I feel compelled to write this after a session with my functional doctor this week (Dr Suman Gupta at the Hale Clinic). After an hour with her, I exited her clinic feeling incredibly grateful and, at the same time, extremely pissed off.
I was grateful because I was armed with a fantastic array of detail about my health across so many areas, detail that will allow me to optimize my health in an incredibly targeted way. I have to say, the detail that a good functional practitioner can give you about the status of your various bodily systems is mind-blowing.
I was pissed off because getting to the point where you have this level of knowledge requires you firstly to actually be aware that it’s attainable, secondly to buy into the theory that functional or integrative medicine is a sensible way to approach medicine and not quackery (as some old-school doctors would have us believe) and thirdly to be able to afford it. There is a very significant cost to having the necessary tests done and to investing in the ensuing medication.
The reason I’m upset is that we can be walking around with a myriad of preventable, reversible health issues can really make our quality of life far more difficult and knackering than it needs to be, and what do we do while we’re oblivious to them?
We blame ourselves. We berate ourselves for our lack of willpower or lack of energy. We ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with you?”, but that question is an admonition rather than a real query to get to the bottom of our problems.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been seeing Dr Gupta for 6 months and have noticed great progress in my overall health, vitality and energy levels. However, I still feel tired a lot, moody, volatile, I overreact (especially with my kids) and I don’t handle stress triggers very well.
So, what kind of narratives might I create in my head to explain these things?
- I’m too lazy
- I’m too moody
- I’m a mean mummy
This time Dr Gupta looked at my hormones for the first time (as treating lots of different issues at the same time can be very overwhelming for our bodies). What she found confirmed what she had suspected since she first clapped eyes on me: I have a cortisol deficiency. My body has quite literally drained my cortisol reserves over the course of 10 years on a trading floor immediately followed by having 2 kids. This means that I don’t have the cortisol boost that most people have first thing in the morning (so we can go out and hunt our breakfast, traditionally), and I don’t have reserves to call on in the event of a stressor. So, what does this tell us?
- It tells us that our past can still haunt our present physiological state through the legacy it leaves. I hadn’t realised I could still blame banking for my hormone levels today! Our health today is a reflection of our journey up to this point.
- It tells me that I am not a bad mother or a lazy, moody person but that I’ve actually done a pretty good job up until now of functioning despite a repleted hormone reserve!
This made me feel pretty sad. We are so hard on ourselves. We run on empty and we let our bodies down and wonder why they are letting us down! We think we’re failing when really we just need some help.
When we feel below par, chronically knackered or ‘not 100%’ we do one of two things. We push on, driven by the feedback from our culture that it’s normal to feel tired and depleted (spoiler: it may be normal but it’s not right!!) or we go to our GP, who runs some vague blood tests and tells us everything looks ‘normal’ (can you imagine what the baseline for normal is in today’s society?!!). We trust what the GP says while failing to realise that some of these tests fail to probe the real, underlying bio-markers properly. For example, a standard thyroid test from your GP will test your T4 levels to check if your thyroid is underactive. However, all of my thyroid problems (which are now correcting themselves beautifully) stemmed from low T3 levels, which are rarely captured in these routine tests. Of course, there’s a limit to NHS resources but it’s good to be aware of what these limits are.
Our bodies are unbelievably complex but often, when looked at in the right way, the solutions to our health problems are remarkably simple. Because functional medicine looks at the underlying causes of our symptoms it can often trace back a whole host of seemingly unrelated issues to the exact same cause, be it hormone imbalance, poor gut microbiome, or chronic inflammation.
My message is this: if health means more to you than lack of disease or the ability to just about get through the day, then adopting a functional medicine approach is, I personally believe, an incredibly empowering way to take full ownership of your current and future health. My husband and I decided earlier this year that we were going to go all-in on getting to the root cause of our (mild but bothersome) health problems and invest all our time, energy and willpower in following the protocols needed to turn our health around.
If you’re interested in looking into this area more than you can read my blog post, An Introduction to Functional Medicine, which lists all the functional practitioners whose books, podcasts and social media feeds I recommend.
Thanks for reading!