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“AIP Stories of Recovery” is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please email us through the contact form.
Allergies, lethargy, low body temperature, skin legions — Ryan Monahan’s broad and seemingly unrelated symtoms baffled doctors for years. Neither he nor his laundry list of MDs ever saw a connection between them, and in his late 20s — what should have been the prime of his life — Ryan found himself depressed, exhausted and believing things would never change. Luckily, it was at this dark hour that Ryan’s research finally led him toward autoimmunity, and he began to put the pieces together.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
I currently live with Hashimoto’s, and was diagnosed in 2012 (with a TSH level above 150!), though I’m certain that I was living with the condition for years longer. It’s fair to say that I couldn’t have known about the condition until I was diagnosed, as I knew little about the thyroid at the time, and it is rare to see a diagnosis in men. Throughout my 20s, I experienced a host of seemingly unrelated symptoms including but not limited to chronic year-round allergies, asthma, sleep apnea, depression, rheumatoid-like skin lesions, digestive distress…the list goes on. And as the story often goes, I visited an ENT for my allergies, a dermatologist for my skin conditions, a gastroenterologist for my digestive distress, and a rheumatologist to check for certain immune/inflammation markers.
Countless hours in doctors offices, thousands of dollars spent, and needless surgeries later, I had still never experienced a full or even near resolution of my symptoms. In my early twenties, I was even volunteered by a physician to be a test patient for a Grand Rounds at Yale New Haven Hospital. After having been examined by some 40 doctors, not one found any clinical correlation between my symptoms and any underlying condition!
Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.
As I approached my late 20s, symptoms that were once mild started to increase in severity, and honestly, I never expected that things would get better. I often found myself sleeping 12 hours a day, my bowel movements became extremely painful, and I was increasingly intolerant to cold — even here in sunny Georgia on an 85-degree day, I would be shivering without a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. To complicate things further, my depression got to the point where I wouldn’t leave the house sometimes for several days (thank God for the work-from-home job I had at the time)! And though weight gain was never really an issue, I did start to experience “puffy” face; it’s striking to look back at the difference to what I look like now!
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
I can’t say that there was one particular moment that provoked me to look for a solution. Rather, I was just generally fed up with not feeling well — with not being able to effectively do the things I love. I’m a musician, and I remember getting ready for gigs in the pre-diagnosis years of my condition feeling like, “Ok, let’s just get this over with,” which is the worst thing to feel about something you love doing.
Even simple tasks like making breakfast or writing an e-mail seemed impossible, which can be additionally frustrating and isolating when friends and family can’t truly relate from the “outside” unless they’re experiencing an autoimmune condition themselves. Once the state of your health starts negatively affecting your relationships, that’s often a point where you realize that it’s time for a change…
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
Like many people suffering from autoimmunity, I had tried vegetarian and vegan diets for years, only to end up feeling depleted and exhausted. I had also eliminated gluten and dairy in my early twenties, but had never considered that other gut-compromising compounds (lectins for instance) could be found in all grains, as well as nightshades.
Something really started to click with me when I started reading up on micronutrient deficiencies and the gut-disease connection. And it really wasn’t until beginning the AIP — incorporating grass-fed animal proteins and bone broths, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, etc. — that I started noticing a significant reduction in my symptoms. By then, I was so convinced of the effectiveness of the entire diet and philosophy, that I reached out to Mickey Trescott for additional nutritional therapy.
Needless to say, she was instrumental in helping me tweak my diet and lifestyle even more! Yet, the real testament to AIP for me was in the numbers… Since starting the protocol, I’ve been able to reduce my TgAB antibodies down to less than 25% of where I started!
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far & how did you find them?
After dozens of hours of internet research and podcast listening, I repeatedly came across a common genetic mutation that has been gaining a lot of attention in functional healing circles — the MTHFR mutation. Thankfully I had just connected with a functional medicine doctor in Atlanta who tested me for the mutation, and sure enough I was homozygous for MTHFR, which in turn, ended up guiding my course of treatment.
Now, if you’ve got an autoimmune disease to begin with, this is a bit of a double whammy, and can seriously impair your body’s ability to detox. That being said, I can’t understate the role of self-determination in one’s healing journey! Merely by investing the time in my own health, I was able to learn a wealth of information from valuable resources like Sarah Ballantyne, Chris Kresser, and everybody at Autoimmune-Paleo.com — practical information that helped me manage my condition.
The health obsession was real, and I started realizing that I had more than just a passing interest in nutrition and its relationship to physiology and root causes. After having met some folks in the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program in Austin, TX for Paleof(x), I decided to take the plunge and enroll shortly thereafter.I’m happy to announce that I’ll be an FDN practitioner by the year’s end!
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
My first endocrinologist refused to run a full thyroid panel on me, asserting that testing for reverse T3, or rechecking antibodies would be “a waste of money.” Like many endos, he was basing his treatment solely on TSH, and as a result, was promptly fired from my healing team!
This was all right around the time that I was reading Izabella Wentz’s book, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause, learning the nitty-gritty differences between T3-only synthetic medications like Synthroid, and desiccated alternatives like Nature-Throid and Armour. Even though I felt great after the first nine months or so on Synthroid, my energy started to slump again, and I knew that the Synthroid wasn’t working for me. That’s when I sought out a functional medicine doctor that was open to using Armour, and haven’t looked back since!
It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?
It brings me true joy knowing that there’s always room for improvement, and as my health continues to improve, I’m looking forward to having the energy to pour into some of my more creative endeavors. Our work is never done. I’ve found so much relief with diet and lifestyle modifications already, and I know there’s plenty of room to go! Mostly, I’m excited to share this ongoing knowledge with others, and to help people along in their own healing journeys!
Ryan is currently developing TheMindfulNutrivore.com to share his story and connect with others interested in “upstream” approaches to chronic disease management.