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TGIF loves! I consider myself to be a very holistic clinician. I do not have a degree in nutrition which is why I will interview qualified professionals to share their pearls of wisdom with you. Today I want to share a personal experience that I had with Integrative and Functional Medicine, and tomorrow I will share how it changed my life and made me who I am today.
First of all, What is Integrative Medicine and What is Functional Medicine?
Integrative Medicine is the practice of looking at a patient’s lifestyle and environmental factors such as nutrition and then customizing a treatment plan to focus on healing the person through acupuncture, nutrition, yoga and mindfulness. Functional Medicine digs deeper-looking for the root cause of disease in a patient, taking into account their bio-individuality. Factors such as gut flora, immune responses to foods and common environmental allergens as well as a DNA panel to determine what the patient’s constitution is, diseases they may be predisposed for and ways that their whole being can be strengthened through medicine, nutrition and other healing modalities.
Integrative Medicine and Functional Medicine in Action: My Story
Having suffered from migraines with aura starting at age 16, at age 22 I was having a crisis. The episodes were happening 4 times a week- not always with pain but the visual disturbances were debilitating as I worked in a bright retail environment and had to interact with customers. I had an MRI and an MRA. I had blood panels run to test me for lupus, and I even had an EEG done to rule out epilepsy. I was exhausted and instead of looking forward to each day, I dreaded every scenario in which I could have another migraine attack. Go to the beach? What if I get a migraine? Go to work? What if I have to go home and can’t work my shift? What if I have to miss classes? What if this happens on my wedding day of all days? I was newly engaged to my darling husband and wanted to get excited about planning our big day and not stuck in the house with these episodes. I had just started school for Massage Therapy and my husband was getting ready to apply to medical school and I thought, “I have to work to support us during those 4 years. What if this keeps happening and I can’t? I have to do something!”
I went to my Neurologist. He was so great and he empathized with me so deeply. He gave me my final option after I had tried all of the migraine abortive drugs such as Imitrex: “I can put you on Topiramate.” Topiramate or “Topamax” as commonly called is an anti-epileptic drug that comes with some major side effects. It was a last resort. But I couldn’t do it. My heart kept telling me “There has to be something causing this. Not just hormonal or emotional. There MUST be something that is happening. Something has tipped the scales within me to unleash all of this neurological activity and I want to get to the heart of it, not just treat the symptoms for the rest of my life.” I prayed to God for an answer. Please guide me. You are the ultimate healer. Please guide me to those who can steer me in the right direction.
Ever loving and faithful, He answered my prayers. My Mom had two of her colleagues over one night later that week, and I shared what I was going through with them over the dinner table. One of them said, “You need Dr. Y. She changed my life. She’s going to get to the heart of this and if you follow exactly what she tells you to do you will get better”. My eyes were like saucers. I called her office the next day and set up my appointment. Since she wasn’t affiliated with a hospital because this practice is still controversial in the medical community, she was all fee for service. I paid all of her fees and the lab fees with everything I had in my savings. I remember one appointment with her costing more than I made in a week at the time! I didn’t care. I was ready to change my life.
Dr. Y is a traditional MD, a classically trained homeopath and a Five Elements Acupuncturist. She sat with me for 3 hours, and gave me a lifetimes’ worth of education about just exactly how what we put into our bodies affects us on a cellular level.
That was not only when my passion for a healthy lifestyle began, but also my passion for wanting a career in medicine began. I interned for her later that year and became her Medical Assistant while I was finishing massage therapy school-she still inspires me to this day- more on my career goals in medicine in a later post!
This is how I came to understand what was happening in my body, and this is the heart of functional medicine. The body has an immune system. It is there to help fight off disease and foreign invaders. It signals different immunoglobulin responses in response to all matter it comes into contact with- food, medicine, plants, pollution, etc. As a baby, I had frequent ear infections, which put me on frequent antibiotics as a child. Antibiotics, while they kill the bad bacteria also can kill the good bacteria in the gut, which can lead to an overgrowth of yeast in the gut, otherwise known as Candida Albacans. I will be frank here. This is where Eastern Medicine and Western Medicine diverge- this is still very controversial. My husband, a Doctor of Allopathy or MD, will tell you, your body has mechanisms in place to eventually get this gut flora back to normal, and that a true systemic inundation of Candida are from profound immune suppression such as bone marrow transplant recipients or people in the ICU who have other overwhelming infections that have compromised their immune systems severely. A doctor, whether Western or Osteopathic who specializes in Functional Medicine will tell you that is not true. In functional medicine it is considered possible for an overgrowth of Candida in the gut to be just enough to cause the entire immune system to be compromised on a subtle enough level that it goes undetected for years until it creeps in as a health crisis that the patient is pre-disposed to such as Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes Mellitis, High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and so forth. Or, in my case, Chronic and persistent episodes of Classic Migraine.
Over the next few weeks I gave stool samples to test my gut flora for this overgrowth. I gave a blood sample and my blood was sent off to a lab where my cells were tested against 100 different foods for different Immunoglobulin responses (also known as IgG, IgA and IgE- IgA and IgG are known as delayed reactions in which the body may manifest other symptoms besides the classic hives, itching, and swelling of someone with an immediate and acute IgE response such as a severe nut allergy). I gave a blood sample to test the vitamin and mineral stores in my body- more specifically magnesium, iron, CoQ10, as well as my hematocrit levels and homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine levels can indicate the presence of inflammation and cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body.
A few weeks later, my results were in. I had low vitamins and minerals, elevated homocysteine (once again- in western medicine my levels all fell within the normal range, but in functional medicine they did not), an overgrowth of candida albicans in my gut as well as other markers of inflammation in my body. I was IgA and IgG responsive to 19 different foods- two of the biggest ones being all types of Yeast and Dairy (from cow’s milk) My body was under stress, and I was only 22. She cautioned that if left untreated, and if I went on like this, other disease that I was predisposed to would manifest later in my life, possibly at a younger age than I would like. I also had been on Zyrtec or a form of it for most of my life for seasonal allergies. She said this was absolutely disastrous to my immune system because it was suppressing the expression of the immune response and in effect “bottling it all up inside”- it wasn’t any wonder my immune system was on overload.
I was ready to tackle this, follow her protocol, and change my life. And change my life I did.
Read all about how I did it tomorrow! XO Thanks for stopping by, Ashli