Venus Williams is healthy again after being diagnosed with the auto-immune disease Sjogren's syndrome two years ago. Williams credits a raw-vegan diet for improving her health after Sjogren-induced chronic fatigue forced her to briefly step back from tennis.
"I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Sjögren's syndrome," Williams, 33, said on the Dr. Oz show Oct. 10. "The reason it stayed such a mystery is because the symptoms are so ambiguous that no one can really diagnose it.
At one point, I just ended up getting sicker, and that's what happens to a lot of people. The average diagnosis time is about seven years, and that's what happened with me. It took seven years."
Venus went public with her condition in 2011, but told Dr. Oz she first started feeling symptoms back in 2004. The symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome include shortness of breath, chronic fatigue and muscle aches.
Because Sjögren's syndrome was not well publicized years ago, Venus said she and others mistook her constant exhaustion for laziness. "It started in 2004," she recounted. "I couldn't get in shape. No matter what I did, I never had any wind.
So I was out there, just faking it. And every now and then, after a big loss, I would say, 'Gosh, something's wrong.' As an athlete, you don't make excuses. Either you do it or you don't. So in my head I just thought, 'Maybe I'm just kind of lazy.' That's what I would think."
Williams realized her chronic fatigue wasn't just in her head when she was finally diagnosed with the auto-immune disease. Sjögren's syndrome, which causes exhaustion, joint pain, dry eyes and dry mouth, affects some four million Americans. There is no cure.
Williams said switching to a raw-vegan diet helped relieve many of her symptoms. "Changing my diet has made a big difference,"she said. "I'm not perfect, so I forgive myself when I make mistakes. I do a lot of juicing as well, a lot of wheat grass shots, lots of fresh juices."
Williams, who makes sure she gets enough rest, said eating raw organic foods is key to maintaining optimal health.
"I don’t always eat raw, especially before matches," she said. "When you eat raw it is not always enough calories for athletics, so I will eat some pasta and bread and rice for energy. I try to eat all-natural and organic. That is mostly my focus."
Venus said her raw-vegan diet has made her feel so great that she inspired sister Serena to adopt the plant-based diet.