OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- For five months now, FOX4 reporter Shannon O'Brien has been documenting her fight against autoimmune disease.
About 50 million people in the U.S. have an autoimmune disease of some sort, and that number is increasing at an alarming rate.
Shannon has a disease called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Basically, her immune system is trying to kill her thyroid. She's taken us through her journey and got some surprising results at her most recent doctor's appointment.
Guiding her is Jane Murray with Sastun Associates. She's a functional medicine doctor who is helping Shannon figure out what her body is malfunctioning.
Shannon’s most recent lab results were very different than her first ones. She has lost 45 pounds so far and most of her other lab results show marked improvement.
Five months of eating clean -- no gluten, dairy, soy, sugar or eggs -- and taking supplements prescribed by Murray, Shannon feels better. She reports having more energy, a chronic cough that went away and, for the most part, her joint pain has disappeared.
When Shannon first got her labs drawn, the most worrisome results had to do with her liver.
"Remember that your liver tests were showing some abnormalities," Murray said. "They were kind of elevated, we would probably consider that a reflection of fatty liver disease. One of the two is completely normal now. The other is almost normal, it is down by 2/3."
Cutting out the bad carbs and sugar and eating more good fats like fish oil plus weight loss has allowed her liver to turn around, and that is a huge relief!
"In the United States, the number one reason for liver transplant is fatty liver," Murray said. "Everybody thinks it is Hepatitis C. Nope, fatty liver, so that is not a good thing to have and you are turning it around. I mean you have almost completely reversed it."
Diet is the fundamental base for everything else.
When you eat unhealthy food, it causes an immune response in the body, sending out your immune soldiers to attack the junk you have just dumped in to reduce the damage it causes. Over time, this can short circuit the immune system and cause it to attack healthy tissue as well.
As much good news as Murray had, there are also things that still need improvement.
"Your thyroid antibodies, so the antibodies have not budged very much, they are still elevated," Murray said.
Elevated thyroid antibodies over 1,000 show that Shannon’s immune system is still attacking her thyroid and are a marker that there is still inflammation in her body -- which is not good and could be the reason she's still having some problems.
"So we still have inflammation. We still have antibodies. We have got some skin issues. We have got some hair loss. There are some things that we need to think about tweaking," Murray said.
Change does not happen overnight, and although Shannon still has some work to do, there was more good news. Her vitamin D level has improved, which helps her thyroid work despite being under attack. Most of her other tests showed great improvement as well.
Now that Shannon has the food portion of her healing down, Murray wants to incorporate stress reduction techniques with meditation, yoga and other healing exercises that will be a great benefit to crossing the finish line strong.
Shannon will continue documenting her journey so others fighting autoimmune disease can benefit from what she is doing.
We have set up a Facebook page called, “Fighting Autoimmune Disease With FOX4.” It's become a large and nurturing community for help and support, so no one has to go through their journey alone.