I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis 20 years ago. It’s an autoimmune disease that causes joints to become swollen and painful and can become progressively worse. I had a strong family history of rheumatoid arthritis, affecting my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Furthermore, my mother suffered from psoriasis.
I had to leave my teaching job as I was in so much pain I could hardly move. For the next 13 years, I took heavy immunosuppressant medication, also used to treat cancer, risking some very unpleasant side effects. During this time, I noticed if I ate certain foods, my joints would feel worse but my rheumatologist assured me: “Diet has nothing to do with it”. But I’ve always been rebellious, so I started researching psoriatic arthritis and diet and found some interesting information on diet and the microbiome. My nurse suggested an elimination diet, starting on simple foods like rice and apples. I found that red meat, eggs, cheese and stone fruits had a negative impact on me.
I’ve always loved animals and have a keen interest in the natural world and decided that I no longer wanted to eat animals. This is when I became an ethical vegan. There were some signs of improvement but then I met a plant-based runner at a vegan festival in London. I told her that, whilst I would love to go running, I couldn’t because of my condition. “Well, I used to have rheumatoid arthritis, but I went wholefood vegan and now I run marathons” she said. I was stunned. She told me she had stopped taking medication 10 years ago and I burst into tears. She encouraged me to try a vegan wholefood diet, which also meant ditching processed foods like plant-based burgers and sausages.
I began following a diet centred on fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds. I learned how to cook curries, bake samosas and make cakes sweetened with wholefood ingredients. I started feeling really well and was able to reduce my medication, bit by bit, until I was able to stop it altogether. By this point, I had joined Vegan Runners and took part in a 10k race. At my next and last rheumatology appointment, I showed my doctor my medal as well as lots of research into plant-based health and told him I was off my medication entirely. He slumped back in his chair with a look of surprise on his face.
I am now five years free of medication and completely in remission. My wholefood diet was strictly no oil, but I can tolerate a little now. Also, I can eat as many stone fruits as I like now! I have to pinch myself when I am telling this story because it feels like the life of someone else. Going from all that pain and suffering to becoming someone who is not only able to run, but finds such joy in it, fills me with so much happiness. I’m now nearly 60 and still getting faster; I recently ran a marathon and the amazing people I have met through running and veganism supported me all the way.
While I cannot promise that every disease can be improved through diet or that you’ll be free from medication as a result, I would encourage anyone experiencing something similar to me to simply give it a go – you’ll likely feel better either way.
Kate Dunbar is a patient advocate for Plant-Based Health Professionals UK and an ambassador for Running on Plants. Kate’s incredible story was written up in the peer-reviewed medical journal The American Journal of Medicine.