It’s an unfortunate situation. By the time most people seek Functional Medicine care, they’re at the end of their rope. They’ve been down the conventional medicine path; they started with their regular family doctor. That doctor might’ve prescribed a medication or two to attempt to quell the symptoms. Likely, that approach either didn’t help at all, or it helped only somewhat, or it helped for a while, but now the problem has returned.
The regular family doctor might have then referred the person to a specialist. He or she saw the specialist. The specialist either recommended additional/different medications and/or possibly a surgical procedure. Some people act on those recommendations, while others don’t–either way, many times, the results are the same as mentioned above.
Even if the person sought second (or third) opinions, the results might’ve still ended up the same. At that point, it’s quite natural to give up on medicine. After all, drugs come with side effects and surgeries result in permanent changes. And if the original problem (or additional problems!) still persist afterward, it’s understandable to become disillusioned.
From there, the peoples’ paths often diverge. Some seek out a naturopath or chiropractic doctor, depending on the nature of the health issue or the person’s belief system. Others take their health into their own hands. The first instinct is to Google the problem–and Google does deliver! Health-related blog sites, web-based discussion/support groups, informational Wikipedia entries, and nutritional/herbal supplement vendors all wait at the ready with a plethora of information.
But Google is a double-edged sword. There are several problems that too-often result.
First, the information may or may not be accurate. Wikipedia content often hotly debated behind the scenes by its contributors. Supplement companies have an obvious agenda (to sell you their products!). Support groups often lack any members with medical education, ending up in a blind-leading-the-blind situation. All of this can create a mental-pretzel situation; after six hours of ceaseless research, you’re wrapped up in a mental whirlwind, having been left with more questions than answers.
Second, symptoms often overlap. Is that depression due to a nutritional deficiency (and if so, which one)? An environmental toxic or heavy metal overload? A low thyroid or other hormone imbalance (and if so, which hormone)? A food intolerance? Erratic blood sugar levels. Is that insomnia due to excess adrenal function? Gluten or dairy reactivity? Excess epinephrine? A nutritional deficiency? Or perhaps an electromagnetic Chinese meridian imbalance? And that fatigue–is that due to a cellular energy imbalance? Low thyroid? Adrenal fatigue? Candida? H Pylori? Parasites? Mercury or Arsenic burden? (And there’s that gluten again…) Ohhhh boy.
(Sidenote: The body is a web, where everything affects everything else. We simply cannot change one variable and expect everything else to remain unchanged. And by the time we reach 30 or older, chances are very good that we’ve been harboring some underlying issues for a while. Over time, these problems have built up and begun to impact the other systems. In addition, as the body ages, it loses its ability to “bounce back” and compensate for these issues. When the underlying causes of problems begin to overpower the body’s ability to compensate, we begin to feel symptoms.)
Third, as one researches their health issue, they often get inaccurate advice or come to inaccurate conclusions–a self-diagnosis, if you will. It is then that they rush to purchase that product that promises to be a magic bullet or that someone in a support group has sworn by. At best, the person can actually find some relief (although I have yet to find someone who has achieved complete relief–it’s usually partial or temporary). Usually, the person spends lot of unnecessary time, energy, and money and fails to get the desired results. At worst, they actually end up doing themselves harm along the way.
As one can imagine, by the time someone reaches my office, “everything is wrong”, and it’s been wrong for a while. And chances are, if they have attempted to treat themselves, there will be additional imbalances. My patients with low thyroid function usually test high in Selenium. Why? Because they’ve been taking excessive doses for too long, having read somewhere that Selenium is a cure-all for thyroid issues. They may or may not also have excess Iodine. My patients with gastrointestinal problems usually test excessive for Lactobacillus bacteria. This is because they read about the wonders of probiotics, and decided to eat a lot of yogurt or take a probiotic powder with a too-narrow strain profile. For these people, their problems persist, because eating the yogurt aggravated their undiscovered dairy intolerance and if they’re over 60, the Lactobacillus load actually caused an intestinal imbalance.
Here are the first three out of 15 self-treatments you do NOT want to administer without being under proper care of a licensed practitioner, because even though these remedies are natural, there are indeed risks.
- Iodine (usually for thyroid disorders)
Why not? Many people are indeed low in iodine and thus, they may need it. However, not all thyroid problems are iodine-deficiency-related, and iodine may cause problems when taken in excess or when your levels are already sufficient.
- Selenium (also usually for thyroid disorders)
Why not? Selenium is indeed a nutrient mineral, but only in small doses. In larger doses (or to take it when not deficient), it actually becomes akin to a toxic metal, accumulating in the liver and other tissues and interfering with body function.
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus (usually for intestinal health)
Why not? Although your intestinal tract needs good bacteria, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing. The intestinal bacterial makeup consists of hundreds of different kinds, or species. It’s a diverse ecosystem all its own. There should not be too much of any one species, or the whole system can be thrown out of balance. Lactobacillus is indeed considered a type of “good” bacteria, but all organisms can begin behaving badly in excess amounts. Many people actually create/aggravate intestinal problems just by consuming too much yogurt or probiotic powder/capsules. When Lactobacillus takes over (as it often naturally does in older age), other species get edged out. All of the different species provide different benefits, and your intestinal surface area is finite/limited–if one type decides to play King of the Hill, others can become diminished.
Stay tuned for Part 2! We’ll be addressing common mistakes made for depression, anemia, immune defense, more gastrointestinal mistakes, and even the wrong forms of certain vitamins!