Just before Nitika Chopra was diagnosed with psoriasis at age 10, while her family still thought it might be eczema, she remembers her uncle saying: “I really hope it’s not psoriasis, because if it is, her life is really going to be affected by it.” That moment was a premonition of what was to come, of the 15 years she would spend battling the crippling disease, sometimes so bad that she couldn’t dress herself. But it was also a challenge that Nitika would take up later in her life, overcoming both external and internal challenges to straddle the line between healthcare and wellness and find a true path to health.
Nitika was ultimately diagnosed with severe plaque psoriasis, which shows up as thick, scaly patches of skin, covering everywhere except her face, hands, and feet. She couldn’t wear dark colors because of the constant flaking, and her skin became so chapped it hurt to move. After trying a battery of different treatments — Chinese herbs, Reiki, homeopathy, Ayurveda — she found a medication that worked…but only temporarily.
“About six months in, it started to reverse,” Nitika remembers. “It stopped working, and then I ended up getting psoriatic arthritis.” She remembers sitting in her dorm room trying to open a bag of cereal, and her hands wouldn’t work.
Devastated by having another ailment to deal with on top of her skin, Nitika took a semester off of school to live in India with her parents and work with an acupuncturist who said he could heal her. At the same time, she began adjusting her diet (something American doctors had dismissed as useless, but Indian doctors encouraged), cutting out nightshades and other inflammatory foods. Her wedding was coming up and she was determined to be healthy by then — and she was.
But the next day, proud of her accomplishment and exhausted from months of vigilance, she ate Pizza Hut. She didn’t go crazy, but the results were drastic. “Immediately, within 24 hours of having that pizza, my psoriasis started to break through my skin again and I started a 6-year journey of being the sickest I have ever been.”
Back in New York, where she and her husband moved after their wedding, Nitika couldn’t move without severe pain, unable to take the stairs or dress herself. After five years of living like that, she saw a rheumatologist who gave her a major wake-up call. He told her that her bones were starting to become deformed, and that if she didn’t address the problem, she would be crippled by age 30.
Terrified, Nitika began taking medication, even though it went against her strong belief that our bodies have the power to heal themselves. “As someone in the wellness industry and self-help space,” she says, “sometimes it’s something I still have to work through shame around and know that my body needed medication at the time.”
Within two weeks of beginning the medication, she was skipping down the street; she called her mom crying with happiness because she was able to wear a dress for the first time in years. But symptoms persisted even with the medications, and because she didn’t want to be on these intense prescriptions for the rest of her life, she finally decided it was time to see a functional medicine doctor for the first time. The doctor did a ton of tests — hormones, gut, blood, you name it — and found that her system was totally out of whack; while a healthy gut has 30 different kinds of bacteria that help keep your digestion and immune system and everything else functioning, Nitika only had five. That’s when she really began to attack her health issues with diet and was able to turn things around.