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Almunus suffers ulcerative colitis, finds natural remedies

[/media-credit] Alumnas Spencer Lee speaks about his ailment and discovery of natural remedies.

Alumnus Spencer Lee, ’10, graduated from Biola University and now attends Fresno State in the physical therapy school.

College life was all fun and games until the spring of 2013. It was at that time, during the concluding months of my sophomore year at Biola, that I developed severe ulcerative colitis, a devastating autoimmune disease that attacks the large intestine.

My main side effects included a daily dose of intense abdominal cramps, extreme fatigue, 12-15 episodes of diarrhea and chronic lightheadedness. A colonoscopy found hundreds of bleeding ulcers in the large intestine, and I was left devastated.

Throughout the acute phase of my illness, my mom provided a huge support base to me and frantically searched for solutions by investigating online articles, books, magazines and talking to various healthcare professionals and other individuals with ulcerative colitis. We knew the disease affected the digestive system, thus it seemed obvious that I needed to change my diet.

Two different diet plans, both of which recommended high animal protein and low carbohydrate intake, failed to improve my health condition. Frustrated and in extreme pain, I visited my doctor and demanded that he provide stronger medication to suppress my uncontrolled colitis symptoms. He promptly recommended an immunoglobulin intravenous (IGIV) treatment known as Remicade, which is administered via an IV for 3 hours once every 2 months.

Remicade proved to be very effective, and allowed me to return to Biola for the fall 2013 semester. However, the drug came with side effects of its own, among which were a heavily suppressed immune system, lethargy, bloating, and increased appetite. In addition, long term exposure to Remicade drastically increases the risk of colon cancer.

I returned to school that fall, and began eating in the cafeteria again. My appetite was so stimulated by the medication that my regular breakfast would consist of 4-5 eggs with cheese, 2 large pieces of sourdough toast with butter and jam, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 sausage patties, a heap of hash browns, a side of ketchup, and a glass of orange juice.

After nearly a year on the medication, my condition was stable but still I did not feel optimal. In May 2013, I developed an allergic reaction to Remicade and began to break out in hives each time I received the treatment.

In order to combat the reaction, my doctor switched me over to a different medication, Humira. This drug worked similarly to Remicade, the main difference being I was able to administer it myself by injecting it into my thigh once every two weeks. On the downside, Humira was very expensive and quite painful as well.

One night, as I went to inject myself, I was especially nervous of the pain it would cause. I placed the shot on my thigh, but withdrew it out of fear. However, my hand was still on the trigger, and I accidentally shot it on the floor instead of into my leg.

At that moment, a life-changing realization occurred. It was as if a light bulb went off in my mind, and I immediately knew I had to get off this drug.

During the fall of 2014, my mom had been constantly emailing me articles and videos showing the healing effects of a whole foods plant-based diet, a way of eating that she had recently adopted. This diet entails a steady menu of whole, unrefined, and minimally processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, rice and other grains, beans, potatoes, nuts and seeds, oatmeal and tofu.

A whole food plant-based diet discourages the consumption of animal products of any kind including chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. To top it all off, refined foods such as salt, oil, sugar, and bleached flour are not recommended on this diet.

Not being one to do things half-heartedly, I switched my diet completely, without a transition phase, on Nov. 1, 2013. What happened next astonished me.

Over the course of the next several months I began to feel better than ever as my symptoms all but disappeared. My body composition drastically changed for the better, my energy levels increased significantly, and I felt invigorated and renewed.

In April of this year, I began to feel so good that I called my doctor and told him I had decided to discontinue my medication. He was fiercely opposed to the idea and told me that I needed to stay on it for the rest of my life. However, I went off Humira anyway, which greatly improved my immune system, provided me with extra energy, saved me a large sum of money in medical expenses, and most importantly drastically reduced the long-term risk of colon cancer.

Since going off Humira in April, I am still symptom free and thriving. This past summer, I cycled 75 miles per week, rock climbed 3-4 times per week, lifted weights nearly every day, frequently went hiking, and played regular games of pickup basketball.

In addition, since going off the medication, I have climbed Mt. Whitney in the Inyo National Forest (which at 14,505? is the highest point in the continental United States), and also Half Dome (16 miles roundtrip) and El Capitan (17 miles roundtrip) in Yosemite National Park. This type of activity level is essentially unheard of for ulcerative colitis patients, many of whom struggle just to leave their homes.

If any doubters still remain as to the healing effects of a whole foods plant-based diet, consider this: ulcerative colitis is aggravated by stress due to the vast central nervous system innervation of the large intestine. Despite this, I am currently over a month into physical therapy school at Fresno State, and am carrying a 19-unit load, while still feeling great.

My illness and recovery inspired me to earn a certification in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), and I desire to inspire and educate others who are struggling with ulcerative colitis and other debilitating diseases such as heart disease cancer, diabetes, and many other ailments. Chronic disease is preventable, and a better quality of life is just a diet-change away.

Follow The Feather via Twitter: @thefeather.

For more opinions, read the Nov. 7 column, COLUMN: Past iniquities influence the future

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