I figure I’m an example of depression AND rheumatoid arthritis being symptoms of autoimmune responses - rather than the other way around.
I will preface this with a disclaimer - I was not officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but I had symptoms absolutely consistent with the disorder for about 18 months. My joint/muscle pain and inflammation was severe enough that I sometimes had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, and it affected my feet, ankles, knees, hip joints, wrists, and even elbows (when at its most severe). The pain varied a bit, but was always there during those 18 months. Please see this website for a description of the symptoms I was experiencing:
In addition to that, I had lifelong mild depression (mostly mild but always there, from as early as age 3 – I just thought it was normal, as that is all I knew). I was first treated at age 28 after what appeared to be a bout of major depression (again, the symptoms fit and antidepressants were prescribed). And the meds helped. I went off of them after a couple of years, and was totally fine for about three years - then suddenly ended up with another bout of major depression, followed by more meds.
As for the (presumably) arthritic pain, the onset correlates with a major change in my diet. I work in a remote location and live in a camp; at first, because I was trying to manage my weight, I was bringing and cooking my own food. The camp management found out about this after several months and forbade me from doing my own cooking, and that’s when my problems began… When I was forced to resort to camp food, I ended up back on anti-depressants within two weeks. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, and trying to avoid fattening fried and processed foods, particularly meats, I resorted to eating a lot of boiled eggs, egg salad sandwiches, etc. Eggs were really the only non-processed, healthy protein source I had available. Meanwhile, the antidepressants were stoking my appetite, so I was gaining a lot of weight very rapidly… My doctor was riding my butt about the weight gain (I had worked so hard to take off 70 lbs prior to that - I really didn’t like that I was gaining weight, either, and was very ashamed)… My feet were starting to hurt, but I didn’t bother telling her about that because I was convinced it was due to my out of control weight gain (which she obviously was convinced was due to a personal lack of willpower - I started to believe it, too, which only made me feel worse). The antidepressants were already causing me so much grief because of their side-effects, particularly the total shutting off of my ability to feel full, and I figured that my doctor would only throw more pills at me for the joint pain, potentially causing more unknown side effects.
Now for how I figured out what was going on…
As miserable as I was, somehow I got engaged during this time, and my fiancé and I decided, on a whim, to get married two weeks from the day we managed to find rings and an available marriage commissioner. We set the date, then I promptly went back up to work for several days prior to the wedding.
Man, was I nervous… I was so nervous I was barely able to eat anything during those two weeks leading up to the Big Day. And though I didn’t connect the dots until after the wedding, during those two weeks my severe joint and muscle pain disappeared totally (I had been very, very sore for 18 straight months prior to that – I just thought that whatever it was had run its course).
A few days after the wedding, back up to work I went, and I was feeling fine. But one morning I had a nice omelet for breakfast, and in a few hours my feet started to get sore again…
To me that was bizarre, but obvious – the eggs were connected to my joint pain. I scoured the internet to see if I could find something that explained this… and I succeeded. Food allergies? I’d had an allergy test (“scratch” test) a few years prior to that, that turned up absolutely nothing (my doctor was trying to get to the bottom of the chronic hives I had at the time), but it was the wrong kind of test. I’d had an IgE allergy test; what I needed was an IgG allergy test, which is done with a blood sample. I researched some more, and found a lab and a doctor who would be able to arrange for this testing.
The test confirmed that I was, indeed, allergic to eggs. It also turned up a second allergen I did not suspect, that I eventually learned was the cause of my lifelong depression – sunflower seeds/oil. The joint pain (of that severity, anyway) was new to me… or so I thought.
I noticed a pattern in that my major depressive episodes usually followed a period of either extreme stress (I had a major depressive episode at age 18 near exam time in college), or right after having lost a significant amount of weight (50+ lbs).
Here’s my take on why my depression symptoms came and went…
Funny in hindsight, but my “depressive” allergen is particularly common in fast food, convenience food, and other things I would naturally resort to when I was short on time. I would have consumed only small quantities of it under normal circumstances. To not have a reaction at all, I need to avoid it totally, and to do so takes vigilance. Small quantities result in mild depression - and mild depression was mostly what I experienced.
Frequent consumption of fast food over a couple of weeks = a lot of the allergen in my body over an extended period = major depression (even from a diagnostic standpoint). But even the major depression dissipated in time on its own, without antidepressants, once exams were over.
The weight loss connection is interesting, too; because my allergen happens to be one of those “fattening” substances, when I was on a strict diet (like during the three years of respite I had after I stopped taking antidepressants the first time), I didn’t have symptoms of depression. I didn’t eat junk food, or even so much as keep margarine in my fridge. BUT… as I got thinner, more men asked me out, so I dated more, and I went out to dinner and parties more, and I again unknowingly started consuming sunflower oil on a regular basis, sometimes in large quantities… And soon I’d end up majorly depressed and on antidepressants again! And gain 50-100 lbs, because the drugs seemed to take away my ability to feel full! Argh!
The severity of both reactions depends on the quantity of the allergen ingested. The only time I see either depression or joint/muscle pain is if I consume either offending substance. The effects are totally reproducible, but I avoid both allergens because it just isn’t worth the effect on my quality of life. I know my sunflower oil allergy has been there since early childhood, just from memories of how I interpreted the world at that age – something wasn’t right. After totally eliminating egg from my diet, I have also noticed that my wonky knees (knees that were always prone to injury and inflammation, from early on in life) are totally stable for the first time ever.
IgG food allergies result in an autoimmune response, producing inflammation in the body (in whatever body system is affected by the allergen, as well as the gut). For more info, the lab that ran my analysis has great info:
There is some evidence that SSRI’s work because they are anti-inflammatory, which I theorize is why they worked on my depression (though the side effects were not worth it):
This type of allergy is very difficult to figure out without testing because the reactions can take several hours to several days to manifest. With my egg allergy, I usually see a reaction within 12 hours, and the reaction takes about 4 days to run its course. With my sunflower allergy; I start to react about 24 hours later, and it takes a week to pass.
Okay… I know this is getting long… But I know some of you are going through chronic symptoms that are making your life a living hell, too. I was lucky to have figured out the actual causes of what I was going through, and I have met many other people who also determined their chronic issues were food related.
Today, I am completely medication-free and have zero symptoms of depression and rheumatoid arthritis (it only took a week for all those symptoms to totally disappear, too).
Other issues connected with food allergies: food addiction and weight gain. Food allergies cause the body to release a hormone, ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. Ironically, one usually tends to crave the very foods they are allergic to, because initially, these foods actually create a sort of “high” in the sufferer (of course, to be followed by a crash, resulting once more in a craving for the allergen to recreate that “high” and make them feel better). The weight gain is two-fold; appetite increases because of the addiction response, and because reactions to food allergens often result water retention – it’s like the body is throwing water at the allergen in order to dilute it and thus limit its damage to the body.
When consuming my allergens, I was particularly prone to water retention; if I consumed a little extra sodium one day, I could put on as much as 15 lbs in 36 hours. (I am a very tall woman with a very large frame, but that’s still a lot of weight to put on almost overnight.)
After cutting out my allergens, I dropped about 30 lbs (without trying) in about 2 months. Much of it was water loss, but also my appetite almost disappeared. My weight has been stable (literally within a 5 lb window) since I dropped the weight, which is well over a year ago. Never before has my weight been stable, and without any effort on my part other than avoiding my allergens.
• Don’t stop searching. Doctors are a resource, but they can be wrong, too, and often are. Go to the library. Search the internet. Get second opinions from alternative medicine practitioners.
• Drugs are not always the answer – in fact, they can cause a lot of unanticipated side effects that lead to other issues. Depression is not a Prozac deficiency, I’ve heard it said, though the drug companies would obviously prefer you to believe otherwise. Keep in mind that the big drug companies also fund most of the research on treatments for disease – and the focus is on drugs, not on prevention.
• Do not confuse a “disease” with a “symptom”. From my experience, I would consider my depression and joint/muscle pain symptoms of the underlying issue(s), not diseases in their own right.
• Never. Give. Up.