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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 03 2015

Breathing Easy with a Primal Lifestyle

By Guest
57 Comments

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

real_life_stories_stories-1-2My name is Ryan and I am a 35 year old father of two beautiful daughters, ages three and nearly two. I am also a loving husband to an amazing wife who has been an amazing support to me over the years.

Ever since I was six weeks old, I have been in and out of hospital with severe, type two, brittle asthma. This form of asthma basically means that I can be fine one minute, and go into a major asthma attack the next without warning.

Throughout my years at school, I was reasonably healthy. I even played state level squash in Australia and trained five to six days a week. I was also an avid outdoors lover. On weekends that I was not playing squash in competitions, I was out hiking and camping before heading back into the classroom for school on Mondays.

When I was around 17, my asthma came back to haunt me. I had an acute asthma attack and spent two weeks in hospital and came out with a bucket load of medication. When I left school I became on outdoor instructor for a company named Outward Bound Australia, where I spent six years trekking through the bush with troubled youth on personal development programs. I did have the occasional asthma flare up during this time, but I also felt the best I had felt in a long time. I do put this down to breathing in the fresh air and being immersed in nature 24 hours a day.

Over the years since, my asthma progressively got worse. Over the last 10 years, I have spent one to tow months a year in hospital on respiratory wards and in and out of intensive care. I have been on every asthma medication under the sun prescribed by the “experts”.

As you can imagine, as I got older with work and family, this became extremely difficult. Not only does it physically knock you around because it takes months to get back to a so called “normal” lung volume, but it is also extremely hard emotionally.

As a male, there is always a little thought in the back of your head that you should be the “provider” in the family. If not financially, you should be the strong emotional “rock” that is always there for you wife/partner and kids to rely on. But with an illness such as asthma, it adds another level of complexity. You feel like you can’t be the so called “rock” that everyone talks about, as you never know when the next “flare up” is going to happen, when you will be back in hospital, and for how long. As such, you go through life always questioning, “When will I next be sick? Will I need to go to hospital? For how long will I be away from my family? Will everything be alright? Etc.”

IMG_2914My most recent hospitalisation was in September last year (2014). I spent two weeks in hospital with two days in intensive care with a C-pap mask (a mask that sits over your face and nose and forces oxygen into your lungs).

When I came out of hospital I weighed 115 kg. (Whenever you have an asthma flare up the docs put you straight onto steroids, which equals instant wait gain). In addition to the weight gain, my lung volume (FEV1) was at 47% of what my predicted lung volume for my height/weight and age should have been.

I had had enough of the constant weight gain, the cycle of hospitalisations, the specialist appointments, and, most importantly, missing my wife and two beautiful daughters.

I vaguely recalled hearing about a diet called paleo. As I do with a lot of questions I have, I put it out to Facebook land, to see if anyone I knew had tried going paleo/primal and what their experiences had been.

byron

To my surprise, there were a lot of haters out there who straight away told me not look into it any further because it was just a “fad diet” or “You can’t sustain it” or “It’s only a trend.”

These were actually the people that fueled my fire to look into the paleo/primal lifestyle more deeply. I was contacted by an old school friend, Pete, who wanted to catch up over a coffee and talk to me about the benefits that he had seen since he went paleo. Not only did he explain the benefits that he saw, he explained a bit about the inflammation that the SAD diet creates. Since asthma is an inflammatory disease, I thought I would look into it a bit more. Pete recommended The Primal Blueprint as the first book to look at, and he directed me to Mark’s Daily Apple. Well, I have not looked back since. I read The Primal Blueprint and trawled through Mark’s Daily Apple (and many other web sites). Every time I am asked about my journey, I recommend these two important resources straight away, as they had a huge part in my decision to lead a paleo/primal lifestyle.

In January 2015 I joined Pete’s gym, CrossFit WODen, to get some more physical activity to assist with the asthma—I love every minute of it. Not only do I love working out, I enjoy being part of a tribe with a similar mindset and view on lifestyle and diet.

The Good Stuff:

  1. I have dropped 17kg (37.5 lb)
  2. I have dropped four inches on the waist (although this is not the main reason I have gone paleo/primal, it’s an added bonus).
  3. I have A LOT more energy in the afternoons to play with my gorgeous daughters (even when they get me up at stupid o’clock in the morning!)
  4. I feel a lot better about myself
  5. I have a lot more confidence
  6. My Ventolin (reliever puffer) has gone from about 4-6 puffs a day to under two puffs a fortnight!
  7. My lung volume has gone from 47% of my predicted max (back when I got out of hospital in September) to 104% in my lung tests in January (my asthma specialist was very surprised and happy about this).

I have noticed that every time I stray from the primal foods, and move toward processed ones, my asthma symptoms come back. This gives me the additional motivation I need to continue with my journey.

IMG_1388The one thing that I am absolutely AMAZED with is how this happened in only four months! I could never have thought of how amazing life could be five months ago when I was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to tubes and monitors.

I am hoping to get my girls to start eating more paleo/primal foods in the future when I am 100% all over the paleo lifestyle (I’m still learning).

The real test will be to see how my asthma goes over winter (this is the worst time of the year for me) and also next summer when my physicians are looking to take me off the other medication to see if it has an effect.

In my mind, the paleo/primal lifestyle has had an amazing impact not only my weight and confidence, but, most importantly, my quality of life and my asthma. It gives me the opportunity to be a dad—not just a dad that sits down and watches his kids grow up, but a dad who activity plays, participates, runs around and teaches his kids about the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and a positive tribe to be a part of. I am extremely happy that I have started this journey and I am looking forward to every step of it.

IMG_2638

If you are thinking about adapting a paleo/primal lifestyle, I say GO FOR IT! The first few weeks are tough…but hey, it’s worth it and the benefits totally outweigh the negatives.

Ryan

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57 thoughts on “Breathing Easy with a Primal Lifestyle”

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  1. Wow! Way to go! I’ll be passing your tale on to my friend with (plain-old) asthma — and migraines {eye roll} — to see if I can entice her into waking up! Her husband is moving toward a paleo commitment (he lost 37 pounds in the first six months (starting with last year’s 30-day challenge); then backslid because she and their 11-yr-old keep the house just filled with junk food!

    1. Hi Elenor. Please, please, please share with anyone you know with asthma. I find that this is one condition that is not often mentioned with the primal lifestyle. There are a lot of benefits to be had for asthmatics as a lot of it is food sensitivities.

      All the best

      Ryan

      1. Thanks Ryan — when her husband did the primal challenge with me, she said… “when he loses 20 pounds, I’ll join….” {sigh} That was Jan 2014. He lost 37 — she wouldn’t play. (Alas, she still loses a couple days a month to migraines, and has to be careful with her allergies — dust and pollen bother her a lot. But — I’m waiting and not pushing (too much) to see if he and I can entice her over to the Light Side!)(Or is that the RIGHT side?!)

        I started really pushing him to go primal when they have me over for Thanksgiving (2013) — and after a (great) dinner, they all had ice cream for dessert (I passed) …. and then a hour later, they all had a SECOND serving of (different) ice cream! (I was — and am — horrified!!) She (and the daughter) still eat badly: croissants from a tube with dinner, ice cream and cookies after, spaghetti, noodles, buns, crackers, cookies, eesh! Makes it hard on him; esp. on those not-rare-enough occasions when he indulges, and the 11-yr-old pretty much dances on his head for cheating. (I’m trying to surreptitiously teach her that SUPPORTING him in finding his health is a better choice!) (She’s a great kid — just doesn’t know any better!)

        (My neighbors all call me (*mostly* fondly) “Dr. E.” — cause I’m, you know: “that” person:
        “Migraines? I’m so sorry you’re suffering! Have you looked into going grain-free?”
        “Mizzable cold? Yuck! That’s no fun: How’s your Vitamin D level? Are you taking enough?”
        “Back pain?” Have you watched Esther Gokhale’s Authors at Google lecture? Let me send you the URL — again!”)

        But everyone WAS amazed and impressed when my neighbor showed up 37 pound slighter and feeling WAY better! (Alas, I am not an advertisement for primal — still have thyroid issues, still no weight loss, {sigh} and “I never get colds” isn’t very visible! — but I could finally show them a success story for real!

        1. Hi! I am also that doctor!!! Just noticed what you said about thyroid issues and felt compelled to reply… About three weeks ago I started painting lugols 12% all over my tummy and or thighs… I can’t tell you, fat is literally melting off me. I am nursing too, normally can’t shift anything until over a year. Have dropped two dress sizes, the brain fog has cleared and my energy is back. Seriously, give it a try. I have been trying to lose weight for ages, no matter what I did nothing worked… I am now shrinking as I write this and by putting it on the skin you can’t over do it. I am also taking 3g of vit C and 3 Brazil nuts (for selenium) a day.

  2. That is incredible! It’s amazing how much of our physical ailments can be alleviated with just changes in diet.

    1. Thanks Zach. I will keep Mark updated and hopefully will have another success story here after the Australian winter.

      Ryan

  3. Wonderful story, thanks for sharing! The ‘haters’ really demonstrate and their doubting ‘unsustainable’ thinking demonstrate how toxic the food environment is on a social level. As long as we stick to our Primal guns and help bolster our community, we can provide a more encouraging environment for our friends and families to join us on our journeys!

    1. You have hit the nail on the head there Kyle. I’m all for growing the tribe and spreading the word.

      Ryan

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Like you, I have struggled with asthma and hospitalizations. The roller coaster of steroids and inhalers and medications and specialists had me feeling really hopeless. Unlike you, I developed adult asthma at the age of 25 and went from being an active dancer and performer to being hospitalized every winter (please let me know how your winter goes this year. Also, do you know why asthma is so much worse in the winter months??) and gaining 40 lbs in 4 years. I’m on my third month of primal with decreased symptoms, and down 20 lbs. Primal on, my friend! And best of luck to you!

    1. Dry air is presumably a good part of it. Also, if you have more indoor allergies than outdoor that won’t be helping either.
      Or maybe it is a vitamin D/ sunlight thing?

      1. Fascinating! I’ve always been afraid of a humidifier because of mold, but perhaps I should bite the bullet and try it out. I’ve never thought about it being a Vitamin D thing. Perhaps a supplement. Thanks, Alicia! You’ve given me some things to think about!

        1. Vit. D is super important and if your doctor isn’t on board with it you can order a test yourself from http://www.grassrootshealth.org to see what your levels are. They also have a chart with the recommended levels and dosage.

    2. Hi Erin, I hear you pain! It’s a crap condition to have but it’s up to us to make the most of it. I believe that my asthma is worse in winter because the cold air triggers the swelling of the smaller airways in the lungs.

      Keep up the good work on your journey. I will write back to Mark in a few months and let him know how I go.

      Ryan

  5. I LOVE stories like this that show how we can heal our bodies with our diet. Weight loss is wonderful but healing the body…incredible! Keep it going, Ryan!

    1. Hi Susan. thanks for your words. I feel that we are the master of our own destiny and we sometimes have to take some things into our own hands.

      Regards

      Ryan

  6. Ryan: Great story! I love it when the weight effects are secondary to all the health benefits. Don’t worry about being 100% primal — I say there is no time like NOW to start your beautiful daughters on the primal path. My husband and I started our journey by cutting out sugar, we didn’t know about primal yet, and were trying more of a low carb approach but did not involve our daughter. Later, we decided to “go paleo” and that included her too and have never looked back. It’s been nearly 3 years and we eat primal at home, and for her lunch, but she has whatever the snack is at school and other places out she does not eat primal. My observations is that she (now almost 6) does not “need”/want snacks like other kids often do because she is eating real food and is often not interested in “snacks”. She has much less interest in eating the “treats” at parties than other kids, most of it doesn’t taste good to her. She told my husband they had goldfish at school and he wanted to know what flavor. She told him there was only one flavor which was salty!

    Thanks for a great story and think about including your dauthers too!

    1. Hi Colleen,
      Good point, I should really get the girls started on the right path now. Awesome news about your little one eating primal and enjoying it. There are so many combinations of primal foods for kids these days that really I have no excuses. 🙂

      Ryan

  7. Sounds like time to stick it in the face of the folks out in Facebook land.

    1. Don’t you worry oxide, they hear from me almost daily about my journey this far. Ha ha ha

  8. What a great story!
    My daughter has asthma. I wish she were old enough to make responsible choices for her diet on her own, but since she is not, I keep her as primal as I can on my watch & let her make her own decisions when we’re out and about (e.g. church, friends houses, etc.) The longer we’ve been primal, the better choices I see her make. Maybe one day, like you, she will recognize the value of a healing diet.

    1. Hi Beth, you would be amazed how much good role modelling rubs off. Keep up your lifestyle and soon I am sure it will rub off more and more each day. Who knows, maybe she is already making smart choices when you are not around ????

      Ryan

  9. Great story! Happy for your success! I stumbled onto MDA and paleo after my kids were mostly grown. Wish I had discovered it 15 years ago. But wishing doesn’t do anything. I have seen great results myself. I am happy to share with people when they ask and they frequently do. The biggest take away for me was the significance of diet relative to exercise and the benefits of targeted high and lots of low intensity exercise vs “chronic cardio”. For me it has become a lifestyle change and not a religion. I make decisions based on primal considerations, but I am not ruled by them and the results have been terrific. With your history of asthma, I’ll bet you benefit more from stricter adherence. I am happy your kids are younger and will develop with a primal lifestyle and likely without too much awareness or desire for lesser alternatives.

  10. How wonderful! I, too, have suffered from asthma, though not as bad as Ryan had. About six months ago, I began transitioning to a primal/paleo diet in an effort to have more energy. While that worked, a very pleasant side effect was that I went from using my cortico-steroidal inhaler almost daily to an “emergency” inhaler…well, I can’t remember the last time I needed it. And while everyone around me is suffering through a miserable allergy season, I feel pretty good. I’m convinced. Thanks, Mark, for your fabulous advice and congratulations, Ryan, on improving your health and life!

    1. Awesome news about your meds Marci. It really does make a huge difference!!

      Ryan

  11. Ryan, great job. Those Facebook folks are the ones on a fad diet. Here is hoping the low fat, high carb disaster of an experiment ends soon.

    1. Rest assured the word’s getting around. Low fat, high carb is on the way out slowly (very slowly though) but surely. It will take probably a generation as it’s adherents either recognize it for the disastrous failure that it is, or die off whichever comes first.

  12. I’m also a lifelong asthmatic although mine is fairly mild. I used to use my rescue inhaler on a nearly daily basis and have respiratory infections(bronchitis, sinus infections) that required antibiotics four to six times a year. Even before Primal, I had the doc prescribe vitamin D and it made my asthma almost disappear in six months. I use a rescue inhaler once every couple months or so and usually because somebody wore obscene amounts of perfume. I still have things I’m allergic to, I just don’t react nearly so strongly.

    1. Hi Ingvildr,
      I too have heard that vitamin D is good for asthmatics. This is something I am yet to look into, but will be soon.

      All the best

      Ryan

  13. Another great testimonial to the primal lifestyle. Congratulations for connecting the dots and taking control of your health. It’s amazing how much damage we can do to our bodies by making SAD food choices. Good for you!

    1. Hi Nico and Ryan,

      I am working on my master’s for FNP and am currently taking a nursing research class. One of the articles I just reviewed for a paper was about using Butekyo breathing exercises to help with controlling asthma. The study was small but did have statistically significant data to support the breathing exercises. I believe further research is warranted, but I felt the breathing exercises were similar to Yoga breathing that I use for relaxation and improved lung capacity…two things which are important to everyone, but especially for people with asthma.
      Best Wishes,
      Rae

      Prasanna, K. B., Sowmiya, K. R., & Dhileeban, C. M. (2015). Effect of Buteyko breathing exercise in newly diagnosed asthmatic patients. International Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 5(1), 77-81. doi:10.4103/2230-8598.151267

    2. Thanks Nico.

      I will look into these and see if they may help

      Cheers and all the best

      Ryan

  14. Thank you for sharing Ryan. And continued good health to you and your family.
    Your story was just what I needed today as a fellow Australian and a fellow asthma and allergy sufferer.

    1. No worries Jane.

      Hit me up with any questions you have.

      All the best with your asthma over winter.

      Ryan

  15. Way to go Ryan. I am not asthmatic but have always had that response to cats (deadly), horses (I can tolerate some suffering for horses, it’s much milder) and running (exercised induced bronchio-spasms). I wonder, now that I am 70/30 paleo, how I would do with a cat around. I have lost weight, had my joint swelling decrease and missed half of the colds my family has brought home and my co-workers tried to give me. All that is wonderful, but a huge test would be the cats.

  16. Take a look at the Alternate Day Diet – it’s kind of like intermittent fasting but you restrict calories every other day and greatly reduce inflammation – the book talks about its amazing benefits for asthma suffers. Perhaps that or straight up fasting can further bolster your health. Good luck with your journey! I can’t imagine taking two months off of “life” every year. It’s amazing how much better you are already ad you said in such a short time.

    1. thanks Mumamiller3,

      I have heard alittle bit about the fasting and the benefits of it. I think I will have to read into it a bit more.

      Regards,

      Ryan

  17. That’s wonderful Ryan, keep going on the paleo/primal way of living.
    After going paleo 8months ago and eliminating all grains from my diet, my hay fever and asthma like symptoms have disappeared. Summer months were very hard for me with so much pollen around and those dust laden north winds in summer (I’m in Australia too) that I was living on Telfast and my doctor had also prescribed an asthma puffer. This summer I haven’t had to take the Telfast and haven’t used my puffer at all. My doctor was very interested to hear that and when I explained that I had gone paleo and eliminated all grains from my diet he understood what I was talking about. He picked up the correlation between eating wheat and other grains and asthma/hay fever immediately. I’ve also dropped 35lbs in weight which he was also happy about. My overall health has improved 100% since I went paleo and I can’t recommend it enough. Some people think I’m on some sort of crazy fad diet (and I’m rather crazy for doing it) but when I watch them scarfing down all that carbohydrate processed rubbish along with lots of cakes, sweet biscuits etc, it’s no wonder they are all very overweight and taking a handful of pills every day. They can’t understand why I can lose weight on a LCHF diet and take no medication of any kind.
    Mention of paleo makes their eyes glaze over.
    More power to you Ryan.

    1. Hi Pauline.

      Awesome that your doc has recognised that the inflamination of the SAD can cause inclination in the lungs “who would have thought”. I am lucky that my specialist understands what I am doing and has encouraged me to keep going. I must admit I do like stirring the pot and talking about it to everyone that asks what I’m doing.

      All the best with your journey,

      Ryan

  18. Awesome. Inflammation is the root of so many problems. Real Food, high natural fat, no grains, low carb just pummels inflammation.

    My allergies have gone away and for the first time in my life have stamina.

    Yeah for you and your entire family.

  19. Hi Ryan! I am exactly the same asthmatic as you, severe attacks since young childhood and frequent hospitalization, every steroid medication and inhaler under the sun for most of my life, and worsening during the winter months.
    Primal helped me a huge amount but really the last stretch for me to go completely off my inhalers altogether was the combo of vitamin D+omega 3 (twice a day)+milk thistle. As soon as I started taking those three supplements together with the primal diet it’s been like a miracle. I guess all the steroids really gunked up my liver and the milk thistle has been helping clean that all out. Give it a try!

  20. Ryan, congratulations on your dramatic recovery from asthma and discovering the powerful benefits of going primal! Keep up the great work. Cheers to you and your family.

  21. Way to go Ryan,
    A fellow Aussie! Summer allergies just made me miserable, and I used a nasal inhaler most of the year. Along with a whole host of other ailments this disappeared when I went primal. I hardly take an antihistamine these days. Will be sending this to a relative who has three lovely boys with asthma.
    Asthma is an inflammatory disease, and the standard diet is inflammatory it’s really a no brainer.

  22. Congratulations, Ryan. The longer you stick with this lifestyle, the better you will feel.

  23. As an adult, my asthma hasn’t landed me in the hospital often, but it has always been lurking. (I was in and out of oxygen tents as a small boy and landed in the I.C.U. as a teen).

    A primal/Paleo approach to eating has cut my asthma way back. Even better, my seasonal allergies are all but gone.

    I’m glad a fellow asthma sufferer has discovered the same. Will it work for all of us? I don’t know, but I wish it was something my parents had known to try, and I would hope doctors would suggest it to parents of asthmatics. As it was, I grew up eating lots of ice cream, and my Mom would buy me McDonald’s pancakes on the two mornings a week I had to go to the doctor for allergy shots. How different my young life could have been!

  24. Well done Ryan, a fellow Aussie!

    My husband who’s suffered lifelong hayfever has dropped grains and found that he has reduced the effect by about 50%. He still suffers on northerly wind days, but is pretty good the rest of the time. I’m on a reasonably strict primal diet, but he indulges in plenty of sugar still. He loves chocolate. I wonder what would happen if he dropped the sugar?

  25. Congratulations Ryan! Your story of overcoming such ruinous health challenges is totally totally inspirational. Long-awaited health & happiness to you & your family!
    I also wanted to post a link to a website i found to be incredibly clear, helpful & inspirational, for further info on primal & asthma. It details very clearly one man’s personal search & experimentation re his adult onset asthma, simple & from a humble & helpful perspective-what worked & didn’t for him:
    It is jdmoyer.com – look for his ‘asthma protocol’. The fish oils & vitamin D seem to have helped most. Breathe easy!

  26. Hey, Ryan, well done on your journey to health! A little bit of sleuthing (Australia, CrossFit WODen) has me guessing you’re in Canberra. If I’m right, I’d love to catch up for a coffee. Us Primal folk always have tales to share.

  27. I am a pediatric respiratory therapist and the link between diet and asthma is so fascinating to me. Most doctors seem to not even consider the possibility that diet can affect asthma symptoms. I would love to read more about this if anyone has any links to share for more info!

  28. Thanks for sharing your story, Ryan!
    I was glad to see a story from a fellow asthma sufferer! I’ve had it since childhood & still not fond of animals as a result! I’m 43, and been eating paleo for a couple years, but more strict this year, around 70-80%. I did get some great results in hay fever relief after cutting out most grains. I would have days where I couldn’t stop sneezing & nose running for a whole day, every 2 weeks or so. No attacks that bad since! The asthma has been tougher to beat. I do notice some improvement when I’m eating better, but still need my puffer up to 10x day. I don’t do Mark’s strength exercises & sprinting as much as I should, but I do a lot of walking during my work day (5-6 miles). I’ll try to get better at the sprints & bodyweight exercises & I’ll try the VitD, Omega, Milk Thistle someone suggested above. Thanks!

  29. My husband and I started the paleo diet in the fall of 2014. He has lost over 30 pounds which he could never lose in the last 20 years. We both feel great. I had been eating no wheat, no sugar for a long time and my asthma had improved. That is until I arrived in Arizona.

    Big flare up in 2010. Thanks to a naturopath who put me on DHIST i have “survived” the 6 months here. However, this year I haven’t needed anything much at all – occasional quercitin for allergies – no asthma problem at all.

    Walking every day with our dog. We haven’t done any strength training or sprinting but I can tap dance 2 x a week for an hour and a half. My husband is now going to band dances with me and dancing almost the whole night. He has been off statins since the fall and sees his doctor in 10 days. Hopefully his cholesterol has dropped and he won’t need any more medication.

    We are looking forward to seeing what the next 6months brings. My husband loves the new foods, and doesn’t miss his sugar or bread at all.

  30. Congrats, Ryan! I know how scary and frustrating it is to be at the whim of an attack – and the wondering when next?

    My asthma was a very minor issue until a few years ago – my doctor thinks exposure to WTC dust in the weeks after 9/11 + hormonal changes as I age caused the sudden surge in intensity. I found MDA a few months ago while researching dietary impacts on asthma – and figured it couldn’t hurt to try a few changes. I increased D3 and completely cut grains (we were already a mostly “traditional foods” family) – I have been primal since mid-Jan of this year, I have already greatly reduced my need for meds and increased my lung capacity – its like a miracle! I wish you all the best on your new journey 😉