Today I am so excited to announce our Wellness Warrior Rachel Smith!
Rachel is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and a fellow autoimmune warrior. Rachel has been on a wild ride with her autoimmune disease and today you get to hear her story of both her struggles and successes with the disease and her career.
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Let's get to the interview!
Rachel can you introduce yourself and share a bit about your journey?
My name is Rachel Smith and I am 26 years old, from the U.S. I'm a fitness fanatic. I did competitive weightlifting throughout all of my 4 years in highschool and still incorporate a lot of strength training in my routine today. I trained Muay Thai kickboxing for 3 years when I was younger and recently had the opportunity to be a teacher for the martial art in 2020.
I also love hiking, yoga and swimming. I'm an avid traveler and have been to many different U.S. states and countries around the world. One of my favorite countries, and the one I've spent many months in, is Costa Rica.
I love to cook and I am glad that I enjoy it so much, since cooking your own food and making it fun is such an important part of healing from an autoimmune disease.
I am a certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and I help others with mystery illnesses and autoimmune diseases figure out the root causes of their symptoms and heal naturally. Helping others achieve ultimate health is my true passion.
Rachel when did you first get sick?
I had health issues from the day I was born. I was hospitalized for pneumonia as an infant and again in elementary school.
I spent every year of my life in an emergency room or doctor's office multiple times because of chronic lung issues and major digestive distress (bloating, stomach pains, etc.).
To me, going to doctor after doctor and never getting answers was normal for me.
However, when I was around 20 years old is when things got really bad for me. The digestive issues got worse, my hair was falling out way more than normal, my anxiety and depression was at an all time high, I had heart palpitations, I was extremely fatigued all of the time, and the worst was my brain fog.
Not being able to think clearly was terrible for me since I was just graduating with my Bachelors degree from UCF and had huge plans for my new career that required me to function optimally. From here things just got worse.
How old were you when you got your first diagnosis?
I was 22 years old, almost 23 when I got diagnosed with Hashimotos thyroiditis.
Tell us more about your illness, how did it start?
Hashimotos thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. Basically, my immune system attacks my thyroid gland trying to destroy it. The thyroid plays a part in regulating so many things in the body such as heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism.
This is a list of all of my symptoms I struggled with:
swollen/red/painful finger joints
hair falling out
tingling and weakness in my extremities
muscle soreness and fatigue
inability to concentrate
felt cold all of the time
puffy face and eyes
no menstrual cycle
I had been going from doctor to doctor for a few years and no one could ever give me an answer. My blood work always looked "normal."
One night I woke up at 2 a.m. and experiencing intense heart palpitations. I called 911 and my heart rate was around 170 bpm with me sitting on the ground. I was rushed to the E.R. and wound up staying in the hospital for a full week after they performed exploratory heart surgery on me to check for any electrical issues. Nothing was found and I left the hospital with no answers and a $100,000 medical bill.
This was the last straw that drove me to try functional and holistic medicine.
The functional medicine doctor that diagnosed me ran a complete thyroid panel (which most doctors do not run and this was the reason my diagnosis kept getting missed) and found the hashimotos!
He also ran a food sensitivity test on me to see which foods I was eating that were triggering an immune response. He said I was sensitive to more foods than he had ever seen on test results. The plan involved removing those foods and adding in healing, nutrient-dense foods. We also worked to repair my gut through supplementation.
I saw an acupuncturist who was able to help me get my menstrual cycle back through Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatments. This is the part where I got super interested in my own healing journey and went down a rabbit hole of research.
I spent every day reading books on autoimmune diseases, reading scientific research papers and listening to podcasts. I put myself on an AIP diet for an extended period of time and watched my symptoms disappear one by one. I was then inspired to quit my job and go back to school to help others heal the way that I was.
I kept hitting road blocks on my journey. Tingling and weakness in my muscles and nerves wouldn't go away, along with fatigue. Something was up. A new functional medicine doctor discovered I had heavy metal toxicity. We had to do a year of heavy metal chelation treatments to reduce my toxic load.
He also discovered mold toxicity through functional lab testing, which we worked on eliminating. Then I hit a roadblock with diet. I had a lot of food cravings that didn't seem right. I saw a Naturopathic doctor who found I had Candida overgrowth. We worked on this through diet changes and supplementation.
At this point I was extremely interested in being a functional practitioner or doctor myself. I went down the road of pre-med in school, went to medical school for almost a year, then transitioned into the program that made me the functional practitioner I am today. During this journey I also decided to remove my breast implants in December of 2020, as that felt like it was the one last toxic thing inside of my body.
Never once did I get put on medication for my thyroid like most people do when they get the diagnosis of Hashimotos (or even hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism). I refused because I lost trust in our medical system and I knew there was a better way.
My belief is that you must dig as deep as possible to uncover the root causes of why you are having symptoms.
This is why I kept going with more functional lab testing and then addressing those issues, instead of trying to "treat" the Hashimotos.
I now do not experience any of the symptoms of my autoimmune disease.
What is the biggest hurdle you face with your illness?
The biggest hurdle was money.
I didn't come from a wealthy family and I didn't have health insurance almost my entire life. So every time I went to the doctor I had to pay out of pocket or I would go to the emergency room because I didn't know what else to do.
Even if I did have health insurance it wouldn't have made a difference, since practitioners in the functional and holistic medicine realm don't take insurance usually.
I had to take out personal loans, rack up credit cards and borrow money from loved ones.
The financial stress made my illness worse at times, so I had to figure out how to manage stress and not worry about it so much. I'm still paying off medical debt to this day.
What has been your greatest accomplishment? Did you have support along the way?
My greatest accomplishment was reversing all of my autoimmune symptoms, and having the courage to quit my job that I initially went to college for to go on this lifelong journey of learning and helping others.
My grandmother and mother have always been very supportive of my healing journey.
What advice would you give to someone who is living in daily pain, or on the search for a diagnosis? (autoimmune or other)
My advice is to not give up, seek alternative treatment and be open minded.
I have consultations with people every week who are chronically ill and looking for answers.
Some people wind up not working with me because functional lab testing is expensive, they don't truly believe that changing their diet and lifestyle can make this huge impact, and/or they aren't really ready to commit to a health program.
If you keep knocking the idea of diet and lifestyle changes and only put your trust in conventional doctors, you are not going to get much farther than consuming prescription pills daily.
Invest in your health no matter what it takes, but invest in the right people to help you.
Search for root causes of your symptoms by looking at the following things:
hidden pathogens in the gut
mold exposure in your home
mold build up in your body
heavy metal toxicity
Finding a diagnosis can be important, but getting to the root cause of symptoms is ever more important.
Educate yourself at much as possible and spend the time and effort it takes to heal because if you don't have your health, you don't have much else in life.
How can fellow autoimmune warriors connect with you?
If anyone is interested in working with me or has further questions they can reach me at Rachel@naturalhealthrising.com or book a free consultation here: https://naturalhealthrising.com/contact-me/
I also put out tons of content to help people heal that is on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and blogs on my website and those links can be found here:
Business FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/NaturalHealthRising
Tik Tok: NaturalHealthRising
We would like to thank Rachel for sharing her autoimmune disease story along with all the ways her story inspired her to pursue a career in functional nutrition.
We strive to help educate and inspire autoimmune patients by sharing stories like this one, and sharing many resources through the website and our blog posts.
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Wishing you health and happiness,
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