Why the Team of Patient (Client), Physician and Functional Medical Nutritionist Works Best
The Medical Team for Chronic Illness
As a functional medical nutritionist, I work with clients who have been diagnosed with a variety of chronic illnesses.
Sometimes the individual seeks me out on their own because of their desire to take control over their situation, look for alternative solutions, and/or they are determined to do whatever it takes to get out of pain/discomfort and live their best life—for themselves, and for their families.
My clients often then take the information they get from me and work with their doctor(s).
Other clients are referred to me by their physician, whether that person is a GP or a specialist.
Most physicians recognize that the training they receive in nutrition is limited. Certainly, it does not encompass the education that of my specialty.
By the same token, I don’t have the depth of medical training of the physicians I work with and will defer to their advanced knowledge and experience.
I have seen my clients’ health recover in nearly miraculous ways when there is a partnership between the individual, the physician, and me, a functional medical nutrition therapist.
Medical Kidnapping Proves Some Docs Aren’t Team Players
Sadly, many physicians aren’t open to working with a nutritionist, or any other alternative practitioner, regardless of the stated wishes of the patient. In extreme cases, some physicians are even unwilling for a patient to seek a second opinion from another traditional, western medical doctor as was recently reported by CNN in, “Escape from the Mayo Clinic, part 2” where a family claims the hospital effectively medically kidnapped their daughter.
The report in CNN includes this statement from the American Hospital Association’s senior vice president, and chief medical officer, Dr. Jay Bhatt:
“Communication between physicians and patients is extremely important in working to identify the best treatment. Each patient is unique.”
Fortunately, none of my clients have had to go to the extremes of the families related in the CNN article. Unfortunately, I have had several experiences where the physician’s disregard for functional medical nutrition has been a disservice to my client—the doctor’s patient.
Physician’s Disregard for Functional Medical Nutrition Does Disservice
One client, who had been suffering from gastric distress for months, went in for a colonoscopy. Fortunately, everything there was clear, but since there was no obvious physical cause the specialist handed her a sheet and told her to follow this diet, with no further explanation or guidance.
Other people I have spoken with have been handed nutritional information that is so out-of-date, it is not only incomplete, the guidelines are no longer being followed by nutritionists.
Another client was suffering from a rash and receiving traditional medical treatment. She asked her doctor if she should look into her diet, she was told “what you eat has nothing to do with it.” When the traditional methods yielded no improvement, she worked with me to see if perhaps there was a nutritional or environmental component that was causing or contributing to her condition.
These are examples of physicians perhaps not understanding what functional medical nutrition is. Perhaps they are equating what I do with the traditional role a dietitian takes. There is quite a difference in our roles as you can read here.
Another case in point is a client of mine who has recently been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic disease of the colon.
I have worked with clients with UC before. It is an extremely difficult disease to live with. Imagine never getting a good night’s sleep because you have to get up to have a bowel movement 4 or 5 times every night. Even parents of newborns get relief: as the baby grows, both parent and child get longer stretches of sleep. People with UC typically don’t have that reprieve to look forward to.
This is one of the most exciting things for me as a functional medical nutritionist. I know that we can help the person to improve their sleep, and their overall health. It isn’t easy. When working to minimize or reverse symptoms of UC, it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. It is frustrating for my clients and me, but with perseverance we do make progress.
UC is one of those diseases where the team approach is very helpful. There are drugs that a physician can prescribe to interrupt the inflammatory process while the client and I work to identify the drivers of the inflammation. Once identified, those drivers can be removed or managed. This greatly reduces the effects of the disease.
This client who has UC and I have just begun our journey of minimizing the disease symptoms. We’re making progress. His nightly interruptions have dropped from 5 to 2, and even sometimes gets to sleep throughout the entire night without getting up once!
My client was waiting to get in to see a gastroenterologist while we worked through our process. He was excited when he received a call that there had been a cancellation and he would be seen at 3pm.
The client called me to review important information I wanted him to share with his new GI specialist. One, my client would tell the physician about the progress he had made so far; two, would ask for a special prescription-only probiotic VSL #3; and three, ask about the appropriateness of Pulmicort in his case. Armed with this information, my client was sure this was his lucky day and that even more relief was soon to be at hand.
To be honest, I thought so, too. In my experience many physicians value their patient’s input and like that the patient wants to be a full partner in their care. This is the way medicine is going—away from ‘Doctor Knows Best’ and we unquestioningly pop this or that pill. As Dr. Bhatt said, each patient is unique. And people don’t always fit into the mold like a simple jig saw puzzle!
In the case of my client, his GI specialist discounted the improvement he was experiencing. He said nutrition had nothing to do with his auto-immune disease, and nothing he could do would help. Needless to say, this left my client in a state of hopeless despair.
I am going to go out on thin ice here, because that is how important this discussion is.
Patient Input in Their Care is Crucial
It is time for physicians of all specialties to honor the value of patient input allowing the patient full partnership in their care.
As I mentioned earlier, I work with many physicians as part of a team approach to health with my clients. I WANT to be part of the team. I have no desire to work in a vacuum, alienating physicians. I believe, and know from experience, that the best possible care for my clients takes into consideration what conventional medicine has to offer AND providing the body what it needs to be in a state of optimal health, which is where the functional medical nutritionist comes in.
So, reactions like this one really frustrate me. I cannot imagine what is to be gained by leaving a patient without hope. Especially when I know there IS hope for most people who suffering from chronic illness, including Ulceratie Colitis. There is a very real hope that they can break free from much of the pain they are currently experiencing.
There are doctors who are not open to any sort of “alternative medicine” which is a pretty old-school approach. I have seen a shift towards inclusion in the medical world, but it hasn’t reach every doctor.
Since functional nutrition is my specialty I spend a lot of time reading and evaluating the latest research in that area.
I use a tool called GreenMedInfo to keep abreast of the latest research using food and nutrients as part of the therapy of or as a contributing factor in disease. GreenMedInfo provides me with the latest abstracts from PubMed.gov.
PubMed is a site maintained by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. This cite contains more than 28 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.
In my search, 99 abstracts on Ulcerative Colitis research using food and nutrients came up.
As medical professionals, we can’t keep abreast of every study, but when there are 99 research studies in a specific area it deserves our attention. Ignoring such a significant body of work can cause undue stress and discouragement in a person who already is experiencing enough of that! This is one of the reason I, health advocates, and yes, even physicians, encourage people to get second opinions.
We are all human, not all-knowing, all-powerful beings. We have our blindspots and leanings. And we have different styles, “bedside manner” if you will.
Don’t let a single doctor cause you to feel defeated. If I had done that, I would not be in the profession today. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to hike the beautiful mountains of Colorado. I too, was told that there was nothing that I could do about my health condition. Boy, did I prove them wrong.
‘A little learning is a dangerous thing.’ Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)
Many of the physicians I work with, either directly or through the client, are open and supportive of functional medical nutrition therapies.
Let’s be real, no one human being knows it all—even every single aspect of their specialty. That is one of the reasons all medical professionals, including functional medical nutritionists, attend seminars and keep learning. There is ALWAYS something to learn.
In this case, the physician is clearly unaware of nearly one hundred PubMed research studies that are potentially beneficial in the case of his patient. That is simply a disservice to the patient.
If you have a chronic disease and want to know if functional medical nutrition therapies can help, give me a call. It would be my honor to partner with you on your journey to better health.