Friday, January 22, 2010

What's in a Diagnosis? And, Making Caring Contagious

I'm often overlooked as biased when it comes to health information because I work for a supplements company. Despite the fact that I spend most of my day every day absorbed in nutrition and health knowledge, people assume I'm just looking out for my own bottom line. Clearly they're not familiar with the Co-op's philosophy or pricing structure (not to mention that sales is not my forte)!

Anyway, I'd be tempted to take these dismissals personally, but I've seen health care professionals meet the same fate. When they deviate from the traditional medical model, they're called quacks, charlatans, witch doctors, and other flattering monikers. What makes me sad is how often genuinely valuable information is ignored because of these biases and stigmas.

Take my recent conversation with a family member. She's only 29 and has begun to suffer from extreme pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness -- to the point that she cannot work (she's a nurse) and spends her days at doctor's appointments and in bed. She's already on multiple pharmaceuticals because none of the specialists can agree on a diagnosis.

"Chronic fatigue is a result of depression, try these anti-depressants," says her psychiatrist.

"It must be a nervous system issue, try this anti-inflammatory," says her neurologist.

"Sleep deprivation can't be helping, take these sleeping pills," says her internist.

All the pharmaceuticals bring plenty of undesirable side effects, too. Restlessness, cravings, exhaustion, headaches. And still, nobody knows what's "wrong" with her.

When I listen through an ear that isn't just searching for a finite diagnosis, the conversation gets more interesting. Sure, she's not overweight and her skin looks reasonably healthy, but I hear about her poor diet, and how she eats few fresh foods, gets no exercise, and has plenty of stress. Not exactly the recipe for wellness, but not considered "symptoms."

When I began talking to her about cellular health and the gut, she got curious, but another family member (who's older, heavier, more stressed, and a veteran sufferer of fibromialgia and chronic fatigue) completely cut me off and assured the youngster that the drugs will help some, but not to expect that much will change. Basically, just trust the doctors and get used to feeling like crap. I was shocked. I was also grateful that the sheer speed at which my jaw dropped wasn't too noticeable.

When the nay-sayer left the table, I offered my young family member the telephone numbers of a couple practitioners that would help address her issues more holistically. She seemed appreciative, but when I saw her a few weeks later she was still feeling terrible and hadn't contacted either one. She was still hoping for a diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment that would magically restore her health.

As I continued to reflect, very troubled, I thought of Dr. Rodier who has literally thousands of reputable journal studies and clinical results to support his work. Yet patients continue to get angry with him and put him down when he asks them to make nutrition and lifestyle changes over trips to the pharmacy.

So I'm finding myself very curious today about what it would take to open more people to integrative methods. I care about the future of this country and our larger global society. I care about my generation being able to support ourselves and our parents (which is looking dismal these days). I care about education with good information. Now if I can just make that care contagious. At least I care about a good challenge, too!

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