I get this question all the time on my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Support Group Facebook page. I had hoped to do a quick post on this before now, but better late than never. I am not an expert on what a Functional Medicine doctor is but I will give you my experience as a patient and then I will link to you the experts who can tell you the technical details.
To give you a hint about my experience with a Functional Medicine approach, let me make it real simple: A Functional Medicine doctor equaled a functional person for me. That’s the bottom line!
For years I’ve tried to find a doctor who would even acknowledge that I had symptoms which had not been addressed by the “magic thyroid pill” so commonly given to Hashimoto’s patients. (Some are told that they are not yet able to get “help” because their TSH is not out of the normal range – whatever that particular lab said was the normal range and this is assuming this little pill will help!) Let me clarify though that taking this supplement may be extremely crucial for you during your healing process and therefore must not be omitted. However, I am suggesting there is way more than a pill in the process to help us feel better in my experience and that of many, many, others I have had the privilege of interacting with over the last 10 years! (I have maintained message boards and forums for Hashimoto’s sufferers for that long and have run a blog for over 7 years and now a Facebook support group for over a year.)
While waiting for this little pill to do its “magic,” I was getting worse and worse, asking my alternative medicine doctor for antibody testing when all he would do is say “it doesn’t matter what your numbers are as long as we are watching your TSH” and sent me away. But I knew deep down inside there must be something else I could do to manage those antibodies. Most doctors will not look at those numbers because it doesn’t change the course of the way they are treating you with that little pill. The pill is only monitored via your TSH results. They are not interested in your antibodies so it really it doesn’t matter to them that you are! I am not saying there are not better doctors out there but my experience has not been very good.
Then one day, my husband found a video on the Internet by my now current Functional Medicine doctor who happened to be rather close in proximity to where I lived and was trained by Dr. Kharrazian, the thyroid expert and author of the book that had the most ground-breaking information on Hashimoto’s to date, and still does! (The book name is “Why Do I Still have Thyroid Symptoms when all my Tests are Normal?) We were desperate for help so I still remember the moment I had my first phone consult with him. Shocked and in complete disbelief (because I had been pushed aside for over 15 years by countless doctors), this doctor not only listened to me but I felt justified in how I was feeling! I felt he knew the connection between my brain symptoms and Hashimoto’s. I felt I had been freed from years of mockery from the countless doctors before him. I was not crazy and finally had a voice. That day will live on for years in my memory! It’s been over 2 years now since that day and going down the road of Functional Medicine answered questions I had for years. Everything began to fit in place. The systems of the body that were ailing me fit into a puzzle of dysfunction that when functional again, would make me feel like a new person.
In short, a Functional Medicine doctor looks at all the major systems of the body and tests to see which ones need the most attention. They can address things like chronic infection, hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, intestinal permeability, systemic inflammation triggered by food intolerance and gluten sensitivity, and many other areas of dysfunction. For someone who is at their wits end, the honest truth is that you feel like you are finally being “diagnosed” as a whole person, not just one part of your body! Remember the story about the elephant and the blind men? That is what is seems conventional medicine is like.
If only they looked at the patient as a whole person! One that has a body made up of different parts but connected to the whole, each influencing the other. I found that focusing on the digestion really made a difference in my whole body as this is a master channel of influence in the body. There is more to it but the idea is that finding the root issues are much more effective than looking at one specific organ. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know how that organ is functioning but at the same time realizing it is connected to other parts of the body and is influenced by other parts of the body!
Now on the more technical side, here is what Functional Medicine is from the definition on The Institute of Functional Medicine website:
Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual. (Reference link here)
And for those of you who would like to know more specifically all the details of what a Functional Medicine approach looks like, please refer to Mary Shomon’s detailed interview with Dr. Datis Karrazian, author of the extremely ground-breaking information recorded in his book, “Why Do I Still have Thyroid Symptoms When my Lab Tests are Normal?”. You can read that interview here.
For those of you desiring to find a Functional Medicine doctor trained by Dr. Kharrazian in your area, you can click this link to give you a search page. As a second choice, you can use the Institute for Functional Medicine search page but you really might want to interview any prospective practitioner about their particular approach, and for this, it would be best that you have read Dr. Kharrazian’s book before hand, or at least know a lot about the approach you would like to follow.
There are doctors who sometimes visit the Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Facebook page who might be able to answer basic questions for you to help you in your quest for the right doctor, or perhaps you can find one that will do phone consults like mine does.
Whatever you choose, please remember that you are as important to the success of your treatment plan as the doctor is and in many cases you are more important because you are the one who will either be consistent with the determined treatment plan or inconsistent. I find this is really a battle – to stay consistent when you sometimes feel like you’re climbing Mt. Everest in your healing journey! But take heart, after you make enough progress, the motivation begins to increase and you find you have come far enough to keep the healing going strong. If you slide backwards for a while, just get up, dust yourself off and get back in the game. It’s worth the effort to feel more normal again. And it can happen!
And if you currently can’t afford to get to a Functional Medicine doctor, I highly recommend you begin to look through Izabella Wentz’ new book either by purchasing it on Amazon, or even more conveniently and as an immediate way to get help with troubleshooting your particular symptoms, I am thrilled to report that you can get an immediate copy via her eBook here! If you haven’t seen my full review on this book along with the personal video I recorded, you can see that post here. I can’t emphasize enough how I believe this book will really help you troubleshoot where your greatest area of help might currently be!
Here’s to continued healing! I hope this post was informative for you.Disclaimer: All posts are describing my personal journey through health issues and are in no way meant to guide anyone towards any method in particular. I am not a medical practitioner or have a dietary or medical license, and this blog is not intended to be taken as authoritative advice. Please see your doctor, or health professional before making any drastic diet changes! Also, occasionally I find others to partner with whom I have had tremendous help from and therefore, there may be paid advertisements and links to support them and help me financially run this website.