important components of the healing process for me were relaxation, social support, contact with nature and good quality sleep.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, with many ups and downs during the healing process, including flare ups of symptoms, tiredness, doubts and lack of faith in the process. But it was all so worth it. Our body can heal. We just need to give it time, the right fuel, the right conditions and loads of compassion.

I promised myself that if I manage to heal naturally, I will try to help others do the same. Now, I am a certified Nutritional Therapist and a member of Plant- based health professionals UK. I am helping others introduce dietary changes for health improvement as I believe everyone deserves a vibrant, healthy and beautiful life. ❤

Agnieszka Gavio, November 2019