Your Doctor's Word Isn't Gospel
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
As is the nature of health coaching, many of my clients seek my services because they have specific physical health issue they are trying to manage through lifestyle and appropriate medical and alternative therapies. A large proportion of my clients have autoimmune conditions and feel that allopathic medicine is not only letting them down in terms of treatment and management but also may have contributed to their acquisition of an autoimmune disease. I agree with them.
Whether its autoimmunity, cancer or any diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all (but you know something isn't right), it's up to you to become your own health guru and I work with my clients to make this happen. Once you marry your knowledge of your own body and symptoms, independent research and experience of others, many of my clients feel that they know more than the people who are treating them. This gives them a sense of control and assurance that together with their practitioners they are implementing the most effective treatment plan for them.
Autoimmunity As an Example
Autoimmunity is a great example of how our GPs and medical profession are failing us. Often an autoimmune patient will attend the GP for many years complaining of IBS and digestive issues, which is dismissed as IBS that can't be treated. Despite the link between leaky gut / IBS and autoimmunity being clearly established, doctor's are still not treating IBS symptoms as a potential red flag for autoimmunity.
Autoimmunity doesn't happen overnight, and a patient will have autoantibodies for many years prior to having symptoms, however, these won't be tested. If they were, there would be an opportunity to identify them and then try to reverse the autoimmune process by healing the gut and determining and removing sources of inflammation. However, it's not until the autoantibodies have destructed enough tissue that the patient starts to feel symptoms that the patient returns to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This means a referral to a specialist who typically will prescribe medication to treat the symptoms. The root cause is never addressed and lifestyle practices are not included in a treatment plan, despite being having significant benefits to the patient.
The medical profession fails the autoimmune patient in that if contributing factors were identified early they may have never developed autoimmunity. Once diagnosed their failed in that lifestyle treatment options are not addressed that may improve their quality of life and decrease the severity of their disease or reduce the risk of further autoimmunity.
Autoimmunity is one example - but there are many others, where patients are not advised of lifestyle, diet and complementary practices and are arguably not receiving optimal care.
Maybe they are too busy in their practices and personal lives to read journal articles, maybe because it challenges what they learnt at medical school and shifts away from symptom management to address the pathogenesis of disease or maybe because lifestyle and nutrition don’t fit into the Medical Association’s view on medical practice (AMA in particular), let alone the indoctrinated pharmaceutical paradigm in which Western medicine operates.
Really these excuses aren't acceptable. Whether it’s nutrition and advising diabetics to eliminate simple sugars, improving the gut integrity, using medicinal CBD or fasting prior to chemotherapy to improve its efficacy and reduce side effects - there are many complementary treatments that have proven benefits that doctors are failing to advise their patients of (or even know about themselves).
Staying abreast of medical developments is what medical continuing professional development is for. It's part of medical practice.
As a former lawyer, I believe there is a potential cause of action in negligence for anyone who suffers damage as a result of not being informed by their medical practitioner about a complimentary or lifestyle measure that has scientifically proven benefit to improve their condition. However, medical associations, particularly the Australian Medical Association are putting more restrictions on doctors practicing functional medicine and health insurance companies are no longer covering many complementary therapies.
Be Your Own Health Guru
It’s in this context that every person needs to take responsibility for their health and become their own health guru. If you suffer from a condition, with a little bit of research you have the potential to know more than your doctor.
Here are 10 reasons why your doctor's advice may be limited and you need to do your own research.
1. They don’t take a preventative approach to medicine. It’s only when you’re sick that you go to or get the attention of the doctor. There is limited focus on preventing sickness or achieving optimal health, by way of nutritional or lifestyle. There is limited screening for preventive illness or addressing conditions such as IBS in the context of preventing autoimmunity.
2. They Often Treat the Symptoms not the Cause. This depends on the illness and is not a universal truth - but very often a doctor will treat the symptoms that you present with, failing to identify and treat the root cause. There are many examples of this - particularly autoimmune disease. Treatment of Hashimoto’s Thyroditis is to replace thyroid hormone that can no longer be produced by the thyroid - which is essential - but conventional medicine fails to pick up biomarkers before they destroy tissue in the first place (which may have lead to reversing the disease process) and once diagnosed fails improve symptoms to improve quality of life, stop progression and reduce the risk of developing and additional autoimmune diseases.
3. They aren’t aware of the latest research or at least fail to apply it - maybe it’s because they do not feel comfortable endorsing or practicing it because it is viewed as ‘experimental’. This means if you’re a person who wants to be a first adopter, then you miss out on the latest and greatest. A great example of this is the use of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of some cancers and other disorders such as ADHD or treatment of tic disorders. One particular paediatric Harley Street specialist advised a patient showing elevated antibodies and autoantibodies to gluten but no damage to microvilli to continue to eat gluten until damage occurs, despite suffering from many symptoms that resolved when on a gluten free diet. You’ll be lucky to find a doctor in the UK who is aware of the condition PANDAS - which is a well recognised and established illness in the US.
4. Medical Associations Prevent Doctors From Practicing Functional Medicine. Many times alternative or complementary therapies have not formed part of Medical training and therefore fall out of the scope of the doctor. Doctors that do practice, risk having the medical license revoked - being struck off, notwithstanding that they are correct (see Garry Fleke). Doctors are arguably the most well studied and knowledgeable people in our society and they should be free to expand their knowledge and practice.
5. Some are psychopaths or at least have narcissistic ego issues. I love and respect doctors - however it is well known that the most frequented industries for psychopaths are the medical profession, politics and as CEOs of companies. The God-like ego, the attitude that you, the patient have no right to research your own condition or the dismissal of test results that the doctor hasn’t ordered him/herself. This kind of attitude shows you doctor is not willing to partner with you in your health.
6. Pressure from Drug Companies who only push products they can make money on. Pharmaceutical drugs keep many people alive everyday, however pharmaceuticals are not the only effective approach to treating many illnesses. The problem is that pharmaceutical companies focus on products that can make them money, predominantly ones they can patent. This rules out natural products and vitamins and minerals or off-label drug uses. As such, these are not given much attention and therefore aren’t adopted by doctors.
7. Reference ranges are not ‘optimal’ - often the laboratory ‘normal’ ranges are based on their database of patients, a skewed population as most people seeking blood tests have a medical problem, rather than being healthy. They also differ in age - capturing 80 year olds into the same pool as 25 year olds. Additionally the range is wide enough to capture ‘normal’ but not optimal and everyone should be seeking optimal health. Thyroid readings are a great example of where a doctor will tell you you’re in the normal range even with a TSH of 3 or 4.
8. You are limited to a 15-30 min. From the moment you walk into a consultation you’re speedily giving an update on the acute reason you’ve come, to quickly be prescribed a drug or written a referral. In England and Australia we are exceedingly lucky to have free health care and short appointments are paramount to ensure access to health care for all, within budgets. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not limiting your advice or health care. There is no opportunity to explore how other symptoms may be interacting with or your lifestyle.
9. Reluctance to Use Novel Tests or Treatments. If you are a progressive, then it’s likely you’ll want progressive medical treatment, or at least be offered and informed about what exists. However, the medical profession is set up to ignore proven treatments until they have been well established - meaning you’ll have a delay of 15 years before you are offered treatment from a doctor. There are many tests that provide significant insight into health issues - from full autoimmune screens to detect biomarkers that indicate autoimmunity against many tissues to complete hormone panels.
10. They’re only interested in their speciality and don’t take a functional approach. There is no denying a need for specialists when it comes to medicine - however this should not be in exclusion to considerations of the body as a whole. The body is a working intricate system full of positive and negative feedback loops that interconnect between different body systems. It’s not a siloed system. However specialists tend to only consider their own speciality - examples of this include the doctor who prescribes prophylactic antibiotics for treating recurrent UTIs without considering or advising the endocrine system (as a potential cause of the UTIs) or the effects the antibiotics may have on microbiomes - including that of the gut. Another example is the gastroenterologist who will only listen to gut symptoms and cuts a patient off stating that neurological symptoms are irrelevant (despite the established connection between the gut and brain). So if you’re doctor’s advice is limited - what’s the answer? The answer is to take control of your own health - go to your doctors, specialists and health practitioners but don't take their word as Gospel. It’s your obligation to educate yourself on your condition, collaborate with others and seek advice from multiple medical and complementary sources. Check out my article on how to be your own health guru here.