We have arrived to the attitude that says “fix me NOW so I can go back to what I was doing before I got sick!” So we cast about for quick fixes to our not-so-quickly-fixable problems. Sadly, many of our chronic problems result from the quick fixes we have invented. Other chronic problems originate from our modern lifestyle.
We have likely come to this life-view as a result of the conditioning from a medical system that has become quite technologically advanced. Certainly, the dramatic advances in antibiotic therapy have helped us overcome some of the devastating 19th and 20th century plagues of humanity; things like pneumonia, skin infections, septicemia, meningitis, and the like. Surgery has advanced to a place of mastery over many birth defects (congenital heart and limb disorders, diaphragmatic hernias, gastroschisis, and the like) and reparative work on injuries and replacement of parts like knees and hips as well as transplantation. We have a vast immunization program that is claimed to have saved much suffering from diseases like measles, chickenpox, smallpox, HIB, and hepatitis. I can vouch for a much reduced incidence of H. influenza type B meningitis over the course of my 30+ years of practice since the HIB vaccine came out. In fact, I have not had a single HIB meningitis case since the vaccine; prior to that, I had at least two positive spinal taps annually! On some of the other infections like pertussis and measles, the claim of curbing these infections dramatically by the vaccine effort may be a bit overstated.
With all our advances, we have gotten used to a “quick fix” mind set. Other Western lifestyle wonders have accompanied the medical advances; things like refrigeration that reduced need to ferment or dry foods for storage, pasteurization and homogenization to ward off infectious agents, genetic modification of organisms like plants with the laudable motive of “feeding the world cheaply”, proliferation of chemicals that combat pests and weeds, fertilizers that allow for rapid growth of food crops, the gas engine to get us around rapidly both on the ground and in the air, metals that allow us to make lightning fast computer systems and long lasting batteries, personal care products for personal beautification, and …the list goes on and on. How can we realistically live without these conveniences in this day and age? Who would want to give up their car to reduce emissions? Or their deodorant to reduce aluminum exposure? Or Roundup to control the weeds around the house? Or their cell phone to reduce radiation exposure to their brain and reduce risk for brain tumor development? Or their computer to avoid heavy metal contamination in our landfills and water supplies? Or our floor polishes and house paints to avoid carcinogenic hydrocarbons? I suspect not many of us would give these things up, but it is these exact things that are causing us some of our stubborn chronic medical problems. Heavy metal exposure, toxic pesticide and herbicide exposure, the destruction of our gut bacteria with antibiotic overuse both medically and in our food supply, vitamin and mineral deficiencies in our foods, lack of adequate vit D3 from sun exposure, and EMF exposures all conspire to alter the health of our brain and emotions, our immune function, and our longevity.
Touching more directly on the issue of antibiotics, the advances in our ability to ward off the invisible nasties has also come with a huge price. As we kill the enemy, we are finding that there is a LOT of collateral damage to our gut microbiota due to “friendly fire”. We are just now coming to grips with this. Not only this, but the enemy is finding ways to resist our barrage. Hence the rapid evolution of MRSA, C. diff, multi-drug resistant enterococcus, and yeast. And then, given our sad state of vaccine research, we face an ever-growing parental worry about the effects of adjuvants like aluminum on certain genetically susceptible children. I know a lot of this is controversial and we in traditional medicine tend to shrug ALL of these issues off, however, there is a growing body of literature that supports all these concerns, if only we would read it.
To be sure, some lifestyle changes are more feasible than others. We may not be able to give up car and plane travel, our computers, our refrigerators, and our wireless connectivity. We may may not be able to avoid that powerful antibiotic to save our lives. We may not be able to avoid certain vaccines to protect us, especially when traveling to foreign lands or flu vaccine in order to maintain our jobs at healthcare facilities. However, we CAN give up gmo foods, eat more foods from the perimeter of the store, eat more fermented foods, check for heavy metals in our water, enhance our unprotected sun exposure to 30 min daily, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics. If we do need antibiotics, we can repair some of the damage with the judicious use of probiotics.
Lets use an example of this quick-fix mentality. So, you develop a migraine and go to the doctor to get an Imitrex prescription. That is the Band-Aid approach. Get a symptom, name it with a diagnosis, then tame it with a medical intervention. Nice and easy. For many migraines, this works nicely; at least for a while. What about when it turns chronic? Stronger meds? More meds? Referral to a neurologist? Enter “functional medicine”. This is where we start asking “why?” and “how?” and “what happened long before the headaches?” The functional way of thinking sees the headache as more of a sign of a deeper problem. What is your magnesium level? What about your intake of B complex vitamin rich foods? What about your stress level? How much sleep are you getting? What about your hormones (girls)? What about your junk food intake or even processed food that is not considered junk food (think MSG)? Are your migraines associated with gut issues? How much gluten are you ingesting? Is there a family history of autoimmunity or inflammation? So, in a large percentage of migraine suffering, fixing some underlying issue like magnesium deficiency or omega-3 fatty acid deficiency or B complex deficiency is usually enough to curb the symptom. If that does not take care of the headache, you look deeper; we move on to gut health, fixing gut leakiness to reduce systemic inflammation, replacing good gut flora, removing pathogens, removing gluten that causes that leakiness in the first place, and removing processed foods that flood the brain and body with the excitotoxin called monosodium glutamate or MSG. Can you see the difference in the process of care? One is a quick fix Band-aid approach and the other tries to get at underlying causal issues, whether they be lifestyle, deficiencies, toxicities, and the like.
This is the style of practice toward which I aim. I will certainly try to accommodate a quick fix for those who do not want the functional care, however, I find that the demand is growing rapidly for a more comprehensive care that says “everything about you is important not only your immediate ear ache”. This functional and more comprehensive approach, however, comes at a cost. It takes much more effort both on my part and yours. It takes a lot longer for us to tease these things out in the office. It also typically requires major changes in the way a family eats, drinks, recreates, sleeps, etc. It requires imposing a more rigid structure on the lives of your kids–limits on screen time; limits on non-foods; eliminating junk foods; regulation on sleep and physical activity; enhancing sun exposure to that couch potato; feeding the family clean and healthful food and water. It also requires a period of time for supplemental nutrition to balance deficiencies. All this is hard work. However, when you understand that all these lifestyle issues are closely related to the strength of your child’s immune system and his ability to ward off illness like his ear infection, it makes more sense to make these changes. When you understand that your child’s unruly behavior and performance in school is tightly woven into every one of these lifestyle interventions, it makes sense for me to counsel a family toward these interventions.
When you come to me with a child that has an earache and I send you away with a list of interventions rather than an antibiotic, these are the reasons why. Enhancing your child’s immune system with good doses of vitamin C, D3, Zinc, vit A, and a good immune booster (my Sick Kit) it will allow your child to generally get over their ear infection without the use of an antibiotic. It will strengthen their own immune system to fight it off the next time. It will spare the gut from the ravages of antibiotics on the normal gut flora. It is my belief that our overuse of antibiotics both medicinally and in our food supply is one of the root causes of the dramatic rise in chronic illness over the past 30 years. I am taking steps to remedy this. (By the way, the Academy of Pediatrics advises a wait and watch approach on most ear infections). If you are of the same mindset, come and let’s try to work on those pesky issues together. AND... I apologize for my long-windedness.