Today’s guest post is from my good friend Tara Grant, truly a budding superstar in the Primal/paleo/ancestral health movement. Tara started out as a success story (“Tons of Doctors and No Solution” – one of the most visited stories in our entire archive; and also on the pages of the The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation), and has leveraged her Primal success (she went from 245 lbs to 159 lbs in around 18 months in ’09-’10) like few others: She’s a veteran PrimalCon presenter, has delivered numerous Primal Blueprint Transformation Seminars, and recently completed a remarkable book called The Hidden Plague, which details the painful and poorly understood skin condition of Hidradenitis supprativa (HS).
Tara has become an underground legend in the online autoimmune community for helping people solve frustrating skin conditions such as HS (and assorted other autoimmune issues) with a methodically designed diet-based protocol that identifies trigger foods and promotes natural healing of the digestive tract and immune system. Her post today might resonate with many of us who deal with mild to significant skin issues the traditional way (lotions, potions, creams, prescriptions) with less than stellar results. For example, I flipped a copy of her food restriction protocol to a friend of mine who’s suffered from psoriasis and been under medical care for 40 years…She reported immediate and dramatic improvements after following Tara’s protocol. Enjoy Tara’s post and learn more about the book below…
I have been sick for as long as I can remember—except that I didn’t actually realize I was sick until I was in my mid-thirties. Before that, my baseline notion of health was what it was, and I was basically living in acceptance as a miserable, suffering human. When I switched to a Primal Blueprint eating style in 2009, a lot of the chronic conditions I thought were “normal” suddenly vanished. I was left with a feeling of health and vitality that, frankly, I wasn’t used to. I didn’t realize that human beings could actually feel this good, or that I could actually look good like the fortunate few!
I used to have quite a lot wrong with me, including PCOS, IBS, endometriosis, massive mood swings, joint pain, and depression. As bad as those problems were, issues with my skin trumped them all and caused me considerable psychological damage. I suffered from cystic acne—both as a teenager and as an adult, long after it was supposed to have stopped. I had mild eczema, chicken skin on my upper arms, mysterious hives and rashes, and itching from head to toe. My skin would get inexplicably dry and cracked, especially on my feet and legs. I suffered from ingrown hairs in my nose, on my scalp, and anywhere I decided I wanted to shave. I was riddled with inflammation, and my skin broadcast the tale for the world to see. I felt eighty years old. I hurt. I was sick. I hated my life and I wanted to die.
Something told me that living in constant pain and misery wasn’t what nature had intended for us as a species. I knew I could get better, but I didn’t know how. Everyone around me was “sick” too—even the doctors I went to see. In an attempt to fix myself, I became a serial patient—I saw over forty doctors in four different countries when I was working for NATO. Each doctor attempted to treat my individual symptoms, as if the symptoms were the problem – instead of just…symptoms…of a bigger issue. Nothing they tried ever worked. I spent thousands of dollars on antibacterial and acne products, to no avail. I took any and all medication I was offered, hoping that the answer was in the latest pill, and being constantly disappointed. None of the forty medical doctors ever suggested a connection to diet or made any recommendations about my diet.
During this time, the worst problem I had with my skin (and this is one I never told anyone about) was a condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa, or HS for short. I suffered from HS for over 20 years, with no more than a couple months respite from the horrible pain. Doctors were stumped when I mentioned the symptoms of this condition to them. Typically, I was told I would need to make another appointment, or that they simply didn’t know what was wrong with me. Although the condition got drastically better when I started eating Primally, it didn’t fully go away. I still flared-up from time to time, for no apparent reason. I knew I was on the right track with my diet modifications, and I made it my mission to somehow solve my last and most painful lingering problem, no matter what it took.
HS manifests as painful boils, deep-seated lumps, and acne-like lesions in inverse areas of your body—that means anywhere skin touches skin. In severe cases, or when inflammation is extreme, any hair follicle on your body is fair game. In order to really bring this concept home, let’s play a thought exercise. Take the worst breakout you ever had as a teenager. Now, turn it into a boil and make it the size of a golf ball. Where shall we place it? How about your groin? Armpit? Under your breast, on your scalp, the back of your neck, or on your testicles? Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? Now, let’s add in the unfortunate fact that this boil (let’s say it’s in your groin) takes approximately two months (or longer) to go away. While it’s healing, it leaks and oozes both pus and blood, gets even more inflamed and painful, and has a huge chance of becoming infected. Forget about your sex life or that tropical holiday you had planned. You don’t want anyone to see you—or touch you—during this time. Right as the boil is starting to fully drain and heal, another one pops up right next to it, starting the whole damn cycle over again. Unfortunately, this is what people with HS deal with on a daily basis. HS is classified as one of the most painful diseases you can have—and doctors will tell you that there’s no cure. There isn’t even a standardized treatment or medication that works. Sufferers leave the doctor’s office with little to no hope that their condition will ever get better.
There are different stages to HS, and in stage one the sufferer may not even know they have an actual “disease.” They may think they just have weird ingrown hairs in their armpit or their nose, or zits on their butt. People that do go to the doctor usually leave with a diagnosis of: “Keep yourself cleaner, here are some antibiotics.” About once or twice a year, people with stage one HS will experience some sort of strange painful lump, zit or boil that will linger for a while and then mysteriously go away. They usually don’t even think to go to a doctor about it.
Until the disease progresses, that is. When HS reaches stage two and three, there’s no escaping or denying it anymore—that’s when the golf ball-sized boils come into play. This doesn’t happen without intense inflammation, which fortunately a Primal Blueprint eating, exercise, and lifestyle pattern help protect against substantially.
You’ve probably never heard of HS, and I’m not surprised. Those of us that do have it often don’t like to talk about it. It’s super embarrassing, and we’ve been made to feel ashamed of ourselves. According to HS-USA, an online support group, there are upwards of 12 million people with HS in the United States alone, and a huge portion of this number are suffering in silence. That’s more people than are living with HIV and AIDS. HS isn’t an American problem, either. I’ve heard from people as far away as Finland, Thailand, India, and Australia who are afflicted, and who are struggling to find help.
Although you may not have heard of HS before, I guarantee that you know at least one person with it. They may not talk to you about it, or even know what it is that they have. Many people live with HS for years without ever seeing a doctor, or even telling anyone about it. HS is closely linked to depression, and sufferers may cut themselves off from friends and family in an attempt to isolate themselves. They may even attempt suicide.
When you’re in pain, it’s hard to sacrifice something that gives you pleasure, like food. But, truthfully, I am trying this because I’m at the end of my rope. I wake up some mornings and wish I had died in my sleep. I cross the street and wish that a bus would hit me just so I wouldn’t feel pain anymore. Constantly being told there’s no cure has made me seriously consider killing myself. I am a very motivated, productive, hardworking guy … so I want to try and work this out.
SJ – Toronto Canada
Conventional wisdom and the medical community are completely stumped as to what causes HS, and even how to treat it. Sufferers are subjected to pharmacological experiments and barbaric surgeries. These treatments invariably fail to work and sometimes the patient is left worse off than they were before they went to the doctors. Unfortunately, many doctors still believe that bacteria causes HS and they advise patients to keep themselves cleaner and to take a daily course of antibiotics. Some doctors even tell their patients to bathe in bleach.
Because HS can resemble several sexually transmitted diseases (depending on where it shows up), and sufferers are led to believe that they’re “dirty,” most people with HS are incredibly embarrassed and afraid to open up, in fear that they may be judged. They have often given up hope that their condition will ever get better—or may be in denial that there is a problem in the first place. There is incredible misinformation about HS out there, and sufferers often fall for scams in a desperate attempt to find help, or make themselves sick by using home remedies that are downright medieval.
So, the short answer is that no one knows about HS because no one talks about it, there’s no research being done (except to see how we react to different drugs), and most people aren’t even aware that there’s a problem. I suffered from HS for over 20 years, with no more than two months in between flare-ups and I never mentioned it to anyone. But guess what folks: I’ve been in remission now for over two full years. Not only that, but the disease also retreated from severe stage two to mild stage one during the three years before that—at the exact same time I went Primal. Altogether, I’ve been on the mend for five years. I was told this was impossible by the medical community, and told I had no options other than resigning myself to pain and suffering. This simply isn’t true, and I’ve decided to speak out about it. This condition needs a spokesperson, some better PR, and a lot of doctors need to get a freakin’ clue. I healed and reclaimed my health all by myself. I didn’t use any creams, or take antibiotics, or have surgery. I simply changed my diet and healed my intestinal tract, which was severely damaged on account of following a Standard American Diet for decades. Whether you’re suffering from severe stage three and confined to a bed, or you’re simply bothered by the lumps under your breasts or in your armpit, The Hidden Plague can help. Understanding the true cause of your skin problems is incredibly empowering, because you can use this information to heal yourself.
We’ve all had a pimple at some point. Quite a few of us have even had acne that’s been embarrassing, or problems with ingrown hairs, zits on our scalps, or even little bumps on our upper arms. It’s easy to forget just how sick we used to be back in the SAD old days. Even though we’ve (hopefully) become fat-burning beasts, have energy for days, and look amazing in a swimsuit, I would go so far as to estimate that about 50 percent of us on a standard Primal or paleo diet still have some sort of issue with our skin. Inflammatory skin problems seem to be the last symptoms standing for many of us and they’re so friggin’ frustrating. Even when we cheat a tiny bit with food indulgences, we get hit like a freight train. Many of us chock this up to hormone imbalances, but the truth of the matter is that it’s more likely any skin condition you’re still experiencing after going Primal is autoimmune. That means you also have a leaky gut and probably have something called dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance in your digestive tract).
Here’s a shocker that you might want to sit up and pay attention to: It’s quite likely that some or many seemingly “safe” Primal-approved foods are aggravating your condition, or keeping you from fully healing.
Rarely do we connect what we eat to the state of our skin. However, once that connection is made it can be a wonderful awakening. It allows us to break free from the unproductive relationship many of us have found ourselves in with traditional dermatological and medical care; it puts the power to heal ourselves back in our own hands.
The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, or the AIP for short, is a stricter version of the Paleo diet. Created by Robb Wolf to help heal a leaky gut (and therefore autoimmunity), the AIP removes certain foods like nightshades and eggs for a certain period of time, and then reintroduces them to see if there’s a reaction. Many people are able to heal themselves simply doing a strict AIP for 30 days, finding out what triggers them and then avoiding those foods in the future. A standard AIP works great for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis. However, there are still a number of us with inflammatory skin issues that don’t see complete relief with the AIP. That’s where my Skin Protocol (detailed in The Hidden Plague) comes in to play. If you experience autoimmune reactions like itching, boils, and acne that the standard AIP doesn’t take into account, you may benefit from further dietary restrictions. Unresolved issues like eczema, rashes, acne related to your period, dandruff, even headaches, can all be helped using the information in The Hidden Plague.
It took me three years to really nail down my triggers because I didn’t keep a food journal. I wasn’t very scientific when I first started out—but when I started seeing results I needed to be able to replicate them. The flare-ups seemed to be so random sometimes, but I knew deep down that there was a pattern. As soon as I started writing things down, that pattern became visible and I was able to connect a lot of dots. I’m hoping that by following the step-by-step protocol in The Hidden Plague you’ll be able to nail down your triggers in a couple of months.
The Primal Blueprint 90-day Journal can be really helpful in this journaling process, because it prompts you to take a big picture view of numerous diet, exercise and lifestyle variables that affect your energy level, mood, cognitive performance, physical performance, and status of health problems (such as an assortment of skin issues or autoimmune issues). Many people don’t know where to start when it comes to journaling, and thus might find motivation wavering. I strongly recommend taking a 90-day period of your life and recording all the data that you are directed to in the 90-Day Journal. If you happen to have annoying skin issues or other autoimmune issues, The Hidden Plague provides a detailed plan for how to find out what is triggering flare-ups in you and how to stop them. The book contains a complete Skin Protocol diet, as well as a guide to reintroduction after your restriction phase ends. You’ll learn what really causes inflammatory skin conditions, what a leaky gut is, how autoimmunity works, and how to put an autoimmune condition into remission. We’ve even got some autoimmune friendly basic recipes to get you started, including tomato-free pizza sauce and ketchup.
I want to leave you with the idea that you don’t have to suffer in silence, that you have other options besides the mainstream medical care protocol, and that you are obligated to take responsibility for your health. “Trusting your gut” is better than blindly following along with the many dietary and lifestyle practices that can destroy your health if you are not careful, or not lucky.
Mark here. First off, many thanks to Tara for sharing her very personal story with us today. When I first heard it myself, and then learned more about HS and the numerous clients she has helped overcome this autoimmune disease, I knew I wanted to help spread this important message – especially because it is so often misdiagnosed and misunderstood by the conventional medical community.
Today, I’m pleased to be able to officially announce the release of The Hidden Plague through Primal Blueprint Publishing. As per Mark’s Daily Apple tradition, I’ve put together a special limited-time offer to order this book direct from PrimalBlueprint.com before it goes on sale to the general public. It expires on Saturday, Nov. 30, 11:59 pm PST.
The 90-Day Journal is the perfect companion to Tara’s new book. It will help you track, identify, and eliminate trigger foods and behaviors, so you can begin to heal your digestive tract and immune system and end your suffering once and for all.
If you have struggled with mystery skin problems including autoimmune reactions like itching, boils, rashes and acne this book was written for you. As Tara indicated, this could be a sign that you have leaky gut and a microbial imbalance in your digestive tract, and this book can help you resolve those issues. So order your copy today and take advantage of this special free book offer. And if you know someone who you think could benefit from this book please don’t hesitate to pass this article on to them. It could be life-changing.
Read an excerpt of The Hidden Plague
Many thanks to everyone that purchases one or more copies of The Hidden Plague over the next couple weeks. Tara Grant and the entire Primal Blueprint Publishing team and I appreciate your support and hope that this new book will touch your lives just as Mark’s Daily Apple and previous Primal Blueprint books may have in the past. Grok on!