Four weeks after placing second in an Ironman, I was suddenly stricken with a high fever, walking hunched over like an old man with every bone in my body hurting. I suspected Dengue Fever because there were other cases in the area, but I was too sick to walk to the door, let alone get to a car to see a doctor. You contract Dengue from a mosquito bite. It started with extreme pain in my left wrist and then moved to the rest of my body within hours. Even my eyes and ears hurt. I could only take Tylenol to control the pain. No anti-inflammatories were allowed. I usually refuse to take painkillers even on the worst days, but I was popping Tylenol 3 like candy.
After the fever broke a few days later; the rash that came with it became itchy and my skin started to peel, but the pain only slightly subsided in my joints. It was especially bad in the mornings, when my hands were so swollen that I could not hold a cup in one hand and the soles of my feet hurt too much to walk. After four weeks, I confirmed with the doctor, what I knew I had and there was nothing he could do except give me cortisone injections to relieve the pain. I took them. Ten days of bliss, back to training, only to be hit back to reality on day eleven. I did two rounds of this, then realized that I was heading down a dangerous path. I don’t know why I reacted so horribly to this disease but maybe my immune system was low due to the Ironman.I already had experienced other autoimmune diseases such as cancer. I often wondered if the chemotherapy and radiation weakened my overall immune system.
"I was told that I had the marker for rheumatoid arthritis..."
When I took a second blood test two months later, I was told that I had the marker for rheumatoid arthritis because we tested for it. My symptoms were so similar. As I did my own research, I found that many Dengue suffers can get subsequent symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, lupus, Epstein Barr, Sjogren Disease, Fibromyalgia; all of these autoimmune diseases with high levels of inflammation. I thought my training days were over. I would start to train, but the next day, I would be flat out on my back exhausted and aching. I became depressed and desperate, but I somehow didn’t want to lose hope. I just believed that if I figured out how to heal my body; I could beat these side effects.
Then one day I happened to listen to a podcast on the negative effects of sugar and gluten on the body. I decided to stop eating both, cold turkey. Because I was desperate to get healthy and end this chronic pain; I didn’t feel the cravings, but I did feel the detoxing of my body. I thought I was going through Dengue all over again. I had headaches, constipation, diarrhea, moodiness, sleeplessness. I felt crazy. After about a week, all these symptoms went away. I felt better energy, mood, and clearer thoughts. I had also decided to reduce my carbohydrates to 100 grams per day and took out all fruits high in fructose, sticking with only berries but allowed myself some 90% dark chocolate occasionally. I also practiced intermittent fasting of 12-16 hours everyday. I reduced my dairy, but not completely. I ate more eggs, avocados, various forms of protein but mostly fish and nuts. I stuck with dark green leafy and coniferous vegetables.
"I felt better energy, mood, and clearer thoughts."
It was within a week of detoxing that I noticed my hands were no longer swollen in the morning and my feet did not hurt to walk on first thing in the morning but the pain in my joints had completely subsided within four weeks. When I went back to the doctor to check my blood work; it was back to normal with reduced inflammatory markers. Whatever I was doing; I was told to keep on doing it.
It has been three more full Ironman competitions and over three years of eating clean. Of course there are times when I indulge, but I feel so much better without the sugar and gluten that was part of my life for so long. I especially feel great with the intermittent fasting. This is now a lifelong protocol for me.