I Followed These 4 Steps To Heal My Adrenal Fatigue & Hormone Imbalance

Photo: Cameron Whitman

Everyone's wellness journey is unique. Mine spans the globe. As the founder of Hormones Balance living in Boulder, Colorado, my path to health started in Poland and took me across eastern Europe, to Venezuela, and to the U.S. I've learned so much about my body and holistic healing in the process that I wish I had known sooner.

I was born in Poland in 1973 to a highly strung and anxious mother who smoked during her pregnancy. The birth was complicated and resulted in the doctor displacing my hips—something that resulted in my just having gone through bilateral hip replacement. I was never breastfed because nurses persuaded my mom that synthetic powdered milk was more nutritious than her own.

During the first month of my life, I ended up at a hospital with pneumonia and a round of antibiotics.

For the first year of my life, I cried relentlessly (an enduring family joke), probably because of digestive discomfort and hip pain. As you can tell, mine was a pretty rough start in life, with highly compromised gut health and a very weak immune system. Today, we know that children who are not breastfed have low levels of healthy bifidobacterium in their guts, suffer from chronically low bacterial diversity (which is very important for achieving digestive health), and are more prone to developing autoimmune diseases.

As a young child, my arms were covered with eczema, and I had chronic ear infections.

I don’t remember much from when I was 5 years old, but I do remember being taken to the hospital for ear drainage every month. What Mom didn’t know back then was that I had a high food intolerance to eggs, dairy, and gluten that I think was caused by my weak gut microflora from birth.

To add fuel to the fire, we lived through the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Eastern Europe still has the highest rates of thyroid diseases per capita in the world. Since I didn’t know about the connection between food sensitivities and my health, I continued eating foods that contributed to inflammation, and the symptoms evolved during my young adulthood (which is very common) into PMS; irregular periods; cystic acne on my face, back, and butt; daily migraines; sinus infections (and yes, as a young adult I took many antibiotics for that); vaginal infections; and energetic slumps that warranted mandatory afternoon naps.

Fed up with the cystic acne, since this was the one visible and annoying symptom that no 25-year-old woman would want, I read online that gluten could be the cause. Mind you, back in 1997 such information was rare and revolutionary. Coupled with some food intolerance tests, I quit eating gluten, dairy, and eggs, and the majority of my symptoms went away. I was fascinated and encouraged.

In 2008, my health started collapsing. I was experiencing recurring anxiety attacks (for the first time in my life), memory loss, severe fatigue, insomnia, and foul mood swings. I became a person I did not recognize: bitter, impatient, snappy, and moody. I would cry for no reason. I was lucky to be quickly diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, given my history of hyperthyroidism eight years earlier. But no resources were available to help me understand the cause, let alone learn about any treatment. My Western doctor looked at my file and announced, "Of course you’re tired; you’re 36 years old." Since my thyroid markers were "normal" and my antibodies were sky high (more than 1,000 IU/mL when they should be below 30 IU/mL), I was sent home with no treatment options. I was in shock. A Venezuelan friend, the only other person I knew who had thyroid issues, had an integrative doctor, and I seriously contemplated taking a 24-hour, $8,000 flight to Caracas to get some answers. That’s how desperate I was.

Instead, since I lived in Shanghai, I started seeing a traditional Chinese medicine doctor who helped me get my antibodies down by half. However, she was not familiar with autoimmunity, so my recovery plateaued.

I also had many of the symptoms of adrenal burnout (such as feeling tired and wired, moody, overly emotional, lightheaded when getting up from a sitting position), and estrogen dominance (horrible PMS, lumpy boobs, water retention in the limbs), but I didn’t know at that time what these conditions were.

On a deeper level, I also started questioning my life’s purpose. I worked as a regional strategic planner for an online advertising agency, and even though I worked on iconic, major international brands, I started feeling agitated that I was using my brains and talent to get people to buy stuff they didn’t really need or want through the use of fear or unrealistic aspirations. A brief from a client in which my job was to develop a marketing strategy to encourage young women to use skin-whitening products to boost their self-confidence and self-esteem finally was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was sickened and became determined to devote my intelligence and energy to better causes.

I moved to the United States and started nutrition school right away. Deep in my heart I knew I was going to recover and reverse my own body’s attack on the thyroid; all I needed was organic food, clean air, less stress and travel, and more sleep. When I first quit my job, I slept for 12 to 14 hours every day for three months straight. I didn’t know what adrenal burnout was, but I had enough inner wisdom to just let my body do what it needed.

I started my nutrition practice in 2010, and by then I had regained much of my health. Everything I did to help myself can be found in my new book, Cooking for Hormone Balance. The key steps were:

1. Changing my diet.

I eliminated my food triggers, which in my case were gluten, dairy, and eggs. I also switched to organic-only food and added heaps of nutrient-dense foods such as livers, cruciferous veggies, and fermented foods such as miso and sauerkraut.

2. Liver and heavy metal detoxification.

I've done a number of liver detoxes (through fasting and vegetable juicing) and a heavy metal detox to get rid of the excess mercury and lead (probably got it from living in China; it's a common problem there). I also changed all my skin care and housecleaning products to nontoxic brands, or I would DIY them.

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3. Addressing infections.

I had a number of infections from parasites, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), H. pylori (a stubborn bacteria that inhibits stomach acid production)—I worked with a functional doctor and a number of herbal protocols to get rid of them.

4. Learning to handle stress.

I resigned from the regional job in China and asked for a transfer to the United States to slow down and be able to live in a more nourishing environment. I started paying more attention to self-care and got off caffeine 100 percent, as I felt like it was ruining my health.

And I wish I could tell you that the rest is history. But I continue uncovering new issues and challenges even though I live the clean life I teach. The four years I spent in China most likely caused heavy metal toxicity, which makes clearing Candida really hard. I’ve recently discovered (after many tests) that the bacterium H. pylori has been causing low stomach acid my whole life and most likely my predisposition to being nutritionally depleted and getting parasites. The latest testing technology has uncovered which pathogenic bacteria have been causing the gut dysbiosis (right after I took an unavoidable round of antiparasitic antibiotics) that are most likely the culprits behind a sudden oxalate sensitivity; foods high in oxalates, such as chocolate, spinach, and nuts, cause severely sharp pain in my hips. Oxalates can also be the cause of kidney stones, pelvic pain, and painful urination, among other things. As always, I’m determined to get to the bottom of it. What I have learned over the years is that our health is a journey, especially for those of us with difficult childhoods, past trauma, and undetected lingering infections.

This journey can be highly frustrating and unrewarding at times; after all, I’ve committed my life resources to healing, and I do not always get the results I hope for. Nevertheless, I’ve come to appreciate this journey, as with every obstacle comes deep understanding and discovery that others can learn and benefit from. What fascinates me equally is how this journey has armed me with the "soft" coping skills of patience and self-forgiveness. Without those, there will be no healing.

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