My Experience with Functional Medicine (Part 1)

This series will probably be among my most controversial…

… it is also among my most personal

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My Story

My health problems began to get out of hand when I was 18 – freshman year of college (although you could argue that, based on the functional medicine model, my current health problems are based on a lifetime of culminating experiences).

At 19, I started seeing several doctors and specialists, underwent dozens of tests and almost a year of waiting through things, and in the end we really did not have any answers. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is not a diagnosis in and of itself, but rather is usually a diagnosis of exclusion – i.e. it’s not any of these other things so that’s what we’re calling it.

I was prescribed some medications and I experienced moderate improvements in my quality of life. My life felt so uncertain – every day I didn’t know if I was going to have a “good” day or a “bad” day with my pain and symptoms, and a good day could become a bad day at the drop of a hat if I had a misstep with medication, stress, water, food, or exercise. I cut more and more foods out of my diet for fear that I would be incapacitated by pain after eating.

Senior year, at age 21, I seemed to have some kind of miraculous glistening year where my symptoms seemed to be well-managed and I felt “normal” for the first time in a while. My diet had become more varied and I could leave my apartment without feeling like I was taking a big chance – what if I suddenly was hit with symptoms in the middle of class or at a party? These thoughts that governed by sophomore and junior years weren’t a factor any more!

Then, enter grad school. I started experiencing new symptoms and declining health problems again. I saw new doctors, I got new tests done. This time, a doctor told me that I had microscopic lymphocytic colitis and probable celiac disease as well.

“Finally!,” I thought, “Answers!” Immediately, I adopted a gluten-free diet and decided to eat a Paleo diet as my gut was healing itself.

And I felt better.

Not great, but better. I was off medications and felt like I could leave my apartment without fear of symptoms again.

I began reintroducing foods to see how my body reacted to them. If I felt fine, they stayed.

And this continued.

I finished school. I started a new job. Things seemed to be going pretty okay.

But, some symptoms have persisted. Serious symptoms.

It’s not that I’ve ignored these problems up until now. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong. I’ve seen local doctors. I felt like my worries weren’t being acknowledged. I was a list of symptoms, not a person, and they wanted to treat the symptoms rather than figure out and treat the cause of those symptoms.

This is what has brought me to functional medicine…

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What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine asks “How?” and “Why?” illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual. This is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach in which patients and practitioners work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. Patients are not just told what to do – they play a key role in developing their own treatment plan.

Genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors all contribute to the data that goes in to a personalized treatment plan. By addressing the cause, rather than the symptoms, you can see how complex disease really is. Symptoms may have many different causes, and one causes may result in many different symptoms and conditions.

The functional medicine model is especially beneficial in addressing treatment of chronic diseases (vs. acute illness such as the flu or a cold).

Functional medicine I consider to be a joining of East vs. West. Using targeted lifestyle interventions as well as medication and surgery, if needed.

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What I’m Doing

After searching for a functional medicine practitioner in my state through the Institute for Functional Medicine website, I decided to make an appointment with Dr. Houser. We just had our initial assessment on August 16.

We talked for about an hour, telling her my entire health history – from birth to present day – and discussing the plan moving forward.

Blood vials have been drawn for testing (results still pending at the time of this posting) and stool analysis is forthcoming to give us a starting point. More testing may be coming later. Depending on the results and my progress over the next few months.

I was also instructed to begin an elimination diet to determine potential food sensitivities. I began that August 17, 2017. While I will do a full post on elimination diets (and mine specifically) at a later date, essentially I was given a list of foods to avoid for 3 weeks while I will then later test, one by one, and monitor how my body reacts. No reaction = no sensitivity. Huzzah!

For the 3-week elimination phase, the foods that I will be avoiding are:

  • Alcohol
  • Beef
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, soft drinks, tea (caffeine)
  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Gluten-containing grains (barley, rye, spelt, wheat, oats – due to cross-contamination)
  • Nightshades [ashwagandha, bell peppers, eggplant, goji berries, hot peppers (chili, cayenne, paprika), potatoes (except sweet potatoes), and tomatoes]
  • Peanuts
  • Pork
  • Processed meats
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Sugar (white sugar, HFCS, brown sugar, sucrose, artificial sweeteners, etc.)

Foods on the “To Eat” list:

  • Dairy alternatives (coconut/almond/hemp milk, coconut yogurt, coconut kefir)
  • Fish (halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • Fruits
  • Game meats (buffalo, elk, lamb, venison)
  • Gluten-free whole grains (amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rice, teff)
  • Healthy oils (extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic preferred – olive, avocado, coconut, sesame, almond, flaxseed, hempseed, walnut + ghee)
  • Legumes
  • Nuts (raw/unsalted preferred)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, Cornish hen)
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables (at least 10-12 servings per day)
  • LIMITED – certain sweeteners (brown rice syrup, blackstrap molasses, pure maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, agave nectar, lo han, erythritol, stevia)

(There are many different forms of elimination diets, but this was the one I was instructed to follow put out by the Institute for Functional Medicine.)

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(Right-click and open in a new window to enlarge)

Until next time, part 2…

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