A dire diagnosis can turn your life into a timeline grimly defined by “before” and “after,” making you face the unimaginable—the looming possibility of your early mortality. But for some, a frightening diagnosis is also an opportunity to heal. As a complement to VegNews’ popular annual feature, “Veganism Saved My Life”—available now in the January+February issue—we are bringing you even more heart-wrenching stories of three individuals whose lives were saved by veganism.
Mast Cell Activation
When She Went Vegan
How Mary Did It
Mary was in graduate school when she started suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. Instead of her days simply being filled with the bright, studious smell of open books, they were plagued by migraines, fatigue, weight gain, and psychological distress.
How had things come to this? According to Mary, she’d felt sick all of her life. Since she was a baby, she had suffered from rashes, stomach problems, severe reactions to insect bites, and intense migraines. Her mood swings became unpredictable. By the time she reached her twenties, and her panic attacks amounted to ten or twenty a day, she went on medication for anxiety disorder. But the medication didn’t work and her condition worsened. She developed paranoia and phobias, including an intense cyberphobia that prevented her from using any technology—phones, clocks, and computers. She found it incredibly difficult to leave the house, and when she couldn’t leave the house, she gained weight. Mary was stuck in a cycle that seemed like it would never end.
Mary switched to a low-fat, plant-based diet for environmental reasons, as well as to help shed the pounds. Although she initially didn’t lose as much weight as she hoped, and her cholesterol remained high, she almost immediately started noticing unexpected side effects: her bone and joint pain decreased dramatically, her fatigue lessened, her reactions to bug bites were no longer severe. The difference between her pre-vegan and post-vegan meal plans was like night and day. It seemed as if a light had finally switched on. For Mary, the solution to her anxiety would be in her nutrition.
Mary eventually saw leading plant-based medical advocate, Dr. Michael Greger. Through her work with Dr. Greger, Mary finally received a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, a birth disorder in which an individual’s mast cells release pro-inflammatory chemicals and are often causal in inflammation around the heart, leading to heart attacks. The fact that Mary’s symptoms had subsided when she went vegan made perfect sense in retrospect; the nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, and naturally low-inflammatory properties of a healthy vegan diet directly help combat Mast Cell Activation attacks.
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is a rare disease that is difficult to diagnose. Mary’s diagnosis came rather late in the game, and she’s incredibly grateful to have found veganism before that, as the syndrome could easily have led to greater health problems before she found a specialist with the answers.
Now Mary eats an oil-free, whole-foods, vegan diet and avoids corn, potatoes, and other mast cell-triggering foods. She says her energy levels are unprecedented—she now only requires 8 hours of sleep each night, whereas before her diagnosis and vegan diet she required 12 hours to combat fatigue. Her migraines have all but disappeared, her cholesterol continues to drop, and for the first time in her life she is a healthy weight. Depression and anxiety are a thing of the past, and Mary is able to lead a normal life as a school librarian in New York. She has noticed in her MCAS support groups that there is one common theme amongst patients; those eating animal products continue to get sicker, and those eating plant-based diets get healthier. Mary is thankful to be a part of the latter.
“Keep looking for answers, and find a support group that can help you.”
What Mary Eats In A Day
Baked oats with organic berries
Vegetable and bean soup with greens
Rice and lentils with vegetables and a homemade sauce
Kale salad with tahini dressing, freeze-dried bananas, and pistachios
Have your own incredible vegan health story? Apply by Sept. 8, 2017 to be featured in the 2018 edition of Veganism Saved My Life!
Emily Hunt Kivel is a writer based in Los Angeles whose fiction and poetry have appeared in the Nervous Breakdown, Midnight Breakfast, Harlequin Creature, and Artillery Magazine.