After my diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in 2017, my doctor told me to quit drinking and smoking and to start a decent exercise routine. Then, he basically said, “Go on Humira, and good luck.”
I was just a number, in and out of his office. People in Facebook groups told me to try an autoimmune eating protocol. Cut out eggplant, peppers, and gluten. Keep the peppers and cut out meat. Keep the meat and cut out cheese. And so forth.
People in the chronic illness community shared meditations and stress management tips. They told me what to do, what not to do, what to avoid, what exacerbated their disease, and what made it better. It was a total whirlwind of overwhelm. I received hundreds of helpful comments from AS patients, all of them different and contradictory. My rheumatologists left me feeling more nervous than prepared for life with AS.
I have learned that every single person with AS — and any other disease — will have a different experience. Disease plays out differently in every one of us.
The one consistency in all of the advice I received? Kick the alcohol. Kick it, the books said. Kick it, the advice columns said. Kick it, the research said. For some, that might have been easy. For me, it wasn’t.
Luckily, I didn’t smoke (though I’ve had cigarettes in my day). I also was a pretty dedicated swimmer and regularly worked out — especially when I noticed that movement reduced my pain levels. The drinking, though? That proved to be tricky.
I’m a writer who lives in New York City. I’m surrounded by artists and creators who love to drink wine and chat about life and writing. Alcohol is a relaxation elixir, a drink for poetry readings and art galleries, a tool to connect and network. You can’t attend an event without running into alcohol. Even in graduate school, we encountered it at departmental events or graduations. The wine flowed — which, of course, normalizes consumption.
If you’re not drinking constantly or don’t have a drinking problem, you may not see a reason to cut it out. “It’s social,” my friends said. “It’s not a big deal.” In my case, however, it was. I didn’t realize the alcohol kept me in pain because I hadn’t stepped away from dinnertime wine or poetry reading cocktails.
But this past winter, I had the worst flare-up of my life and decided enough was enough. I eliminated all of the things that would affect me: alcohol, bad food, stress. I’m so glad I did.
Drinking must have exacerbated my inflammation because my pain levels were high and constant — until I decided in January to cut out drinking almost entirely. I decided to have a glass here and there at a wedding or birthday party, but other than that? Done.
The pain decreased significantly. So did my fatigue. So did my brain fog. The science of why is unsurprising: Alcohol leads to reduced gut health, which can affect AS. Now, to be clear, moderate drinking can have a small anti-inflammatory effect — but my drinking wasn’t moderate.
It was hard at first. I wondered, “How will I socialize?” or “Will I suddenly become super lame and boring?!”
But once I made the adjustment and started seeing the benefits, it stuck. Eating well, hydrating, exercising daily (even just a little), and cutting back on alcohol by 90 percent helped. And guess what? I’m not lame or boring, and I can still totally socialize. Oh, and I have been feeling better than ever.
Knock on wood.
Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.
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