Chronic Illness and a Vegan Diet

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated April 28, 2017.

Ingrid Haunold
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In 2004, I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, which affects the lungs and lymph nodes, and often other organs. From 2005 to 2013, I had to take glucocorticoids (cortisone medication/steroid hormones). That’s eight years of steroids, which are a nasty drug. Steroid medication has countless serious side effects, the least of which is a massive weight gain. Steroids draw calcium from the bones, they also can (and did) cause severe depression. The drugs impact the function of the adrenal glands, which leads to insomnia. I slept no more than three hours a night for eight years, and I was unable to work for several years as a result. The drugs weaken the immune system, making patients more susceptible to infections. (The actor Bernie Mac died from complications of Sarcoidosis, related to a weakened immune system; other famous people, who reportedly died of Sarc-related causes, are gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, football player Reggie White, or the actor Michael Clark Duncan).

I tried for years to get off those drugs, but whenever I reduced the dosage, the Sarcoidosis flared up again. In 2011, I decided to switch to a vegan diet, after living as a vegetarian for 29 years (since 1982). At around the same time I became a vegan, I decided once again to try and reduce the dosage of my steroid medication. You can’t just stop taking steroids from one day to the next, you need to reduce the dosage very slowly, which I did. And this time it worked – over the course of two years, I managed to taper off the drugs, and stopped taking them completely in 2013.  The Sarcoidosis did not flare up again, and I have not had to go back on steroids.

Only later did I make the connection between my health and my decision to go vegan. I’d tried to taper off the steroid medication twice before, and failed miserably both times. The Sarcoidosis always flared up again, and I had to increase the dosage of the medication as a result. Only when I switched to a vegan diet, did I managed to taper off the drugs successfully. I went vegan for ethical reasons, and it took me quite by surprise that a vegan diet – as opposed to a vegetarian diet – made such a huge difference to my health.

I was diagnosed with a second chronic illness a couple of years ago – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – and I have not yet figured out how to make do without medication for this illness. Any tips and suggestions would be very welcome.

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