Back in the day, getting health information meant going to the doctor. You called and scheduled an appointment, then waited several days, weeks or months until your appointment.
With the internet, things have changed. Web MD got the ball rolling with their Symptom Checker. (Which, in the early days of the internet, I used frequently. At one point I had tingling in my foot, which Web MD indicated was either caused by MS, stroke, or brain tumor. I called my mom in a panic with my dire diagnosis, and she told me to get new shoes. I switched them out, and the tingling was gone. This complete diagnostic misfire happened a few more times before my husband shut me down from Web MD.) Several websites popped up with medical advice and information, and forums were created where people could trade ideas about illnesses and medications. And there, Dr. Google came to be. When you are under duress and trying to figure out what is wrong with you, waiting a month for an appointment seems like an eternity. When there is a plethora of information out there, it is hard to pass up the opportunity to self-diagnose.
In addition to the issue of waiting for appointments, short visits with doctors and limited solutions have led frustrated people to turn to the internet more and more frequently. That is especially true of functional and naturopathic medicine, as it is a concept that tends to hit home with a lot of people. Doctors like Mark Hyman, Amy Myers and Dr. Mercola have built audiences and become go-to sources of information.
As a Functional Medicine practice, we are always happy to see the word spread about Functional Medicine. Many people do not know that there is often a root cause of their misery that can be addressed and reversed. Functional Medicine helps remove “tacks” that make people feel miserable and gives your body the tools it needs to heal itself vs. band-aiding symptoms.
The problem comes in when people think that every Functional Medicine “tack” applies to them. During my time doing new patient intakes, I have seen patients treat themselves for yeast, SIBO, food intolerances, Celiac Disease and vitamin deficiencies. They put themselves on low-FODMAP, or Specific Carbohydrate diets that are extremely difficult even for those schooled in nutrition. At the very least, this can be inconvenient and ineffective for the patient. In some cases, it can be dangerous.
Here’s an example: I had a friend in Functional Medicine coaching school who decided she needed lots of probiotics and went all in with the fermented foods. (Kombucha, Kefir, etc.) Turns out she had a major yeast issue that she didn’t know about and the fermented drinks caused the yeast to multiply very quickly, rendering her very ill. It took a visit to a doctor and testing to set her on the road to recovery.
When I first started my job as a health coach, I would try to guess in my head at what my patient’s tests would reveal. What seemed like cut and dry cases would always surprise me. Take my husband, for example. He always had athlete’s foot and issues with his skin. I was betting his yeast was off the charts. Tests showed his yeast was low, not requiring treatment, but he did have Vitamin B deficiencies and insulin resistance. I did not see that coming.
Everyone’s genetic makeup differs. Combined with environmental factors, there could be a lot of reasons that your body can react. Insomnia is a problem we see very frequently. For some people, a B12 shot is all they need to get back on track. Others need magnesium. For women, hormone variations can be the cause. My husband has the “warrior” gene, which means he’s built to go on “campaigns” for several days and forsake rest. He also has the “clock” gene, which means his body struggles with time. Sleep does not come as easy for him genetically as it does for others, so he needs support like melatonin, GABA and theanine. There is not a one-size-fits-all cure for insomnia, or really any other condition.
The bottom line… please do not do it yourself. See a doctor to find out YOUR specific issues and get guidance on how to treat them accordingly. Just because supplements are natural and do not require a prescription does not mean that they are appropriate or safe for everyone. And truthfully, for many patients, seeing numbers and a definitive diagnosis means the difference between compliance and non-compliance.
And no matter what, please do not turn to Dr. Google. He is always on call but his information is sketchy at best.
Hangry on the Road
For most of us with food issues, managing them has become second nature. It takes some getting used to, but we put together a routine that involves specific grocery stores and restaurants that we trust. When we travel, all of that goes out the window. We must plan, we must research, and we must cross our fingers and hope for the best that we can stay healthy on the road.
As a health coach, I spend quite a bit of time helping others figure out what to pack when they travel. I practice what I preach, as I currently react to gluten, dairy and eggs, as well as any migraine triggers such as vinegar (salad dressing), soy sauce, citrus and processed meats. When my family travels anywhere, even for a few days, I spend most of my packing time and energy on food. Food for the road or plane, food for the hotel or house where we are staying, and things to keep in my bag for an emergency. (On one trip, I was so wrapped up in packing my food that I forgot to bring my wallet and pajamas.) After doing this in my own life for some time, and helping others as a health coach, you would think I had this down pat.
I guess not. For a recent trip to Boston, I packed a bag with almonds, gluten-free bread and almond butter, fruit, vegetables, crackers and many other snacks. Our first stop was Bob Evans, and I was able to assemble a decent lunch of grilled chicken, hash browns and broccoli. I was feeling quite smug. If I could eke a decent meal out of a Bob Evans, I could go anywhere on this trip and eat well.
Reality hit when we arrived in Syracuse. My daughter found a healthy-looking restaurant that seemed to be perfect: wraps, smoothie bowls, lots of healthy options. As I looked further at the menu, it seemed that all of their meats were soaked in soy sauce. They did not offer plain grilled chicken…everything was “pulled.” I could hear Dr. Sprecher’s voice in my head “If it tastes sweet, it is dessert!”, so no smoothie bowls for me. I sat with a bottle of water while my daughters ate, and my husband and son ate at a nearby sub shop. I was quite hangry and defeated by the time we got back to the hotel, where I ate my soggy bread with some almond butter on it.
The bread was also my breakfast the next morning. I was desperate, DESPERATE for some real food by the time lunch rolled around. Unfortunately, we were on a long stretch of road with only rural exits and infrequent rest stops, which featured McDonald’s and a pizza place. Every time a sign would pop up for a new stop, I would get my hopes up, only to be shut down when I saw the McDonald’s/pizza signs. EVERY SINGLE ONE WAS THE SAME! We managed to find a Wendy’s (the only fast-food restaurant I trust) at about 3:30 p.m. By then, my husband was threatening to send me home on a plane because he couldn’t stand driving with me when I was hungry.
We rented a home with the kitchen, and stocked it immediately upon our arrival. We ate at home most of the time. I used my trusty app “Find Me Gluten Free” when we needed to eat out, but even that was not foolproof. We had a lunch where the waitress said anything on the menu could be adjusted to be gluten-free. “Do you have a gluten-free pizza crust?,” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Do you have a gluten-free bread for the sandwiches?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Do you have gluten-free pasta?” I asked. “No,” she answered. So they really couldn’t adjust ANYTHING on the menu to be gluten free. I had a salad with no dressing.
The only win came on the last day, when we found a Pizzeria Uno where we had a FABULOUS gluten-free pizza. Down the street was a Ben and Jerry’s with dairy-free ice-cream. My daughter and I finally got to enjoy “vacation” food, and boy, did we enjoy it.
I guess the moral of the story is to never get too complacent when you are on the road. Always, always have a meal on hand or at least something to keep you satiated if you cannot find something to eat. My husband said he expected Boston to be more progressive with its food, and truthfully, I did too. Thank God we had a place with a kitchen. On the way home, I packed a cooler with enough food to get us through the ride home without stopping. And I was SO happy to come home to my kitchen, my Heinen’s, and all of the places I know and trust. There is no place like home!
Food Restrictions? No problem!
Food allergies/sensitivities are very common among patients at our practice.
It is often said that if a problem is chronic, the first place is to look is at your food, especially at your favorite foods. After all, you eat them all the time, right? The conundrum comes when those foods are identified as triggers, and you need to eliminate them from your diet.
When I first started here as a patient, my breakfast was an English muffin, lunch was a sandwich, and dinner was typically pasta. (I was born and raised Italian, so it was not entirely my fault.) When Dr. Sprecher told me I had the Celiac gene, it was panic time. Literally, "what am I going to do now?" Turns out, that was the tip of the iceberg. I had sensitivities to eggs, dairy, many grains, and several nuts and seeds. I currently still live by these restrictions in addition to migraine-trigger foods such as vinegar, citrus, deli meats, chocolate and avocado.
I have figured out some ways to still enjoy flavorful food without ruining my health in the process. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Look at flavored oils. If you are on a restricted diet, chances are you eat lots of sauteed foods, i.e. chicken, vegetables, etc. Flavored oils help boost the taste without adding any sketchy ingredients that are typically found in seasoning mixes. I love going to the Olive Scene in Chagrin Falls...it is like a candy store for people like me. My favorite oils include basil, orange, cilantro and roasted onion and Herbes De Provence. Vinegar options include strawberry, peach, passion fruit, mango and jalapeno. They have locations on the West Side as well. You can check out their website here.
2. Along the same lines, I love finding unique spice mixes. While I usually get them from the Farmer's Market, I recently found Penzey's in Beachwood, which is a store full of spice mixes. (Cinnamon, garlic, shallots, pepper, fajita, vanilla sugar, etc.) Again, another candy store for someone whose options are limited. They are naturally gluten-free according to the website and employees. You can see what they offer here.
3. Garden herbs are a great option at this time of the year. I am lucky to have a daughter who is into gardening and grows her own herbs. Fresh basil, oregano, chives, mint and dill can add amazing taste to just about anything. One of my favorite summer drinks is infused water, with different combinations of fruit and herbs.
I truly don't believe that limited food choices have to mean bland and boring food. Do not hesitate to contact me if you are looking for help brainstorming food ideas! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
Get in the Mindset to Change
While some people come to Dr. Sprecher for tune-ups, most come with health problems that have made their lives difficult if not downright unbearable. (I am shocked, in awe actually, of what some people endure on a daily basis.) After thorough testing, most are faced with the knowledge that they need to make major changes in lifestyle in order to get their body back on track. Reducing sugar/carb consumption, eliminating gluten, dairy or other foods, adding supplements or even a full-scale elimination diet are a few of the recommendations our patients leave with after their second or third appointments.
Some patients are ready to jump in and do whatever is needed to feel better. Others feel completely overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. When many of the foods that are your daily go-tos are suddenly off limits, it can leave you wondering what to do next. Here are a few coach's recommendations to help get in the mindset to start something new.
1. Tap into your "why." This is also known as a positive emotional attractor. Do you want to be able to be more active with your grandchildren? Do you want to travel? Do you want to be able to go places and feel a part of things, and not be "the sick one" anymore? Figure out how your life could improve by making these changes, and envision what your future would be like.
2. Figure out what your strengths are, and tap into them. The VIA character strengths quiz is a favorite of many coaches, as it determines your top strengths in order of 1-24. (It is not negative in any way...the strengths at the bottom of the list are things you may need to work on a little.) Strengths include honesty, kindness, curiosity, judgment, zest, perseverance and self-regulation. If you have "love of beauty and excellence," you may do better taking a walk in a beautiful setting. Or if "spirituality" is a top strength, you can take a yoga class or incorporate meditation into your goals. The test is free, and you can take it here.
3. Set SMART goals. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Figure out something that is reasonable for YOU. Trying to exercise every day may be a tall order...how about three days a week? Setting goals you can reach gives you a feeling of satisfaction and encourages you to go forward.
Of course, I am here to help with all of the above and to help figure out what you CAN eat. As of right now, I cannot eat gluten, dairy, eggs, or any migraine-trigger foods such as vinegar, many nuts, avocados, etc. In other words, I know how it feels to wonder what to eat! I always say, where there's a will, there's a way. I have found recipes for nearly everything that meet my dietary requirements. Is my bread as good as a hot baguette from Panera? Probably not, but it is bread, and I can eat it. (My daughter will say of my food "It almost hits the spot!" I said that will be the title of my recipe book someday!)
How to Handle the Holidays
Remember how magical the holidays were when you were a kid? Making sugar cookies, going to see Santa Claus, opening presents? It doesn’t take long for reality to set in when you become an adult. December suddenly becomes about writing out cards, slaving away in the kitchen to host a holiday meal, and trying to squeeze shopping and wrapping into days that are already too busy. The season can become even more challenging for those of us on a limited diet. Party food can be difficult to pass up, but may lead to some ugly consequences in the days following for those who are highly sensitive.
Here are some tips to help manage the “magic” month of December:
What to do for the Stomach Flu
If you are anything like me, when you hear the stomach flu is going around you hit the panic button. It is especially challenging when you have small children who bring the virus home and then pass it on to whomever the lucky person is who is taking care of them. I have said many times I would pay a monthly premium to prevent the stomach flu from hitting my house. Since there is no such option, here is some information from Dr. Sprecher on how best to prevent getting the dreaded virus this winter:
Do You Have Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities are very common and manifest themselves in many different ways. Common signs of food sensitivities include:
• Digestive Upset: Symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, gas, diarrhea, cramps, or bloating which begin immediately or up to several hours following a meal.
• Headaches or Migraines: Most people who suffer from migraines can point to a specific food, or several foods, that seem to kick off their headaches. Common triggers include wheat, dairy, yeast, corn, and eggs. Tyramines are another common irritant, and they can be found in foods including cheese, wine, avocados, bananas and citrus foods.
• Depression or Anxiety: More than 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut, which is often referred to as our “second brain.” It therefore makes sense that what happens in the gut affects our moods.
• Skin Disorders: These include eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis. Research has indicated that the gut and skin are tightly related, and removing trigger foods can make a big difference in keeping sufferers more comfortable.
• Fatigue: Food sensitivities cause inflammation, which taxes the body. If this occurs on a chronic basis, it can lead to constantly feeling tired.
• Joint Pain: It may seem hard to believe, but research has shown a connection between joints and the gut. Many patients with joint pain noticed significant improvement when problem foods were removed from their diets.
• Insomnia: The body’s inflammatory response to problem foods can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. An unfortunate side effect is that lack of sleep can make the body crave things like bread, sugar and alcohol, which exacerbate the problem.
• Weight Gain: Food sensitivities can interfere with the signals the gut sends to the brain after eating, leading the brain to indicate a higher “set point” for weight than a healthy person would have.
• Allergies: Runny nose, blocked ears, coughing and sinus pain may be linked with food sensitivities. Research has indicated that patients show considerable improvement after removing trigger foods from their diets.
WHAT DO WE RECOMMEND?
1. The most cost-effective way to determine your food sensitivities is an Elimination Diet. Most common triggers are eliminated and re-introduced over a period of weeks. This requires vigilance, discipline and an ability to keep a food journal.
2. We offer food sensitivity testing, also known as the Alletess, which is done by blood draw. On the plus side, you will get a very specific list of 184 foods and your level of sensitivity. However, it is not covered by insurance and costs $350. The results take about three weeks to come in. When sorting through food reactions gets overwhelming, the Alletess can help provide very specific answers.
Flu shot or no flu shot?
To get the flu shot or not get the flu shot? It seems like everywhere you go, advertisements are luring you to "get your flu shot here!" Some people say they never get sick as long as they get the flu shot, while others shy away from it due to side effects. What does Dr. Sprecher recommend? She advises you do what feel right for you. If you fear the flu, get the shot. If you fear the shot, don't get it.
The best defense against the flu is simple hygiene and keeping your immune system strong. We suggest lots of handwashing, and thieves' oil, which can be used as a room spray, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. It can even be applied to the bottoms of your feet. Dr. Sprecher also advises taking Immucore, one daily and Vitamin C to protect yourself from illness. Our Ultra Potent C is fat soluble and stays in the cells longer to pull the bugs out. When you are sick, Candi-Bactin-AR serves as a natural antibiotic, and Sinatrol helps keep mucous moving through the sinuses. Let's hope for a mild flu season, but it never hurts to be prepared!