From the age of 17, Dr. Micah Yu has been dealing with gout, a form of arthritis characterized by severe pain, redness, and tenderness in joints. Over time, as he continued to eat a Standard American Diet (SAD), his gout pain transformed to another form of arthritis, affecting multiple joints in his body. For over a decade, he experienced high inflammatory markers, which were linked to his consumption of processed and refined foods.

In an effort to save his health, he embarked on a journey to live a plant-based lifestyle with his wife, who was training in lifestyle medicine at the time. After making the switch to eating plant-based, his constant pain and flare-ups all went away. He lost over 30 pounds, significantly decreased his inflammatory markers, and overall felt much better.

Inspired by his own experience with gout and spondyloarthritis, he is now on a mission to help others tailor healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle. Currently, he is an integrative rheumatologist at Dr. Lifestyle clinic, which he runs with his wife, Dr. Melissa Mondala, a family medicine, and lifestyle medicine physician.

On a daily basis, he regularly counsels his patients with autoimmune diseases on long-term lifestyle interventions–such as adopting a plant-based diet–to help them improve their quality of life and become less dependent on medications. In an exclusive interview with The Beet, Dr. Yu talks about his health journey, what steps he took to transform his health, and what advice he gives his patients when it comes to eating plant-based. Let his words inspire you to optimize your health and nourish your body by filling your meals with delicious plants!

The Beet: How long have you been plant-based?

Dr. Micah Yu: I have practiced a plant-based lifestyle for 3 years now.

TB: Can you tell us the story of your health journey?

Dr. Yu: Growing up, I ate a typical Western diet full of refined and processed foods. When I was 17, I went on the Atkins diet in an attempt to get stronger, and I ended up developing gout, which is a form of arthritis. In my 20s, I was diagnosed with spondyloarthritis, an autoimmune disease that can affect the back, pelvis, neck, and some larger joints, as well as internal organs.

I would experience painful flare-ups anywhere from every two weeks to every two months, which would affect my entire body–from my jaw to my feet. I would sometimes limp to work and would wake up with stiffness and lots of pain.

TB: When did you decide to change your diet and lifestyle? What was the turning point?

Dr. Yu: I decided to change my diet to a plant-based diet after my wife encouraged me to. She was training in lifestyle medicine at the time, and she was amazed to discover how many individuals were active and healthy well into their 80s and 90s – due to a plant-based diet. Soon thereafter, she also decided to try a plant-based diet to treat some of her own health conditions. It was a journey we embarked upon together to transform our health and increase our quality of life.

TB: How did a plant-based diet impact your health?

Dr. Yu: With each passing week after switching to a plant-based diet, my pain and stiffness greatly decreased. Within three months, my pain and inflammation significantly improved, and I stopped having flare-ups. I did not have to take any painkiller medications anymore.

One day, I had blood work done and found that one of my inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein, was negative, after being positive for 10 years! It felt amazing to be pain-free and I was determined to continue with this lifestyle.

TB: How did you change your lifestyle? What were some of the steps and strategies you took?

Dr. Yu: When my wife first had me try some plant-based dishes, I wasn’t a huge fan. Yet as the months went by, I became more interested in the idea of a plant-based diet. I started educating myself about the benefits of this diet by reading How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD and watched the Forks Over Knives documentary film. Moreover, I made it a point to have my refrigerator at home filled mostly with fresh fruits and vegetables, so I stick to only those foods. It definitely worked, and as time went by, I started to enjoy preparing and eating different plant-based dishes.

TB: How do you eat now?

Dr. Yu: I like trying all types of plant-based meals. One item I have a few times a week is a green smoothie filled with tons of fruits and vegetables. I also really enjoy whole grains and Asian vegetables in my diet. I make a delicious miso soup with tofu, green onions, and plenty of mushrooms. I also make savory chickpea pancakes, mango chia seed lassi, and purple yam chips – all of which are very delicious!

TB: Did your transformative health journey inspire you to become a rheumatologist?

Dr. Yu: Yes, I trained in rheumatology, which was inspired by my experience with gout and spondyloarthritis. Rheumatologists treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, Sjogren's, gout, fibromyalgia, myositis, vasculitis, and other inflammatory conditions. After experiencing pain and other symptoms for years, I aspired to learn and understand chronic, autoimmune diseases from a physician’s perspective to not only help myself but also help others.

TB: Tell us a little bit about what you do on a daily basis to help patients with autoimmune conditions achieve their health goals through nutrition and lifestyle.

Dr. Yu: As a physician, I incorporate complementary medicine with traditional rheumatology, which means I often discuss nutrition and lifestyle modifications in addition to other treatments like medications. I see patients with autoimmune diseases every single day. When it comes to lifestyle changes, I emphasize the benefits of eating a plant-based diet and the power of food as medicine, which helps them get through their healing journey. I also always tell them to minimize stress as high stress negatively impacts one’s health and wellbeing.

TB: What is your mantra?

Dr. Yu: You can't go wrong by eating the different colors of the rainbow!

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