Can Autoimmune Disease Be Healed? This Story from Dr. Hyman Will Astonish You


When faced with a debilitating illness, the journey to health is typically through conventional medicine. But consider the story of Isabel, who suffered from an autoimmune disease. Dr. Mark Hyman’s functional medicine approach to her illness not only erased her symptoms, it gave her a new chance at life. It provides a new hopeful perspective on how we can heal autoimmune disease.

Isabel, a cute 10-year-old girl from Texas, loved riding horses. But a few years ago, she was so sick from autoimmune disease that she couldn’t do what she loved.

Two months after I first saw Isabel, she was symptom free. In less than a year, she was completely healthy, her blood tests were normal, and she was off her myriad medications. If you ask me how, I’d tell you I discovered and treated the underlying causes of her inflammation. She’d tell you she “stopped eating gluten, dairy and sugar and took some supplements.”

Isabel walked into my office with one of the most severe cases of autoimmune disease I had ever seen; her face was swollen, her skin was inflamed, her joints were swollen, her immune system was attacking her entire body—including her muscles, skin, joints, blood vessels, liver, and her white and red blood cells.

Isabel couldn’t squeeze her hand or make a fist. The tips of her fingers and toes were always cold from Raynaud’s disease that inflamed her blood vessels. She was tired and miserable and was losing her hair. Isabel was on regular large doses of intravenous steroids just to keep her alive, and she was taking prednisone, aspirin, acid blockers and methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug used to shut down the immune system daily.

But despite these megadoses of medication, she wasn’t getting any better. Her doctors wanted to add another powerful immune-suppressing drug to the regimen of medication she was already taking. Unwilling to accept the newest drug (with its dizzying side effects) as the only course of treatment, her family came to see me to see if I could help heal her autoimmune disease.

Today, in conventional medicine, patients are told more often than not to take medication to treat their symptoms, instead of undergoing a more holistic review of their underlying causes. We are inhibiting, blocking or anti-ing everything. But we don’t necessarily ask one simple question: why is the body out of balance and how do we help it regain balance?

Functional medicine, which is what finally helped Isabel cope with and heal her autoimmune disease, is based on a different method of diagnosing and treating illness—one that focuses on causes, not symptoms, one that is based on an understanding of the dynamic way our genes interact with environment, one that goes beyond simply treating diseases based on their label. Understanding root causes is how functional medicine approaches how to heal heal autoimmune disease.

From Conventional Illness to Functional Health

For Isabel, the only response physicians had to her life-threatening autoimmune disease was to shut down her immune system, leaving her at risk for cancer, infection, osteoporosis, muscle wasting and psychiatric illness.

I knew there was another way. I simply asked the question WHY. I didn’t focus on WHAT the name of her disease was (mixed connective tissue disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the whole body), but WHY she was inflamed, WHERE this inflammation originated from, and HOW we could locate the causes and restore balance to her overactive immune system which was attacking her own body. I believed that we need to look at the body holistically – its functions are all interconnected.

During our first conversations, I learned she was being exposed to a toxic mold, Stachybotrys, in her house. Her mother worked in limestone pits exposing her to excessive amounts of fluoride while pregnant. Isabel had all her immunizations before 1999 when thimerosal was removed from vaccines. She also had a thimerosal-containing flu shot every year. Thimerosal contains mercury, and mercury is a known immune toxin. This problem was compounded by her diet, which included large amounts of tuna and sushi, that she loved and ate regularly (and which exposed her to even more mercury), and loads of dairy, gluten and sugar. In the year before she developed an autoimmune disease, she had many courses of antibiotics.

The immune system usually responds to some insult such as an allergen, a microbe or a toxin, and then runs out of control. So for Isabel, finding and removing that trigger was essential. After learning more about Isabel’s background, we now had a lot of possible causes for her inflammation. Mold, mercury, antibiotics, sugar, dairy, gluten—that’s a long list of potential immune irritants.

Isabel’s lab tests at her first visit were frightening. Her muscle enzymes and liver function tests showed severe damage. She had many autoimmune antibodies, a sign that the levels at which the body was attacking itself were extremely elevated. Other markers of inflammation were extremely high as well. Her white blood count and red blood cell count were low. Her vitamin D was also low. She had elevated levels of antibodies to gluten, which is a common cause of autoimmune disease and triggers significant intestinal inflammation. And her mercury level was 11 times the norm.

Healing Through Diet and Supplements

Initially, Isabel started an anti-inflammatory elimination diet to remove possible triggers of inflammation from food allergens. She stopped eating sugar, dairy and gluten (from wheat). I gave her a multivitamin; vitamins D, B12, folate, fish oil, and evening primrose oil, all of which are anti-inflammatory. I also gave her nystatin (a non-absorbed anti-fungal) to treat suspected yeast because of her multiple courses of antibiotics. I also gave her NAC (N-acetyl Cysteine) to support her liver, and told her to get off the acid blocker, the calcium channel blocker and the intravenous steroids that she had been taking. She started taking probiotics to support healthy digestive function and reduce gut inflammation, and a chelating agent to help bind the mercury from her tissues and cells and help her body get rid of it. To help her get off the prednisone, I gave her herbs to support her adrenal gland function.

Amazingly and quickly, she began to heal! After only two months, her rash was completely gone. She had no joint pain, and her hair was starting to grow back. Her autoimmune markers had dramatically improved. Her muscle enzymes, liver function and levels of inflammation were all normal. And a year after I first saw Isabel, her tests were normal, and she was off all medication. Her mercury eventually went down from 33 to 11, and her gut inflammation was gone. She was feeling happy and normal. And best of all, she was able to participate in activities that she loved, especially riding her horse.

Isabel’s experience with autoimmune disease is not rare, and the outcome should be more common. Through diet change and supplements, her health made a dramatic turnaround – we were able to start Isabel on the path to heal autoimmune disease. Functional medicine doctors have the knowledge and the methods to improve our health and heal not only autoimmune diseases but a variety of conditions. All we need is the knowledge and courage to apply them.


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51 thoughts on “Can Autoimmune Disease Be Healed? This Story from Dr. Hyman Will Astonish You

  1. Madhuri shukla

    My daughter has auto inflammation condition with RA and nodules all over body..she is just 6 and milk and gluten allergy too … many more problems ..swollen liver spleen … uvities ..could you pls help with her diet plan since she is undergrowth..

  2. Maggie

    So impressed with this very inspirational article. I have an autoimmune disease as well (Hashimoto Thyroid) and still on my healing journey. I am a firm believer of Holistic Approach when it comes to any of my health concerns, Functional doctors and their blogs are my go to. And Dr Hyman’s incredible story of Isabel is one great testimony of holistic approach to healing our autoimmune diseases.
    Well done! Dr Hyman. Keep up the good work! You are a God given blessing to us!

  3. Scott Temples

    Dr. Hyman
    I have been on a anti inflammatory diet for 5 years and all my food is organic have been diagnosed with scurvy,mold,SIBO,and mast cell disorder and have been to 10 different functional Medicine doctors and can’t figure out how to heal me was wondering if by chance you could steer me in right direction as to who to see and what to do and will do anything to get health

  4. Shuzan Kirton

    I have recently been diagnosed with SLE. Not knowing the severity and putting trust in the doctors I accepted the Prednisolone steroid drug. Only when I got discharged and started my research into this disease that isn’t in my family line I was enlightened and chose to go the functional way. What I understand though is I can’t just stop taking steroids. That there would be serious side effects, that I’ll have to wean myself off.
    My symptoms were Joint pain in the wrists, rash in my head and arms. Those symptoms went away a few days on the prednisolone but I can still see it under the skin.
    My diet consists of Green smoothies and fruits. I’m not having joint pains. I often have leg cramps, sometimes a burning sensation or pin stick feeling. Medical attention is costly here in Trinidad so there are tests I need to get done still. What do you believe the leg problem to be and what can I treat it with?

  5. Tasoula McDougall

    So impressed by this article and praying for a glimmer of hope after many years and now constant suffering from a face allergy which is red , itchy, turns to a dark red, burns and peels. This cycle is now constant and causing much anxiety and stress. After many top specialists , a variety of diagnosis such as yeast, dye allergy etc. l am still suffering as l have recently been diagnosed with pernicious anaemia and my daughter has rheumatoid arthritis. It is obvious my allergy could be related to an auto -immune problem. Where can l find an experienced “Functional Health “doctor here in Australia? I am desperate for help an so touched by Dr Mark Hyman’s story about Isobel?

  6. Galina Geletyuk

    I have MS. I am not taking any medication but my symptoms become worth and worth. Now I am barley walk. I have my diagnose from 2012, I am wondering if you can give me some advise.

  7. Robynn

    I have been suffering from Hives x 9 Mos, had a total of 13 weeks of prednisone, injections of xo lair, now taking tagamet twice a day, Allegra 1xd, and 2 antihistamines at bedtime.
    I am tired of pills. I have Celiac but need some new ideas. Help

  8. Reverend Tillie Watson

    Awesome, after 15 years of Sjogren’s Syndrome I went to the holistic approach with diet and less exercise. The gym alone made my symptoms worse and the anti-inflammatory diet for Sjogren’s worked for me.

  9. Lili Churcher

    Great article. To address Isabel’s problems with mold, did her family move house? I don’t think it says in the article.

  10. Kelley Kordonowy

    This is wonderful news. Would love to see my son and two nephews healed from Tye 1 diabetes. Is there a cure? I feel like big pharma loves the money they make off this disease.

    1. Recipe Team

      Kelley: There are lots of wonderful functional medicine doctors who can help your son and nephews. Also check out Further Food for some articles and recipes that can help! Good luck!

  11. Howaida Sharaf

    This article helped me a lot I suffer from sever rashes its on and of some from food and others I don’t know from what …I have joint and muscles pain and each day it appears from one place to another as it could be in hip then one hand then it attacks me on my leg ..I sometimes couldn’t bend my fest as figers are in pain in the morning …and others…what type of doctors do I need
    I went for 2.5 years to a doctor which was said that he treats patients that have immune proplems

    1. Recipe Team

      Howaida: We are glad this article helped you. It is an amazing and inspiring story! Further Food has lots of articles and recipes that might give you guidance on how to deal with your joint and muscle pain. We wish you luck!

  12. Miles

    My son has Juvenile Dermatomyositis. He is currently in remission but his symptoms were very similar to this poor girl. It’s a debilitating disease.

  13. Anonymous

    What type of Dr do I need to see to go on this journey? I have had MCTD since 1997. I would love to get off predisone, xelgan and lots of other pills. Thank you.

    1. Recipe Team

      Dr. Hyman is a functional medicine doctor. Functional medicine doctors try to treat diseases as a whole, and look at diet and lifestyle to help heal. Good luck to you.

  14. Desperate for truth and help

    I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis 03/2014 due to lesions some they described as “very large”. By August 2014 I was hospitalized for 26 days and diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I left in a wheel chair and was it took just over a year to work to a walker and then cane. What was interesting is they had me on so many meds since I left the hospital and adding more each visit that brought me nonkind of real relief or help of any kind. When I told the dr I wanted to cut down on meds and try to work on my diet and nutrition he literally gave me a psych referral. He also claims that none of the 3 autoimmune diseases I have cause pain, which I am in a lot of. Anyway, about 6 weeks in to tapering off on what meds I can, I started gaining more mobility. Slowly but surely. I tried to get into a stemcell transplant with Dr. Burt at Northwestern. I was ultimately turned down once my ms specialist sent over my records that showed I didn’t qualify because I had progressed to Spms. This bothered me quite a bit because this was the first time I had heard I had transitioned. He never even mentioned it to me. So for pain my ms specialist sends me to I h a rheumatologist/neurologist in his building. All he was doing was loading me up with lidocaine that never helped. So my last appt he tells me he believes I know also have Fibromyalgia and gave me a referral to a pain management center. I did a little research on them and basically they prescribe suboxone for everything. I don’t need another problem. I’m at a crossroads with not many resources or knowledge. I want to try the things you are talking about. I’m desperate for relief and help.

  15. PCR

    I have an autoimmune disease called Stiff Person’s syndrome that I was diagnosed with over 15 yeas ago. I even went to NIH in Bethesda MD to have a second opinion where they have a stiff persons syndromes clinic. I was not sick enough for the program, but I have been on Valium for more than 15 years. I eat healthy. I need to exercise, but I would sure like to get off the meds. If I don’t take the meds, I will fall. It’s as if I had a stroke and my right leg drags behind me. Before the diagnosis, I was falling all the time for no reason. At first, the docs thought I had MS, but then ruled that out It’s only in my right leg It is under control with the meds but what else I could do? The physician says I will have withdrawal if I stop the meds and as an RN I know that is for certain.
    I do take a lot of supplements nut I don’t think anything will help with this disease. I would love to have your input!

    1. Recipe Team

      You can check out the Further Food website for lots of articles on chronic illnesses. You can read about stories from experts and health heroes who have healed chronic conditions and pain through diet and supplements. We wish you luck!

  16. Kirsten

    Great example! However what does one do when they have been diagnosed with Mast cell activation syndrome and cannot tolerate most healthy foods, supplements or herbs? My sister had her initial reaction to rosemary …. anaphylaxis … 4 1/2 years ago… she is allergic to everything, even the sun. She went from being a nurse practitioner, wife, mother of 2 little boys…. to barely being able to leave her home. Wears a mask and gloves whenever out of her home. Vitamin D is super low but she’s allergic to every form she’s tried. I’m all for functional medicine..but she can’t tolerate most things you’d prescribe.

    1. Recipe Team

      Hi Kirsten: Sorry to hear about your sister. Every person is different so what works for one person may not work for another. We hope she can get some guidance and help in feeling better. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out the Further Food website and Dr. Hyman’s site for inspiring articles that may help!

  17. Orsi

    Could I ask how did you measure Isabelle’s Mercury level? Was it from hair sample or/and urine or/and blood test?
    I have suspected elevated Mercury levels,
    Also if you pull out the heavy metals from the body, does it not cause more damage via excretion?
    Thank you for your respond.

  18. Fulya

    Awesome article! Would love to see (read) more of these positively reversing stories via the nutrition we have. First step to become aware what we are eating, second to find out what is damaging health and third knowing how to treat health by eliminating the wrong food and replacing it with the right one. Glad we have a lead like you sharing this info! You are what you eat – by all means ! Thanks for that article!

  19. Dena Karnehm

    I’m so happy for Isabel & her family. Ride on Isabel! 🐎

    I’m was a Britle Asthmatic, this is my third month of being treated at Cleveland Clinic Functional Medicine. Nearly cured from Asthma, hope to get off all the steroids soon! No sugar, no grains, no dairy, no beef, no corn, no preservatives or chemicals… & lots of
    supplements & probiotics. Feeling so much stronger!!!

    1. Recipe Team

      Hi Tresa: Both Dr. Hyman and FurtherFood offer sugar detoxs. Through Further Food’s free 7 day sugar detox you get a meal plan, recipes, and advice from experts to help you through. Our next one starts April 3, so we recommend you sign up soon.

  20. holdridge

    I have had autoimmune hepatitis for 12 years and my alp have never been normal and the last year has started to get higher I am still taking the same meds for the last 12 yrs do you have any recommendations

  21. Noka

    I eas diagnosed with lupus about 2yrs sgo and been on meds since. I hate taking these meds but if i dont, flares happen. I’m trying a keto diet but not 100% compliant with it. I want to be completely healed and back to my healthy life. How can you carry out test for people so far away. I live in California.

    1. Recipe Team

      Hi Noka: Thanks for the comment. If you have a specific question for Dr. Hyman, we recommend you contact him directly through his website. In the meantime, you can check out FurtherFood for lots of inspiring articles by people with lupus. Good luck!

  22. Sue

    How can I get treated by you?! I’ve been struggling for 5 years now with a myriad of autoimmune issues – and two of my kids most likely have some form as well.

  23. Kay

    God gave us an original diet, greens, beans, etc. and that has helped me with my autoimmune disease, I take no medication for my lupus for 6yrs now. Minor flare ups because I cheat once in a while.


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