“I believe absolutely that it is in sharing the most vulnerable aspects of our journeys that we support each other to find grace and strength and healing during equally challenging times.”
~ Baden Lashkov
Living a Resilient Autoimmune Life
When rheumatoid arthritis took over Kylie Hansen’s body, it felt like being set on fire from the inside. The pain was excruciating, and she struggled to care for her young children. Many medications failed before she found ones that helped, but she wondered if there was anything she could do to reduce her symptoms. That’s when she found the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. While it wasn’t a cure, it allowed her to reduce her medication, mitigate the side effects, and feel empowered that she could make a positive difference in her own health.
What were your first symptoms? When did you learn what it was?
I had a baby in November and in February I started waking up stiff in the morning. I didn’t think anything of it right away, because I just thought I was tired from not sleeping since I just had a baby. Plus, the stiffness would go away within a few hours of being up. Then, the pain in my hands and feet started getting more and more intense. My mother is a nurse, and when I told her this, she urged me to see a doctor right away. My doctor sent me to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with RA.
Can you describe what it was like for you, when your condition was at its worst?
It took a long time for me to respond to medication. By fall of that same year my entire body had been taken over by the disease. I had intense pain in all my joints 24 hours a day. I only slept when I passed out from exhaustion, only to be woken up by the pain throughout the night. I was a stay-at-home mom to a baby and a toddler. The worst part of it was not getting to be the mom that I always dreamed of being. I often tell people that it felt like being set on fire from the inside. Those were some very dark times in my life. It would be two years before I was put on Humira which worked wonderfully for about a year. Then it stopped working and the pain returned. That was even harder. I just felt hopeless. It took another two years before we found something that worked well again.
What treatment methods did you try before dietary intervention – conventional or alternative?
I have been on a lot of treatments, but the two that worked best were Humira and then Rituxan infusion. I also took methotrexate combined with those medications.
Which healing diet(s) did you choose?
How fast did you see results?
When I decided to try the diet, I was still taking the medications. After four months on AIP, I decided to stop the methotrexate. I was very afraid that I would wake the monster that is RA, but nothing happened. I was also able to hold off my Rituxan treatment for 18 months instead of needing it every 6 months as I had in the past. My symptoms remained stable, and my blood work looked great. I was very happy with my results.
What other areas of your health improved simultaneously?
The medications reduced my pain enough that I was able to start exercising again. I started running and lifting weights, but I still struggled with being overweight. When I went AIP, I lost weight right away and my acne completely disappeared. My skin was the healthiest I had ever seen it. My mood was uplifted, I slept great, and woke up energized.
What symptoms still remain?
I do still need medication to keep my disease under control, but my healthier diet allows me to extend the time between treatments, and my flares are not nearly as intense as they were before I implemented the diet. I can still go nearly a year between infusions. I am always changing my diet and supplement protocol in the hopes of finding things that will add value, but I can’t live a good life without medication.
What other things do you do outside of diet to support your health and healing?
I still run a little and I lift weights. I have a red light therapy device which I really enjoy using everyday. I try to be aware of stress and don’t grow tired of learning about different healing mechanisms, because it keeps my hopes up that maybe someday I’ll unlock the secret that makes a difference. Even if I don’t, helping others is also very good for me. I love helping people find ways to be healthier.
How strict were/are you on the dietary protocol? Any “cheats”?
I followed the protocol to a T at first. For me the AIP diet was sort of a reset to my gut health. Once I started eating outside the protocol, I didn’t have any problems unless I started eating too much sugar or processed foods. Now, as long as I keep it clean and gluten-free, I do pretty well. Gluten doesn’t necessarily cause me problems, but I omit it to keep my gut healthy. I also do very little dairy. I always go back to the AIP diet to bring things back if I have a flare or feel like my diet needs revamping.
Do you intend to do this diet forever, or do you hope to wean yourself off it eventually?
I plan to always use it as a tool to improve my health. It may not be a cure for me, but it definitely makes a difference.
What were/are the challenges for you in sticking to the diet?
I think gatherings were pretty hard at first. Not eating my old favorites at family get-togethers. However, I have been able to bring dishes that I can share and eat with everyone.
Who supports you in your healing journey?
My husband has walked this path with me from the git-go. He has always been willing to try things with me, spending time and money on many things I introduce that might be beneficial for him and myself. He is always open-minded.
With autoimmune disease, there are many potential triggers and root causes. Were there any events in your life that you think contributed to your diagnosis?
Yes, I think that there were a combination of things. I lived in Honduras until I was 12. Trauma was a huge part of my life. I was put in an orphanage when I was eight and was there for four years. When I was 12, I got a very bad infection on my foot that went untreated. Eventually, my brother and I were adopted and I received the antibiotics needed to heal the infection. I was also given multiple vaccines in preparation for moving to the United States. I had never had antibiotics or vaccines before.
When we arrived in the US, my diet immediately changed to the Standard American Diet. I remember how terrible all the food tasted to me. Everything was so sweet. I was used to eating salty and spicy foods, and sweets were rare and only for desserts. The weather was also a shock to my system. I had spent most of my life outside running around barefoot, climbing trees, and being in the sun. Now I was put in school, dressed in fall clothes and shoes, and rarely spent time outside. As if being thrown into a new way of life wasn’t enough, my new family was abusive and had very little patience for me and my brother. We were not allowed to speak Spanish to each other. I guess they thought we might learn English much quicker, and we did. I developed some health issues immediately after coming here, and even back then I remember thinking it was the food that did it. I had horrible allergies (I still suffer from allergies), I had skin rashes (still do from time to time) and even developed an infection in my salivary glands. I spent three years being abused in that home before I was removed.
I really believe that the combination of stress, trauma, and changes to my diet were all contributors to my immune system eventually going out of control. When I got married at 24 my husband and I moved away from family and friends, and I became depressed. I think that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. My skin broke out with the worst case of acne that I had ever seen. It was painful and I had to do another set of antibiotics. I believe that if someone taught me about the AIP diet at that point, I may have been okay. But instead I had a baby, nursed for 14 months, immediately got pregnant again using even more of my body’s depleted resources and the rest is history. I was diagnosed right after giving birth to my second baby. That said, I would not trade my children for even the most perfect health.
I don’t think that I can blame my disease on a single occurrence, but as I mentioned before, I truly believe that it was all a perfect storm of events that lead to my diagnosis.
What advice would you give to people with autoimmune disease who are just starting to consider diet and lifestyle changes?
Don’t think about it. Just do it. Find a health coach if you can afford it, educate yourself and apply what you learn. Follow it to a T at first because aside from being a healing diet, it is also very empowering. Autoimmune disease can take so much from you. This is a way of gaining something back. A lot of people think that it is restricting, but when you restrict foods that are bad for you the benefits that come from that are endless. Also, it may not be a cure for your disease, but it is healing in so many other ways. It could be your ticket out, you don’t know unless you try. Either way, it is not a waste at all! I feel that even though I still need medications, by following a healthy diet, I am offsetting some of the side effects and helping my body heal from them. I believe that 100 percent.
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