Research your own conditions and treatment alternatives, ask questions, and seek second opinions with impunity. Leverage the expertise of trained pros, but don’t allow it to eclipse your own informed instincts about what’s best for you.
Recently, I asked a friend about a little pink area on her shoulder. It looked like a rash.
“Oh, yuck,” she said, pulling at her shirt to cover the spot. “That’s my psoriasis. It’s awful. And it’s spreading.”
“Do you know what’s causing it?” I asked.
“No,” she said dejectedly. “They don’t know. But they say I’ll have it for the rest of my life, and it will probably just get worse. Eventually it could cover my whole body.”
“Yikes,” I said. “Can I see that spot again?”
She consented. After peering at it a minute, I said, “You know, that looks a lot like the weird spots I had on my torso when I had an overgrowth of candida. Has anybody checked you for anything like that yet?”
As it turned out, nobody had really checked her for anything. No labs had been run. There’d been no investigation of her other health complaints (like her itchy ears and throat, or her flaky scalp — all classic signs of yeast overgrowth). No evaluation of her health history, diet, or lifestyle.
Her doctors (she’d seen two) had just looked at the spot, diagnosed it as psoriasis, and proclaimed it incurable.
Then they had given her the bad “incurable” news and sent her home with a prescription for some cream to help sooth the symptoms. Other than that, they just couldn’t offer her much else in the way of help, or hope.
Now my friend had a half dozen of these little spots scattered across her upper body, and some itchy, raised flaky patches behind her ears. As her doctor had predicted, the problem seemed to be getting worse.
Her last doctor had told her that when it got bad enough, there were other drugs he could prescribe — immune-system suppressants like Humira and methotrexate. But because they carry life-threatening risks and serious side effects, he thought it would be better to wait.
Um . . . yeah.
I thought it might be better for her to go see a doctor who had more familiarity with how rashes express underlying inflammation and immune-system irritation in the body, and with how eliminating the root cause of that inflammation and irritation generally gets rid of the rash, too.
So she did. Her new doc did an in-depth investigation of her various health complaints and ran some labs to find out what else might be going on in her body. Those labs revealed she did, indeed, have an overgrowth of candida, among other imbalances in her microflora. She also had food intolerances and nutritional deficiencies.
Her doctor prescribed a round of antifungal medication, some dietary and lifestyle adjustments, supplemental fatty acids, and a probiotic to get her microbiome back in balance.
Within days, the rash was receding. Within two weeks, it was gone. No more “incurable lifelong psoriasis.”
Bonus: She felt better than she had in years.
Now, it’s important to point out that my friend’s rash could have been caused by all sorts of things. My lucky guess was less the result of my knowing “the answer” than my willingness to pursue a question — What might be causing this? — and believing that there was an answer.
I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to offer “medical” advice of any kind. But I am qualified to ask questions, to be both curious and knowledgeable about what is going on in my body, and to go in search of information that might help me better understand the dynamics behind my health concerns.
Revolutionary Act No. 7 — “Practice Medicine Without a License” — is not a suggestion to avoid seeking professional medical help, or to practice reckless acts of self-medication. It’s certainly not an expression of disrespect for the education, judgment, and practice of licensed medical professionals.
Rather, it’s an invitation into a mindset of root-cause inquiry. It’s an encouragement to advocate for your own health and well-being.
Here are some ways you can do that:
Regard any problematic symptoms you are experiencing as your body’s call for help and healthy change. Honor the powerful role you play in creating the conditions for your own health and healing.
- Make a list of all the symptoms you experience, noting when they came on and when they tend to get better and worse. Look for patterns and connections.
- Consider an elimination diet (removing and methodically reintroducing common food irritants) to identify potential food intolerances.
- Recognize that most physicians, while highly trained in dealing with infectious diseases and trauma, receive only limited training in the lifestyle-driven conditions that most frequently send us into their offices. Be prepared to seek out second or third opinions from health professionals who have received additional training.
- Know that diverse medical complaints — headaches, skin conditions, digestive distress — can all stem from a single root cause. A leaky or inflamed gut, for example, can provoke rashes, fatigue, asthma, mood imbalances, and more.
- Explore the biological dynamics and interconnected systems that drive inflammation, imbalance, and disease. I like Dr. Jeffrey Bland’s book The Disease Delusion, and Dr. Thomas Sult’s book, Just Be Well. Also see the “Revolutionary Reading” suggestions at right.
- Use discernment in researching your conditions online. Avoid pages that push a lot of products rather than offering thoughtful information and referencing scientific research. See “Web Resources for ‘Root-Cause’ Health Info” under “Revolutionary Reading” at right.
- Ask your doctor about lab testing (e.g., blood, urine, stool) for any unresolved conditions. Many labs are also now available on a direct-to-consumer basis. Ask a qualified health professional to help guide you in interpreting your results, and ask questions about anything you don’t understand.
- If you get overwhelmed or confused, refocus your efforts on the essential foundations of health: Eat a whole-foods diet with a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and brightly colored vegetables; drink a lot of pure water; minimize your intake of sugar, flour, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners; avoid fast food, junk food, and processed foods as much as possible; create space for movement, sleep, and relaxation.
These steps alone will increase your body’s resilience and help you feel more empowered to take additional steps when you are ready.
Above all, remember that the most powerful tools for healing most chronic health problems lie not in magic-bullet treatments, but in the kinds of ongoing daily lifestyle “treatments” that only we, as individuals, can administer.
Knowledgeable health pros realize this. They are there to help us access the support we need — not just to quell current symptoms, but also to get and stay healthy for the long haul. That’s the kind of medicine we’d all do well to practice more often.
Web Resources for “Root-Cause” Health Info
A collection of sites offering solid guidance and resources on functional, integrative, alternative, and lifestyle medicine strategies.
- www.wholehealthmd.com— Provides a wide range of easy-to-navigate natural health and integrative medical information, including step-by-step “healing paths” tailored to your condition. They also offer a reference library, “healing kitchen” area and a “find a practitioner/wellness center” database.
- www.functionalmedicine.org— The Institute for Functional Medicine (now operating center at Cleveland Clinic) provides resources primarily for medical professionals, but they also offer a variety of tools and information for individuals, and a database of docs and other licensed health pros who have completed various levels of functional medicine training.
- www.intelihealth.com— User-friendly consumer-health information site from Harvard Medical School. Their “Look It Up” area includes a “symptom scout,” and the site includes plenty of information on healthy lifestyle and complementary and alternative therapies.
- www.nccam.nih.gov— Offers general information about alternative and integrative medicine, plus alerts and advisories, guidelines for consumers doing research on the Web, practical information on using alternative therapies (searchable by treatment or condition) plus research and suggestions on selecting an alternative practitioner.
- www.alternative-therapies.com— Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. A peer-reviewed journal and forum for sharing information concerning the practical use of alternative therapies in preventing and treating disease, healing illness and promoting health.