Red Pill or Blue Pill? How far down the rabbit hole is your doctor willing to go to make you Well?!
Ever wondered if there was more to getting your health right than just taking medications for years on end? Have you searched for someone who would truly listen to you instead of just treating the one “obvious” health issue you have while ignoring all the other things that you feel intuitively might be related? Are your sure that there must be an answer for your “mysterious” health condition but no one seems able to find out what’s wrong and you just know that if Dr. House was real he’d find the answer?? You’re not alone. I’ll start explaining with a story.
Aria was frustrated.
At the age of 17 she had been diagnosed with depression, and despite the years of this and that medication and seeing a therapist every few months it would still rear its ugly head and control her life for a while. She had suffered from UTI’s frequently as a teen and while those seemed to have gone away a whole new host of symptoms was popping up as she neared 30 years old. She had abdominal pain, frequently, but could never put her finger on the type of food that must be causing it. Her doctor informally diagnosed her with IBS but her symptoms never really fit the profile and there was nothing they could really do for that anyway.
Last year, when her depression seemed to get really bad for a bit, she ended up getting her thyroid tested. The levels were low but not clinical, so they said they weren’t going to medicate her until there was more reason to do so. Overall she felt fatigued, vaguely worried and about 20 years older than she thought she should feel, and she was frustrated.
After all, she worked out at least three days per week, got in plenty of fruits and vegetable and tried to stay up with the health trends while other friends still went out and partied and ignored their health yet seemed to be feeling much better than she.
This tale is common. Really common. And unfortunately with the direction our modern ways of nutrition and health care are going at the moment it will likely become even more common.
This is because our modern ways of looking at the situation is what we might call an outside in approach. A physician listens to the symptoms, maybe takes some tests, and then generally recommends a medication that will basically cover the body’s weakness.
For example, let’s look as GERD or acid reflux. Nine times out of ten, if you go to your doctor and describe a burning sensation in your chest or throat, increased belching, and waking up at night he/she will say “aha! Acid reflux” and likely prescribe anything from over the counter TUMS to maybe a prescription such as Nexium. Nexium is what is known as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). It claims to treat acid reflux. The issue with that (for me anyway) is that a proton pump inhibitor decreases the amount of acid that your stomach acid produces thus “treating” the heartburn by making the thing that causes the burning to go away. Problem solved! Or is it?
As a functional medicine doctor (I’ll explain in a minute, but don’t interrupt or I’ll get sidetracked!) I say there’s an issue with this being a treatment for a few reasons. The first is, did we ask first what getting rid of the acid in our stomach would do before we took it away? The fact is that many medications “solve” one problem while causing another. Low stomach acid can have all sorts of repercussions starting with poor digestion since you now lack the ability to properly break down your food.
The second reason is that the treating doctor in this case never looked for what we call the “root cause” of the issue. WHY is the stomach acid coming back up into the esophagus? (the issue in acid reflux) Is there really too much acid? If so WHY? Is there a problem in the sphincter that’s supposed to hold the acid in the stomach? Is there an issue with the stomach’s sensors leading the sphincter not to close and do its job?
As you can see, simply putting someone on an acid reducing medication will answer none of these important questions, and they can in fact cause more problems to pop up right away or later down the road. To take it further down the rabbit hole, if problems pop up much later, like digestive issues or nutrient deficiency problems (due to the PPI), they aren’t likely to be traced back to the PPI and will be “treated” by a different medication. But hey, at least we stopped the reflux, right?
Now don’t go thinking that I’m bashing your doctor, because most medical physicians are extremely smart people who are truly trying to do their best by their patients. The problem is in the education and philosophy. If they aren’t given the educational tools to search out most illness root causes then there is no reason that they would think to do so. The fact is that most hospitals don’t have big fancy “departments of diagnostic medicine” with infinite resources to spend on a single patient like we see on the TV show House MD. It’s much easier and more cost effective to treat the current symptom and deal with any side effects later than it is to spend time taking a long term health history, ordering as many tests as necessary, taking genetics into account, listening to every symptom as a piece of the puzzle and creating an individualized treatment plan.
This is where functional medicine comes in to the picture. Functional medicine is a branch of medicine that looks to find the root cause of a disease or symptom and to help eliminate that cause allowing the body to get back to its normal state of health. These physicians take many hours of extra coursework to be able to learn how to assess the body in a more thorough and whole-body type of way that allows them to see the bigger picture and come to more concrete conclusions.
Sound like what you’ve been looking for?? Stay tuned as next week we’ll dive into the foundations of Functional Medicine and what it can do for you!
Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.
Whole Health & Wellness
10807 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122
P: (314) 269-3847