After suffering from his own battle with Hashimoto’s and discovering an alternative approach to healing it, functional practitioner Marc Ryan decided to devote his life to doing everything he could to help others find hope, help, and healing. The end result was Hashimoto’s Healing, a practice and community dedicated to helping those with Hashimoto’s find their way back to wellness. In the last four years Marc has spent thousands of hours researching, working with, and talking to over 2,000 Hashimoto’s patients. His positive approach to healing is inspiring, to say the least, and we’re excited to welcome him as the host of our next webinar on Wednesday March 29th at 8 p.m. ET! RSVP here!
What drew you to functional medicine?
I was originally trained as an acupuncturist and herbalist and in many ways, I think, Chinese medicine is the original functional medicine. The focus of treatment is always around how any type of disease process affects the physical body’s ability to perform it’s normal functions.
So, when I discovered functional medicine I got super excited because it brought a more modern understanding of physiology to the Chinese medicine paradigm. I’ve spent the last several years studying functional medicine and new research and applying Chinese medical theory to it.
And it’s amazing how that framework can give you incredible insights into the mechanics of the body. The body is a very complex set of systems and by using things like 5 Element theory it allows use to see these interactions in a dynamic way. It’s a framework that allows us to wrap our minds around all these systems moving at once.
I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but it’s a lot like the way that mathematics is using chaos theory and applying it to these complicated biological systems. Western medical treatment often reduces things down to one drug applied to one system.
But the body doesn’t work that way in real life, you can’t simply isolate a single part and ignore its impact on all the others. It’s a super complicated living organism composed of many different ecosystems all doing their jobs at once.
We need to be able to see the big picture so that we can find points of leverage that help transform the disease process into a healing process.
You and your daughter both have Hashimoto’s. How did your medical background affect your reaction to that diagnosis and the very reactive way your doctor recommended you treat the disease?
Well, I had a much different reaction to my daughter’s diagnosis than my own. When I was diagnosed I was basically told “All your numbers are normal, we’ll keep an eye on it and when things get bad enough, we’ll put you on Synthroid.”
Because of my background I knew the process of losing function of your thyroid is not a pleasant experience, to say the least, so I was like, “No, No, NO!” I didn’t want to wait and gradually spiral down into misery. I was already feeling pretty bad.
It was at that point that I decided to do everything I could to try to change things NOW before they got any worse. And functional medicine and Chinese medicine both gave me some great options for being proactive and starting from where I was.
When my daughter was diagnosed, I was devastated. I wondered if we could have done something differently, and I wished I had known what I know now when she was younger. If you have children, you know, you’d rather suffer yourself than have them go through this.
But, fortunately, we were able to apply everything I have learned by working with lots of people with Hashimoto’s (and a good number of kids with the disease) and she has been really good patient and is usually pretty compliant and follows directions, so she’s doing great now.
How have your own experiences with Hashimoto’s shaped how you treat the people who come to you for help?
Because of everything I’ve been through, I never dismiss anything that a patient shares with me. Even if it seems “crazy” and unrelated. I have found that there are a lot of variations to Hashimoto’s and it can sometimes result in some odd symptoms.
I also really believe in a “walk the talk” philosophy. If I’m going to ask my patients to change their behavior and not do something or make sacrifices for their health, I need to have gone through that and done that myself.
That attitude creates compassion and understanding, I think. Imagine if every doctor took the medication and had the surgery that he prescribed you. It makes you truly understand the process and the consequences of your recommendations on their lives.
How do you work with patients who are consulting with you? What kind of support do you offer?
The first thing I always do with patients is a case review. This is an in depth analysis of all the systems of their body and their brain and an analysis of their test results. This allows me to see the big picture and to understand which systems are compromised.
Then I put together a plan for them that includes diet as a foundation, herbs and supplements and, in some cases, acupuncture treatment. Some people reach out to me across the globe so, I can’t do acupuncture for them, obviously.
I also try to work on people’s thinking and default behavior because I find that this is also really important for healing. Mindset is absolutely critical when you are battling a chronic problem like Hashimoto’s.
Why do you think conventional medicine can be so backward in its treatment of Hashimoto’s (let the symptoms emerge, then treat them vs. being proactive)?
That’s a great question. I think it’s the nature of the medical model. As I spoke about earlier, it’s reductive and focused on one system at a time. It’s not dynamic and it doesn’t do a good job in understanding or treating the complex interactions of the body’s systems.
Diet, behavior and prevention are not taken seriously, even though these are the most important elements of any successful treatment strategy.
The focus is also on maximizing profits for the medical industry. This requires reducing things down to one drug and one problem at a time. For example, Synthroid is the #1 prescribed drug in the US. About 800 million in sales annually. It’s supposed to be taken for the rest of your life.
That’s a winning formula from a share holder and business point of view. So, there’s no incentive to change and do better.
Most doctors also don’t care about autoimmunity or the gut or the adrenal glands or the brain, etc. These other systems are not considered when they are treating or following up and testing TSH and T4.
They just blindly follow the model that they have been taught which really amounts to TSH management.
In many ways, Hashimoto’s changed your life for the better – that being the case, what would you tell a person (diagnosed or not) who comes to you at the absolute end of their rope? What do you say to people who’ve just about given up hope?
Hashimoto’s is a great teacher.
I think most of us who have struggled with Hashimoto’s are familiar with the challenges it can present: the fatigue and exhaustion, the brain fog, memory and concentration issues, the weight issues, the struggles with gut health, food intolerances, etc.
And I think we are often led in support groups to keep that focus on those struggles and how to fix them. And, of course, that’s not a bad thing. However, repeated focus on complex and intractable problems can, itself, get pretty exhausting sometimes.
So, I recommend that we look at this as a journey and an opportunity for transformation and growth. What does Hashimoto’s teach us?
1. Commitment and perseverance: Hashimoto’s is complex and over time it becomes way more than a thyroid problem. It’s a systemic problem that can affect multiple systems of the body.
And unwinding all of those webs of dysfunction takes focused and committed effort. Half measures don’t yield half results. In my experience, they often yield no results and the added frustration and discouragement that comes with that failure.
You gotta go all in, and you gotta stay in the fight. Admittedly, that can be hard to sustain at the same level, so you’re bound to fall off the horse at times. When that happens, forgive yourself and get right back on.
2. Staying present and living in the moment: One of the things that I recommend for everyone is to keep a journal. This will provide you with a tremendous amount of data about physical, dietary and emotional triggers.
It will also allows you to live a life that you are present in. There are so many distractions in today’s world and so many things vying for your attention. Hashimoto’s gives you the opportunity to focus on you and to stay in the moment.
And here’s the thing, if you don’t, there are real consequences to not paying attention. Things like flare ups, set backs and lost time with friends, family and work.
3. Balance: Stress is a huge deal when it comes to autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s. The reason is simple, just having autoimmune disease puts your body into a state of heightened physiological stress.
Unnecessary or indulgent emotional stressors have real consequences too. They can be very destructive to your health and well being. It’s so important to learn to balance life, work and relationships.
And once again, for many of us, if we don’t have balance, we soon learn that the price is just more suffering.
4. Simplicity: Doing less, eating less of certain foods that don’t serve us (sugar, dairy, gluten, etc.), working less, buying less, thinking less, you name it. Doing less of it can often, in and of itself be healing.
Don’t be afraid to make your life simpler. There’s really no downside, especially over the long term.
5. Compassion: There’s plenty of opportunity to get angry and frustrated at many of the important people in our lives like our doctors who don’t get it, our spouses who don’t really understand, friends and relatives who aren’t as supportive as you’d like and ourselves for being less than perfect.
Well, all of them deserve compassion, including yourself.
Resentment is the self inflicted pain that keeps on giving. Compassion is the only way out of that. Forgive, and move on.
So many great lessons are being taught by Hashimoto’s. All we have to do is learn them. And that means making changes in our daily lives to change the behaviors that are the root of these challenges.
Thanks so much for giving me a chance to share my ideas! As you can probably tell, I’m pretty passionate about doing this work. 🙂
On Wednesday, March 29 at 8 p.m. ET, Marc will be chatting with us about the 5 Elements of Endocrine Health. RSVP here!