Why Are You Not Experiencing Any Symptom Relief?

Why Are You Not Experiencing Any Symptom Relief?

In 2015, a prospective client came to me with symptoms of tachycardia (a condition in which the heart beats over 100pm) that she believed she had inherited genetically from her father. Shortly after beginning our work together, her father passed away at the age of 63 from ongoing heart complications and congestive heart failure. Needless to say, she was determined not to meet the same fate. As you’ll see later on, some simple diet and lifestyle interventions were enough to alleviate most of her symptoms.

 

In addition to tachycardia, my client – let’s call her “Laura” – was living with “unexplained” heart arrhythmias, which she had been experiencing for most of her adult life with no relief in sight. After monitoring her heart for 24 hours and running several diagnostics, her heart specialist assured her that “everything looked normal”; yet, these incidences continued to happen every day, almost always accompanied by a wave of extreme fatigue. Her experience was anything but “normal”.

Laura was skeptical of anything the traditional approach could do to alleviate her symptoms, she was desperate for answers, and was growing wary of any doctor’s ability to help her. In her own words, “it was scary and unnerving to have your heart skip a beat every afternoon. At times, I was afraid to live in my own body.”

I’m sure many of us can relate. Along your own health journey, you may have already gone through the experience of jumping from specialist to specialist without experiencing any kind of relief. So why do so many of us struggle with seeing any improvement, despite following the doctors orders? To answer that, let’s break down down the differences in approaches between traditional western medicine, and functional medicine approaches.

TRADITIONAL MODEL
FUNCTIONAL MODEL
Acute care
Preventative Care
Treat the Symptom (Allopathy)
Identify Causal Factors & Restore Body Systems to Normal Function
Prescriptions & Surgery
Diet, Lifestyle, & Herbal Protocols
Compartmentalization of Body Systems
All Body Systems Are Interconnected
Symptom is the Cause of the Problem
The Symptom is the Result of the Problem
Diagnosis as Life Sentence
Conditions are Temporary States Resulting From “Hidden” Dysfunction and/or Imbalance
Genetics
Epigenetics (Genes Are Not Destiny)
Diagnosis Occurs Only After Patient Presents with Disease
Functional Labwork Assesses Risk Factors Early on to Prevent Disease
Diet & Lifestyle Minimally Regarded as Contributing Factors to Health
Diet & Lifestyle Foundational to Heath
Average Doctor Visit – 7 Minutes
Hours of Continual Support Over Several Months

As shown above, there is a strong foundation within the functional approach that focuses on identifying root causes while restoring imbalances with diet and lifestyle. Furthermore, the nature of the client-practitioner relationship allows the practitioner to develop an impression over repeated consults, course-correcting over time to educate, inform, and guide the client through diet and lifestyle changes.

Now, I’m not bashing the conventional medical model, or the potentially life saving drugs and procedures that they offer. If I were to break my arm, or to have a heart attack, I would like to be driven to the emergency room, not the herbalist. But it should also be noted that in many ways, the traditional medical model is just not set up to understand the underlying conditions that contribute to chronic health complaints. In the ancient system of Chinese medicine, doctors actually weren’t paid if the patient had to return for a visit. Can you imagine walking into a doctor’s office today and asking: What do I have to do to not visit your office anymore?

Perhaps it’s human nature, but most people wouldn’t think to go to the doctor until they start experiencing symptoms. Naturally, the doctor issues out some prescription drugs for the patient’s symptoms. In some cases, the doctor may be fully aware of diet and lifestyle interventions that may help your condition, but there is simple no time (or incentive) for that level of care within the confines of the pharmaceutical-insurance mill. And while drugs may provide some level of necessary relief, malfunction continues to persists beneath the surface. The patient proceeds to carry on with life, increasing dosages proportionally with the severity of their symptoms.

At this point, we find ourselves stuck in a negative feedback loop. By the time we visit the doctor a fourth or fifth time, dysfunction is so rampant that our symptoms have developed into a full-blown chronic condition, whether it be fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s or Type II Diabetes. Symptoms continue being suppressed while the root cause(s) of malfunction lie hidden from view:

Perceived/Physiological Stress —> (Mal)Function —> (Dis)Ease —> Symptoms

As you can see, symptoms are the last thing to occur in this model. If you were to image this as a river with stress occurring upstream, symptoms couldn’t possibly occur before symptoms or malfunction. In other words, symptoms are the not the problem, they are the result of the problem!

By removing sources of perceived or physiological stress “upstream”, and restoring body systems to normal function, we can then begin to move away from mal-function towards function, and from dis-ease towards ease. Goodbye symptoms:

100% Function —> Ease

 

Functional Philosophy

The essence of functional medicine is actually rather elegant in its simplicity. It maintains that the body is designed to work until it is counteracted by some kind of interference, or what we would normally call “stress”. If that stress becomes chronic – that is, continuous and unrelenting – our body begins experiencing multiple malfunctions, even when those issues lie hidden beneath the surface.

Suppose that you lived in an hunter-gather society and encountered a tiger the wild. The exposure to that stress would immediately engage your sympathetic system – adrenaline is released, heart rate increases, blood sugar increases, and the pupils dilate as we prepare ourselves for “fight-or-flight” (meanwhile, our reproductive and digestive systems take a back seat as these functions are non-essential to survival).

The problem is that in our industrialized society, our bodies don’t know the physiological difference between being chased by a tiger, and being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic everyday. In modern everyday life, the tiger shows up as refined carbohydrates, pesticides, microbial imbalances, or toxins in the environment. The important thing to understand here is that each of these stressors engage and activate the same hormonal stress response. The difference is that in the tiger scenario the stress is short-lived (acute), while in the latter scenario, the stress is unrelenting (chronic). In this sense we can begin to understand the effect of chronic stress on the body, and its role in the disease process.

Peeling Back The Layers

Uncovering Laura’s root causes over several months, we discovered several hidden stressors contributing to her symptoms – nutrient deficiencies, HPA Axis dysregulation manifesting as chronically low free cortisol, low stomach acid, leaky gut, and chronic gut infections.

As Laura and I began our health coaching together, I slowly eased in some dietary suggestions – namely removing refined sugars and processed foods. At the same time, I encouraged her to measure her resting heart rate against her post-meal heart rate, taking note of any drastic changes. A pattern then started to emerge – her heart only started racing after ingesting wheat or dairy! While occasional cheats or challenges would trigger her symptoms, it eventually became self-evident that 100% compliance with the diet would be best for the long-term. After committing to the changes, she quickly went from experiencing symptoms once a day to one a month…

When it came time to design a supplement protocol, I explained that heart palpitations can be caused by a nutritional deficiency in magnesium. As most of us are lacking in this essential mineral, it was an easy fix to start her supplementing before bed (magnesium aids with sleep as well).

Further down the line, functional lab testing testing revealed that she was living with the pathogenic infection H. Pylori – a bacterium that resides in the parietal cells of the stomach, impairs digestion, and results in multiple nutritional deficiencies. After a couple months on the right antimicrobial herbs, the infection was successfully eradicated, with even further improvement in her symptoms.

Today, Laura is living nearly symptom-free, but don’t get me wrong – the functional approach towards healing is a process, and often requires some sacrifices (during her protocol, she was asked to give up coffee for several months, and was devastated to give up her one and only vice). There is no silver bullet or magic pill. It took over a year of work and commitment towards diet and lifestyle changes before she was able to restore herself to normal function.

Common, Not Normal

Today, we’re so accustomed to such a low baseline for health that we barely even seem to notice it. In fact, “normal” lab ranges – from the functional viewpoint – are based on large populations of people that are in fact, unwell. As a result, symptoms are either disregarded or suppressed with medications until we present with patterns of full-blown disease, or until lab results fit within the conventional model’s “acceptable” range for treatment.

This is why we see so many people struggle for years – sometimes decades – without ever experiencing relief from their symptoms. In the words of Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

The moral of the story here is that while symptoms may be common, but they are not normal. The next time a health professional tells you that you’re “fine”, but your intuition tells you otherwise, promptly thank them for their “advice” and move on. Take your symptoms seriously – they are signs from your body that something is wrong.

When your check engine line comes on, you don’t tell the engine light that it’s normal and give it medication, right? There’s something wrong underneath the hood.

The best gift that you can give yourself is a commitment towards your health, as you’re not much without it. Build a positive community around you that includes the support of friends and family, who will support you in your mission to restore your health. And finally, work with a functional practitioner that can help you stop chasing symptoms, get to the root cause, and properly coach you through diet and lifestyle changes. You are worth being healthy, and your symptoms don’t have to be something that you merely just “live with” everyday.

 

AIP Crispy Pork Belly Salad

AIP Crispy Pork Belly Salad

For years, I was mystified by the by the process of cooking pork belly. I thought I had to be Gordon Ramsey to get it right, and even tried recreating his recipe from one of his cooking tutorials (it didn’t work out too well). It wasn’t until I stopped complicating things, that I learned how easy it was! The only “hard” part about cooking pork belly is the prep phase, but only because it involves waiting a minimum of 8 hours. Other than that, it couldn’t be easier! I don’t get fancy with seasonings or anything like that, as I find that pork belly has a complex and succulent flavor profile of its own.

My AIP pork belly salad recipe is simple and delicious and is served over my favorite spicy leafy green – arugula. The technique that I use in preparing the pork belly is inspired by Bon Appetit’s Crispy Pork Belly, and requires that you poke “1,000” little holes in the skin in order to release moisture, which results in a crispy skin. When its done, I drizzle everything with a slightly modified version of Eat Heal Thrive’s Carrot Ginger Dressing for the recipe win!

Prep Time: 8-12 hours         Cook Time: 100 minutes         Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. slab of pasture-raised pork belly (I prefer to get this from my local farmer)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar
  • 1 bag of organic arugula

Dressing:

  • 1 medium carrot diced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 1/4 apple cider vinegar
  • 1 inch thumb of ginger minced
  • 1 teaspoon of raw honey

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Prepare the pork belly by using a small fork to poke “1,000” holes in the surface of the skin, without piercing all the way through into the meat. Rub equal parts sea salt and baking soda into the skin. Allow the pork belly to dry for 8-12 hours – this is ultimately what gives you a crispy belly! I like to do my prep the night before I plan on cooking to give it plenty of time to release moisture.
  2. Rinse the salt and baking soda from the pork belly, and then neutralize the remaining baking with vinegar. If your pork belly is foaming excessively, you can give it another rinse. Dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  3. Place the pork belly skin side up on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Cook in the oven at 350°F degrees for 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, raise the temperate to 500°F and cook for an additional 10 minutes in order to crisp the skin.
  4. While the pork belly is cooking in the oven, combine all ingredients for the dressing in a food processor – preferably a NutriBullet – until you’ve reached desired thickness.
  5. Your pork belly is ready when the skin starts to get puffy, bubbly, and crispy. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to cool before cutting on a butcher block with the skin side down. I like to cut into 1-in. pieces before serving over arugula and drizzling with carrot-ginger dressing. Enjoy!

 

Ryan Monahan, FDN-P

Ryan Monahan, FDN-P

The Mindful Nutrivore

Ryan Monahan is a “health detective” residing in Athens, Ga with a passion for uncovering the hidden stressors that contribute to thyroid malfunction. Ryan spent over 10 years visiting more than 40 health professionals to find answers to his chronic health complaints until being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2012. His mission is to change the dialogue about chronic disease towards a holistic, functional approach.

My Journey Featured on Autoimmune Wellness

My Journey Featured on Autoimmune Wellness

In October 2015, I had the pleasure of being featured on AIP Stories of Recovery over at Autoimmune Wellness!

In the article, you’ll learn how I visited over 40 doctors before receiving a Hashimoto’s diagnosis. You’ll also learn about how my first endocrinologist refused to run a full thyroid panel on me (and even told me it would be “a waste of money”). Like many endos, he was basing his treatment solely on TSH, and as a result, was promptly fired from my healing team!

Click the story below to learn more about how I used AIP and good old self-determination to improve my symptoms and get my life back!

AIP Stories of Recovery – October 2015

 

 

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