When we feel especially fantastic we probably just count our blessings and enjoy the ride. But, perhaps we should pause to reflect on why we feel so good. Then we could do more of whatever is having that effect. Did we get more sleep than usual; eat better; drink more water; get more exercise; reduce stress; and/or start a new nutritional supplement? We really should get to the root of wellness and of health problems.
If we feel rotten and go to a doctor, wouldn’t it make sense for her to investigate and understand the root cause of our problem so it can be fixed? Unfortunately, due to the rushed nature of most medical practices, insurance factors and the limitations of medical training, the usual approach is to simply medicate the symptom into submission. I have yet to think of a disease that is, at its root, a deficiency of a pharmaceutical chemical.
Here is a hypothetical example of what it means to get to the root of a health issue:
- Let’s say that a patient goes to the doctor and tells her only that he is feeling tired and is gaining weight because those are his main concerns.
- Routine blood tests are done. In our pretend case, the test comes back showing nothing that explains the complaints, but does indicate high cholesterol. Therefore, the doctor writes a prescription for a cholesterol-lowering medication. (I don’t have space here to talk about the slippery slope of drug side effects and the need for more medications for those effects. Nor will I get into the exaggerated and misunderstood issue of cholesterol and heart disease.)
- Perhaps a follow-up blood test shows that the patient’s cholesterol numbers have improved. The doc is happy. However, since the root cause of the patient’s symptoms was not addressed, he is still tired and overweight. Had the patient been asked questions like those on my thyroid survey, he might have mentioned that he also has constipation, blue moods, memory problems and thinning hair. That would have painted a more enlightening picture for the doctor…one that suggests a thyroid insufficiency.
- Low thyroid can cause high cholesterol. So, had the physician addressed the under-functioning thyroid problem first before medicating the cholesterol, she might have solved a whole bunch of problems and prevented future health crises. I should note that the standard blood test given at the first visit probably included a measure for thyroid–the TSH test. Unfortunately, as I describe in my article on thyroid, that test does not reflect all of the ways that system can malfunction. For example, the guy may make enough of the storage form of thyroid hormone, but not adequately convert it to the active form. A “normal” TSH can give a doctor a false sense of security.
- But, we probably shouldn’t stop there in our digging for root causes. What caused the thyroid problem? Going these extra steps is where functional medicine shines. For example, the sluggish thyroid could be caused by inadequate intake of iodine which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormone. Or there could be insufficient intake of other nutrients needed by the system such as selenium or vitamin A.
- The thyroid gland could be struggling because it is sensitive to gluten or is carrying a load of toxins from bad dental work or from smoking.
- Doug Kaufmann would point out that an overgrowth of yeast in the patient’s system could have caused his own immune system to attack the thyroid gland (autoimmune thyroiditis). (Going back even another step, the yeast overgrowth could have been caused by antibiotics and/or a diet high in sugars and starches.)
- Experts who understand the mind/body connection might suggest that if a person stifles their self-expression could put a physical strain on the thyroid. I saw such an example. A singer who was health when she sang and had thyroid trouble whenever she stopped singing to teach.
Giving our fictitious patient an espresso for energy and a diet pill would not help all the other systems that depend on a strong thyroid (such as immune function). It just makes sense that the more we can learn about the root of a problem, the more likely we are to solve it permanently without drugs…and to avoid other problems that might come from the same inadequacy or overload. Even the best docs can benefit from our observations.