The following is a simple anecdote to illustrate the ‘essence’ of functional medicine thinking (to preserve and regain health).
Here are some things for us to bear in mind when next we feel like reaching for the paracetamol / ibuprofen for the slightest little ache or pain.
When might we do this?
- You have a bit of a headache… No one likes headaches! Seemingly, some ibuprofen may seem like the wisest immediate solution.
- Or maybe your knees / elbows are hurting a bit because you’re heavily involved in a sport or are a very active person … this also sucks, so you take some ibuprofen once again.
Now something as seemingly innocent as taking a pain-killer doesn’t seem all that alarming. Indeed, HOPEFULLY it won’t be. But legitimate concerns may arise … Please read on.
You see these medications can have a corrosive effect on the gastrointestinal lining, setting the scene for
- h. pylori overgrowth
- low stomach acid / low pepsin production
- nutrient malabsorption
- stomach pain
- even gastric cancer
But even if you’re aware of “pain killers not being very good for you”, you ignore this vague warning completely. After all, we all know things aren’t good for us. Alcohol isn’t good for us. Plastic containers aren’t good for us. Hell, the Daily Mail tells you everything gives you cancer these days. So who cares if I take the odd pain killer? What does it matter in the scheme of things?
But then one day into the future, you notice some pain in your stomach, after you’ve eaten food. You ignore it to start with, but some time later you start to experience “heartburn” and oesophageal reflux. So you go to the doctor, and explain about your symptoms, and he now gives you a harmless (??) medication called omeprazole to block the production of stomach acid, and prevent pain.
“Wow. This has worked really well,” you think to yourself. “As long as I keep taking this omeprazole stuff, I don’t get any pain anymore.”
However, what you’re not aware of is that the corrosive nature of pain killers to the mucosal lining of the GI tract has led to a diminished lining in your stomach. The doctor has therefore given you drugs to counteract the stomach acid from hurting you, in assuming your body’s production of stomach acid is too high … But the initial problem is NOT that you were producing too much acid. It was that your mucosal barrier, which is meant to protect you from the acid, has deteriorated because of the long-term use of pain killers. In fact, you’re most likely producing TOO LITTLE stomach acid. This isn’t a good thing. Stomach acid (HCL) is very important in our digestion of proteins and some very important vitamins and minerals, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12.
Consequently, although you feel a little better initially, your nutrient absorption is now suffering – and is made worse by the medication.
But anyway, you get on with your life…
Flash forward 5-10 years, you are now very fatigued, and don’t have the energy that you used to. It’s easy enough to attribute this to “getting older”… Perhaps all is not as it seems though. Perhaps a nutrient deficiency is taking its toll on your body (e.g. anemia or low red cell magnesium)
You look online as to why you may be experiencing these odd symptoms of coldness, low energy, constipation, hair loss. It all points to hypothyroidism, so once again you make an appointment with the doctor to have your thyroid levels checked.
But your results come back “normal”.
This leaves you in, as us English may say, a bit of a pickle. Although you feel absolutely awful, and are convinced you have an under-functioning thyroid, your results say you’re fine, and you’re told to go home. You may even be fed the old adage “It’s all psychological – Maybe you should get some counseling”, which essentially translates to ‘I have no idea what’s going on’.
What may have happened is that the chronic maldigestion that had been going on for years, as described above, had contributed to dysbiosis (an imbalance in your gut bacteria) and also what we call “leaky gut”. Now in the case of leaky gut, it’s easier for undigested proteins to pass through the gut lining into the blood stream. This can lead to an immune response whereby the body ends up attacking its own tissue. For instance, the body may up-regulate immune cells in response to recognizing the bacterium ‘yersinia’ as an invader. In theory, this is very helpful to us. After all, the immune system is meant to protect us. Unfortunately however, something called molecular mimicry can occur – whereby the body’s immune cells end up attacking the thyroid because the thyroid tissue looks structurally similar to the yersinisa bacteria.
This is a physiological malfunction, or so to speak. But the results can be catastrophic. In the case of yersinia, the thyroid and this woman, she now has a case of autoimmune thyroiditis (aka an under-functioning thyroid, caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland).
You see, what has happened is that a seemingly innocent move has cascaded into a more serious situation, which is threatening to the quality of life.
So before you turn your nose up at something which is branded ‘unhealthy’ and say to yourself “Oh for god’s sake, this isn’t going to do me any harm”, you need to think about these things.
Serious health conditions rarely come about in a simple cause and effect manner.
The sum that leads to them is rarely as simple as 2+2 = 4, but instead more like a long, complex mathematical equation.
It’s the cascade / down-stream effect that we need to worry about, whereby disease states can accumulate over time from predisposing factors which were previously benign and innocent.
Remember we all started out as healthy children. However, many of us will go on to develop cancer, autoimmunity, heart disease, diabetes and chronic fatigue.
This doesn’t happen randomly. It happens for a reason.
So by looking upstream, and changing the factors that predispose us to these more sinister diagnoses, we have a better chance of staying healthy, and improving outcomes when disease states already exist.
It’s such a shame that by overlooking such simple things, the human race as an entity becomes sicker and sicker with each passing decade… And to think, all this may have been avoided if our hypothetical case (described above) had just drank some more water, to counteract the dehydration-induced headaches!
Perhaps if we all took a “back to basics” approach like this, we would live longer, healthier, stronger, happier lives.
… such is the functional medicine model to health.
Note: The above case is not based on one of my clients, and is a completely hypothetical case, in order to illustrate the point being made in an easy-to-understand manner.
Unfortunately, most cases aren’t so clear-cut in real life. So in the case of managing your health, it’s very important that you work with a qualified professional (who understands the functional medicine model, or other integrative health based approach) to help you, whether this be a nutritionist, medical doctor, or other healthcare professional.
BOOK A FREE APPOINTMENT WITH JACK to discuss your own health concerns / goals.
DISCLAIMER: The above is not to be misconstrued as medical advice, and under no circumstances should you change any treatment / medications you have been prescribed without first discussing it with your doctor. Nor should the above be misconstrued as part of an anti-medication agenda in any way. The above is based simply on an anecdote to emphasise inappropriate, premature use of pharmaceuticals and the neglect of lifestyle changes.