Healing Naturally: Functional Medicine Versus Modern Pharmaceuticals

Today I'm featuring a guest post by Liz Schau at Dear Thyroid, a great resource for all things related to living with thyroid issues. (Read more information about Dear Thyroid at the end of this post.) This post resonates well with me, as someone who once faced a fork in the road about whether to choose modern pharmaceuticals or natural foods as my medicine. The choice I made had an enormous impact on my life and the very core of who I am, and so I relate very much with what Liz has to say:

It’s interesting, and I’ve only realized it over the past two years -- as much as the public and mainstream media talk about lifestyle and dietary choices and their positive impact on health (after all, we see these kinds of articles in major magazines and on website headlines on a daily basis), much of the time, it’s as if no one actually believes it. I only say this because those two years ago, I started using diet, nutrition, and real food to ease my autoimmune thyroid disease and its related symptoms. And when it actually worked, few people took notice. Because, it seems, unless you have medical success with a pill, a lot of people will think you’re lying (or trying to sell them something).

And how can you blame us? The United States is the only country that allows direct-to-consumer advertising. What that means is, pharmaceuticals are our paradigm. We’re used to seeing them; we’re used to taking them. Pharmaceuticals are our gut reaction to the sore throat, our first line of defense against the flu, the only option for the rash or itch or headache. We certainly don’t think diseases can be reversed, though if we had any chance, it’d have to be with help of a medication. However, it doesn’t start or stop at the consumer: Big Pharma companies offer doctors incentives for prescribing their drugs (which, of course, they do), so physicians are responsible for helping to further this medication-only paradigm. However, the bright side is, there are many people -- chronically-ill or otherwise -- working hard to change this; they believe there are other paths to good health.

Within six months of being on a whole food, anti-candida diet (which excludes sugary, vinegary, starchy foods, and alcohol) to control my systemic infection (a side-effect of a weakened immune system), my antibodies came in-range and my thyroid numbers stabilized. In continuing this diet, over the next year and a half, my thyroid blood work numbers gradually became more and more stable so that my medication dose could be decreased. Eventually, I was taken off all medication and I found myself in un-medicated remission. I still am. My doctor told me this was "realistically possible, but statistically improbable."

What I later learned is that all of the reading, research, and observations I made about the state of my body (namely in the form of eating real food, food allergies, candida overgrowth, and chemical sensitivities) is actually a branch of health care, called Functional Medicine. This kind of health care focuses on the individual and tailors treatment to their specific needs. It is not a medication-only approach, and in fact, such doctors often don’t utilize pharmaceuticals. Instead, they address root problems of illness like inflammation, hormones, gut and digestive health, detoxification, energy, and the mind-body connection. Real, nourishing food is a big part of this. Functional Medicine also views the body as an interconnected system, not isolated problems here and there. Dr. Mark Hyman is one of the most outspoken of such doctors, and blogs from his website and The Huffington Post.

I’d say, adopting a new health paradigm -- one that isn’t based on a medication-only approach -- can help make more people well. For many people, it resolves their symptoms, illnesses or conditions. While these may seem like big statements and big claims, I experienced this healing, and I am no exceptional case. If we can believe in the body’s ability to heal a cut, or bruise, broken bone, or for hair to grow, or for new cells to be formed, then we can believe in the principles of Functional Medicine. The body is in a constant state of regeneration. Giving the body optimum input and eliminating man-made synthetics and chemicals (industrial and processed food, pesticides, genetically-modified foods, animal growth hormone, plastics, cleaning products, laundry detergents, soaps, toothpastes, fluoride and chlorine in tap water) we take the toxic load off of the body. We can redirect its efforts to replenish deficits. This is getting at the root cause of an illness, rather than employing a medication-only approach, which actually never heals an illness and rarely eliminates side effects. A pill may sustain us, but we usually don’t feel well and we are not completely free and in charge of our health. And it is really liberating to be free and in charge of one's health -- no matter what degree of wellness is actually achieved.

Dear Thyroid is a unique brand of literary support for patients with thyroid diseases and thyroid cancers. Patients write and submit love and hate letters to their thyroids, among other literary things. We endeavor to give patients voice and face to their disease, in their words and on their terms. Additionally, Dear Thyroid has five columns written by and for patients: How To Kick Your Thyroid’s Ass (Nutrition column), Going For The Throat (Health Care column), Flying With Broken Wings (Symptoms we don’t discuss) and Life Redefined (Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults).

This post is part pf Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.

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