After writing about my current health and fitness situation, I’ve decided to make a focused effort with my writing about health and related topics (as I assumed, at some point, this blog would make a detour in that direction at times). Functional medicine plays a big part in my health and I wanted to share my experiences in it with you.
Years ago I remember having constant health conversations with one of my closest friends. We both were complaining about how the change in seasons affected our mood and activity, we noticed our female cycles had changed (and thus became more difficult) as we were getting older, and we were also very frustrated with the difficulty in being healthy as we lived among the world of processed foods and our body’s reactions to them. I know we are not alone in these conversations.
On top of these regular ailments, I was having additional problems. I was having horrible digestive issues that felt like food poisoning except the episodes happened so frequently with meals that I knew, however, that it wasn’t food poisoning.
With the intestinal issues was just a feeling of being “off.” I’m not sure what else to call it. My cousin calls it “brain fog.” I came out on the other side of so much emotional turmoil that I couldn’t understand why I felt “down” when so much in my life had improved substantially. Knowing my ongoing hormone problems, my counselor suggested I reach out to a doctor and have a thorough exam.
I talked to my mid-wife and she wasn’t convinced my intestinal issues were hormone related so she was encouraging me to go see the functional medicine doctor that I previously had spoken with her about. The concept of “functional medicine” raises eyebrows in a lot of people but makes lightbulbs go off in others. For me, it was a lightbulb.
The definition of functional medicine is this: medical practice or treatments that focus on optimal functioning of the body and its organs, usually involving systems of holistic or alternative medicine.
I’m not a huge fan of that definition because I do have some serious concerns with holistic and alternative medicine. Yes, I use essential oils. Yes, I’ve used biofeedback for anxiety attacks in lieu of taking anti-psychotic drugs. Yes, I regularly use my SAD lamp in winter months. Yes, I’m probably a little more granola than other people but just as much as I have an aversion to prescription drugs, I have an aversion to alternative means that are not regulated. How essential oil companies can produce an oil to regulate hormones with the same natural drug used in “natural progesterone,” prescribed by medical doctors, without being regulated just seems a little off to me. HOWEVER, the APPROACH that functional medicine doctors use is something that I DID like.
I sat with this man and his dietitian for over an hour in my first visit. We walked through nearly every ailment, namely the recurring ones that seemed to pique his interest. He was focused on my acid reflux I was diagnosed with at 16 and my PCOS with my first ovarian cyst at 21. He claimed that doctors/patients are confused that heartburn/acid pain is not actually too much acid but too little. He put me on hydrochloric acid (HCL) amongst a variety of other things. We also talked about some of my other weird ailments like my fatigue, and constant aches and pains, namely in my shoulders.
With a lot of blood labs we found a few things wrong. My calcium, zinc and vitamin D were all low and my Iron was so low that the word “anemia” was used. Yet again. My iron has been a topic in my labs ever since I can remember.
During my second pregnancy my doctor even hinted at the idea of a blood transfusion if I didn’t get my iron up higher. Even with focused eating of a lot of iron-rich foods while pregnant, including iron supplements, I could barely move my numbers.
With my hormones it was no surprise that my testosterone was through the roof, my progesterone was non-existent and my estrogen was within normal range (that part surprised him).
With the deficiencies in vitamins he said I had “leaky gut,” used the term “hypochlorhydria” (for the too-little acid that he felt was confirmed with the vitamin deficiencies), and said I needed to be taking probiotics and fiber to clean up the lining of my stomach. Along with the probiotics and fiber, I was put on a multivitamin prescribed to people with autoimmune disorders, a heavy dose of vitamin D, a supplement for estrogen balance, and a bio-identical hormone in the form of a troche, on top of the HCL that I took at every meal.
The blood work also showed that I had a moderate intolerance to wheat. It was suggested that I go on a gluten free diet but I wasn’t too concerned. I didn’t see what the big deal was PLUS, I mean, seriously? Take away my breads and pastas?! You’ve got to be kidding me! So, I didn’t give up gluten, at least not until I was convinced at a later date.
I will tell you, in a matter of a week or two I felt like a million bucks. I hadn’t felt that great since I was in top notch physical shape. My mind was clearer, I was focusing better and my digestion was better too. Yet, a couple months later the stomach problems returned and after my yeast and parasite test came up negative the “doctor” added yet another pill, a digestive enzyme, to take with every meal. I realized that if I kept up with this vitamin and supplement regimen I would be spending over $500/month… and I wasn’t even diagnosed with anything serious! INSANE!
After some research about my “doctor’s” lack of licensure, and some disturbing financial practices, I decided to switch doctors to the only M.D. in my metropolitan city I could find that was covered by insurance yet took a natural approach to helping patients. The new REAL doctor took a couple extra labs but was surprisingly in almost complete agreement with the first “doctor” I saw. His opinion is that leaky gut IS a real thing and that my PCOS and my stomach issues were related to it. He even made a statement about my IBS… I had to stop him. “My what?” He said, “Jamie, you oscillate between diarrhea and constipation all of the time. Your digestive tract is affected by your mood. That’s what IBS is.” This was the first time in 25 years someone told me that I have IBS.
The doctor also told me that I MUST go gluten free, to quit taking the HCL and digestive enzyme, and he wanted me to have a colonoscopy as soon as possible. Given that I was turning 40 and colon cancer is in my family there was no reason not to have one done. I, too, felt like a colonoscopy would be beneficial but the first “doctor” didn’t feel a GI doctor needed to be involved (again, that was the same doctor who asked me to give up my counselor so he could advise me on EVERYTHING). A colonoscopy would rule out Crohn’s and celiac diseases.
A colonoscopy and endoscopy was scheduled over two months in the future and the GI doctor told me that I needed to eat gluten for two weeks straight (this is called a “gluten challenge”), up until the colonoscopy, in order to determine for certain if I have celiac disease. “No problem,” I thought.
I went gluten free after my visit with my REAL doctor. A few weeks later I had a slip up by accident and I consumed A LOT of flour in that meal (when you first go gluten-free, it’s a little hard to remember all the things that have flour in them). My reaction happened about 16 hours later and it came on like food poisoning. The horrible intestinal cramps, nausea, feverish feelings and sweats. I was out of commission half of the day and it took my stomach a couple days to get back to normal. So, confirmed. I did, in fact, have a problem with wheat. Also, there was no way in the world I would be able to eat gluten for two straight weeks.
The REAL doctor also took me off of my my bioidentical hormone. Instead, he put me on a progesterone cream and suggested I take an iron and a zinc supplement. I was perplexed why the first guy never put me on iron. I’m sure he would have just over charged me for my lab to find out my iron was still low and then put me on an iron supplement I could only purchase through his office.
The colonoscopy came back and revealed that I have acid reflux and a hiatal hernia. The hiatal hernia explains my chest pains that have come and gone for years. It did not reveal Crohn’s disease and, again, because I did not do the “gluten challenge” we knew it wouldn’t reveal anything about celiac disease.
I talked to the GI doctor about the “acid reflux” versus “hypochlorhydria” topic brought on by the first doctor. The answer I received was something like, “I’m a medical doctor so we approach things this way. People who are not medical doctors will interpret these results differently and approach them a different way. You need to determine what is right for you but if you are constantly having pain in your stomach then you need to address it for acid reflux or you increase your chances for esophageal cancer later in life.”
Why am I revealing this story to you?
- I am not trying to convince anyone to run out and get a functional medicine doctor but I, personally, do believe in the concept of functional medicine. I would much rather look at my blood work and family history to try and address my health problems early on rather than wait until later and be on medicines that have terrible side effects.
- Research your doctors. The first guy I went to came highly recommended so I didn’t bother doing research until I noticed some questionable financial practices. It turned out that he let his chiropractic license expire so the fact that he even hints at the term “doctor” for himself seems illegitimate to me (it IS misleading, at the very least, for certain).
- Do what’s right for you. Even the second functional medicine doctor wanted complete control of my health. I do like the idea of only going to one doctor for ALL of my ailments but he wasn’t going to be taking my midwife away from me nor was anyone without a counseling license going to be replacing my God-sent therapist.
- The “gluten-free” thing… I get a little tired of when I say I’m “gluten-free” or I need a “gluten-free” menu, people thinking it’s by my own choice or a personal preference. No, it’s not. It’s not a diet fad or a weight loss choice. If I’m going to be a fully functioning mother, wife and human being at all, it is imperative that I don’t eat wheat. That’s a fact, jack. Trust me, if I had it my way I would be able to eat those delicious biscuits at Red Lobster or homemade bread or cake or Hostess donettes but I don’t have that choice anymore. In my home we make due. Most meals are gluten-free for everyone or they have their gluten-full stuff and I have my gluten-free stuff. If you invite me over to your home and you haven’t considered my dietary problem, please just let me know so I can eat before I come. No hard feelings, I promise!
- Research your supplements. I had a paid subscription to a consumer company that researched vitamins and supplements. It would tell you which brands were better than others and they even investigated essential oils! However, they were researching the most commonly used vitamins and supplements, not the ones I was taking. So, I did my best research trying to find the most economical replacements for what my doctors suggested so we aren’t going broke keeping me healthy.
- Keep checking in. Your body (and ladies, our hormones) are always changing, always evolving. I get new labs done once a year just to make sure everything is on the right track.
My recent labs (almost a year later) show that my iron has increased over 37% (now in the middle of the acceptable range) and my vitamin D has increased over 92% (again, in the middle of the acceptable range). My hormones are still a work of art but hopefully we can get them normal at some point during my life (I may be 60 before that happens but whatever).
Anyway, I am convinced that if I went to a family doctor with my issues they would have likely just treated me for chronic fatigue and maybe even fibromyalgia so be sure to find a doctor that fits your approach to medicine (who knows, maybe I DO have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue but it’s being treated with vitamins and supplements rather than prescription drugs. Sounds like a winner approach to me.). However, do be aware of functional medicine “doctors.” There are a few out there who are M.D.’s but with the popularity of this concept they are working outside of insurances’ networks. Others are out there, like the first person I saw, without licenses and possibly causing more harm than good by keeping patients away from specialists that may be able to further help. There are research tools you can use to find doctors (D.C.’s, M.D.’s and everything inbetween) in your area who are BOARD CERTIFIED to practice functional medicine.
The bible says that our bodies are temples for God.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.… – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
To glorify God with our body, I’m not sure what it means exactly. Some would say that putting tattoos and piercings on our bodies are wrong, still others say ingesting processed foods or abusing prescription drugs is wrong. Other people would say that by HAVING a body is the gift and that we are allowed to do what we want with it.
Our conscious will direct us to what the Holy Spirit is telling each one of us, individually. For me, this includes some focus on what I put into my body both in the forms of alcohol, medicines and processed foods. This also includes what I do with my body. Dressing scantily or wearing shirts that promote something questionable isn’t glorifying God with my body.
It’s my personal opinion, from my own conscious, that to care for my particular temple includes keeping up with it. It means doing exercises (while keeping my body image and competition in check), it means eating well (but not obsessing about what I eat at the same time) and it means checking in with it to ensure it’s receiving the correct vitamins and nutrients it needs to keep doing God’s work.
We all need to keep a focused approach to how we honor the temple God has given us and listen to the Holy Spirit as it guides us in this task.