I want to tell the story of how I was cured of cholinergic urticaria (CU) by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet (a so-called “vegan” diet).
This was a happy, unforeseen, side-effect from adopting such a diet. I originally adopted this diet for general health reasons, particularly to prevent heart disease. A number of years ago I experienced a heart attack scare. I experienced several episodes during which I experienced some of the classic symptoms of a heart attack. I went for a full diagnostic workup by a cardiologist. Thankfully, he found that I did not have heart disease—instead, I had gradually become extremely sensitive to caffeine, and I had been drinking a lot of coffee. This caused large spikes in my blood pressure and led to the symptoms I was experiencing. I immediately ceased drinking all caffeinated beverages, and my symptoms gradually disappeared.
On the flip-side, however, this worrisome period during which I thought I might have heart disease turned out to be one of the most fortuitous in my life. Why? Well, during the two-to-three week period during which I was getting checked-out by the cardiologist, I stumbled across the book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. This book introduced me to the research pioneered by Dr. Ornish, and later replicated by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, proving that a lot-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet can reverse heart disease—that is, allow the body to dissolve the atherosclerotic blockages in the coronary arteries.
Following my heart attack scare, I was extremely keen on not going through that experience again, and so I immediately adopted the type of diet recommended by Drs. Ornish and Esselstyn. After experimenting, I gradually settled on a diet that is something of a hybrid between the diet recommended by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (the “salad guy”) and the diet recommended by Dr. John McDougall (the “starch guy”). On a typical day, I eat oatmeal topped with fresh fruit like blueberries for breakfast. For lunch I eat a giant salad (1+ pound, plus a cup of beans and some sort of starch like quinoa, barley, etc.). Finally, dinner is usually some form of cooked starch like potatoes, rice, corn, sweet potatoes, “winter” squash (acorn, butternut, etc.), beans or other legumes.
About four years before I had my heart attack scare, I had developed CU. As with so many others, this suddenly appeared out of the blue. At the time I had no idea what it was or what caused it. All I knew was that when I exerted myself and my core body temperature went up, I developed tiny, intensely itchy hives around my armpits and along the undersides of my forearms and elbows. The CU continued to progress and eventually it would appear when I took a hot shower or bath, or when I experienced episodes of acute anxiety or embarrassment.
The episode with the heart attack scare occurred before I had a chance to discuss my CU with my personal physician. Up until that time I was merely “managing” my CU by avoiding excess physical exertion as much as possible. I had eliminated all forms of exercise and greatly limited the housework and maintenance tasks I performed around my house.
Following my heart attack scare I was so focused on my heart health that I momentarily forgot about my CU. This continued during the period in which I adopted the whole-food, plant-based diet and focused on improving my overall health. It wasn’t until two or three months later when I had to do a physically-demanding task around the house that I found myself overheated and sweating and suddenly realized—hey, I’m not breaking out in hives!
I am happy to report that it has stayed this way ever since. I have not experienced CU since adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet. Since then, I have become much more physically active. Five years ago, I took up the sport of cycling, and I have completed a bike ride of 100 miles (a so-called “century” ride) with absolutely no hint of CU. During the winter, I hook up my bike to a contraption called a trainer which turns it into a stationary bike. I regularly do intense indoor cycling sessions during which the sweat is just pouring off me with no trace of CU.
Modern science is beginning to identify the mechanisms by which a whole-food, plant-based diet works its magic. The relationship between dietary fiber and the gut microbiome plays a large role in this. I highly recommend you go to your local library and read the special section on the gut microbiome which appeared (pp. 53 – 70) in Scientific American magazine in the March 2015 issue. The subsection on “The Importance of Fiber” which begins on page 58 is especially insightful. It describes how people consuming a large amount of fiber (and remember, only plants contain fiber) develop a thick layer of mucous around the lining of their large intestine. This mucous layer is inhabited by beneficial bacteria which break down the fiber in the diet and produce a number of metabolites, the most important of which are the short-chain fatty acids (SCFA): acetate, butyrate, and propionate. These flow into the body of the human host, where they attach to receptors in messaging molecules of the immune system and help to regulate the immune system, keeping it from going into “overdrive”.
There is an epidemic in America of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, asthma, and the inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease. Several researchers quoted in the section in Scientific American state that this is due to the fact that the Western diet is hugely deficient in dietary fiber by evolutionary standards.
The Web sites of both Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. McDougall have sections containing testimonials from hundreds of individuals who have been cured of autoimmune disorders from adopting the respective diets. Another fascinating resource in this area is the documentary, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about how Australian entrepreneur Joe Cross cured himself of obesity and a cousin of CU, chronic urticaria, by “rebooting” his system with a “juice fast” for 60 days and then adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet afterward (see the entry in Wikipedia on Joe Cross, filmmaker, for more information). Another highly informative documentary is the two-part TV story entitled Gut Reaction produced by the TV show Catalyst on the Australian Broadcasting Company (video available on YouTube).
It is my most sincere hope that my story will help other sufferers of CU reverse this horrible disease and return to normal life. I urge you to give a whole-food, plant-based diet a try. Good luck, everyone.