Vegan Athletes: Venus Williams
Why She Turned Vegan and How it Affected Her Performance
Venus Williams quit US Open in 2011 due to her autoimmune disorder Sjögren’s syndrome.
Venus William’s Tennis career seemed to have ended in 2011. She was experiencing fatigue, pain in her joint, frequent injuries and dry eyes and mouth.
She was diagnosed a few weeks before the US Open, 11 and she had to opt out just before the match began, disappointing millions of fans across the globe with her decision.
She had been suffering for a while but since it takes up to six years for Sjögren to get diagnosed, she didn’t know what was really happening to her.
She had trouble with stamina, breathing, would take medication but nothing worked. Towards the end, she started having more pronounced symptoms. Extreme fatigue, pain, numbness, swelling etc. For almost six years, she kept suffering, not knowing what’s really wrong with her body.
So much so that she said, “I can’t raise my hand. The racket seems to be made of concrete.”
Then eventually, she got diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome just weeks before the US Open, 2011. Since then her life changed.
Let’s first understand what Sjögren’s syndrome (incurable disease) is and how common is it and then we will discuss how going vegan helped Venus fight this.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease. In this disease, white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands.
An autoimmune disease is something in which the immune system starts attacking healthy cells in the body instead of foreign cells or pathogens. Inflammation is a common symptom of autoimmune diseases.
It should be noted that Sjögren’s syndrome is an incurable disease as per current scientific knowledge.
As it affects moisture making glands, it results in a decline in the production of tears and saliva in the human body.
The eyes and mouth feel excessively dry.
This disease gets his name from a Swedish physician, Dr Henrik Sjögren, who identified it the first time in 1933.
Most obvious and first symptoms are dry mouth and eyes. But other internal and sensitive organs can also get affected. It can affect your kidney, blood vessels, pancreas, lungs, liver and other organs.
Nine out of ten patients are women. This disease is generally found in women.
Symptoms may also include debilitating fatigue and pain in joints. Some people experience relatively milder symptoms and some experience intense symptoms.
The causes are not known but the scientific community is growing consensus on genetic factors. Some environmental factors might trigger the unmanifested genetic factors in people.
The family members of families that have a history of other autoimmune illnesses, such as lupus, autoimmune thyroid disease, type I diabetes, etc are more prone to such diseases.
A common disease autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) is often associated with Sjögren’s syndrome. This can lead to abnormal thyroid hormone levels detected by thyroid blood tests.
Another common condition associated with Sjögren’s syndrome is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which results in heartburn and difficulty in swallowing.
A small fraction of patients with this disease also develop cancer of lymph at times.
So, we can see, it’s a chronic disease disbalances ones life and on top it, it’s incurable. So, people have to learn to live with it, deal with symptoms and keep taking treatment.
Let’s see how Venus fought it!!
Venus Turning Vegan
After getting diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, Venus took time off from Tennis and switched to a raw vegan diet.
The Role Of Diet
The reason is that while fighting an autoimmune disease the first remedial action that has to be taken is to remove all animal-based products from your diet.
Eating any kinds of animal-based products cause massive amounts of inflammation in the body.
A study by Scientific American has also shown that upon exposure to saturated fat, the gut experiences inflammation, causes the death of the healthy protective bacteria in the gut, initiation of an immune response, and in some cases even haemorrhage.
Massive amount of consumption of products like dairy and meat triggers and sustains autoimmune disease.
Hence, it is advised if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases should remove all kinds of animal-based products from their diet.
They should also remove vegetable oils as they contain omega-6 fatty acids. All kinds of processed foods should also be removed from the diet. Because all of them cause inflammation.
Our bodies are not genetically programmed to digest this kind of food (Oils, processed food etc). Hence, a lot of people start having health-related issues when they pick such dietary patterns.
The body starts healing itself, once if stop feeding what’s toxic to it.
And hence, Venus switched to a raw vegan diet eliminating everything that could potentially cause her to harm from her plate.
In an interview, she was asked about her switch to this diet to which she said,
I started for health reasons. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I wanted to maintain my performance on the court. Once I started I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible. Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing for me.
Venus keeps a relatively relaxed calendar and plans her year in a way so that she can balance between tournaments and rest. When she was asked about cheat meals, she said,
Well, honestly I have go-to things. I do love sweet things, so I’ve tried to find things that I love that are sweet but are still healthy. So, for me, sometimes it’ll be a juice or a sweet smoothie. There’s a smoothie that I have called ‘orange creamsicle’, so I’ll put in Silk milk, oranges, a little banana, vanilla flavoring, and sometimes a little coconut oil — it just depends, again, on what I have. The best thing about the orange creamsicle is that it tastes like you’re having an ice cream, so it makes me really happy but it’s still really healthy. There are different ways to ease your itch when you want junk food.
In 2011 when she backed out of US Open, she was ranked 102 in the world and in 2017 fighting with this disease with diet and treatment she made of Australian Open final and reached a world ranking of 7.
She is not only a tennis legend but a strong individual who is helping people fight this disease better and creating awareness. She refused to give up to the disease and living her life as it is coming to her.
Others can do the same. A vegan lifestyle can help you live a better and healthier life, perform better, live longer and live happier.
Happy Healthy Eating to All!!
We could come back with more such inspiring stories. Don’t forget to follow Four Pursuits Ventures on Medium.