Functional medicine is making me dysfunctional

A couple of years ago I went to my regular GP because I was constantly feeling tired & unwell. She spent about 15 minutes with me before telling me it was a B12 deficiency and prescribed injections for the next month. 

I still felt shite. So I decided to go by some word-of-mouth suggestions to see a ‘holistic’ doctor. Now normally I’m inclined to follow evidence-based protocols when it comes to health and my body. I’ve worked at a healthcare agency where I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent people with multiple degrees and PHDs and I learnt a lot about clinical trials, data and evidence being everything when it comes to health. But something inside me was telling me that I wasn’t getting all the information I needed from a 15 minute consult. And when you hear so many stories of ‘I feel sooooo much better after seeing this quacky dude’ then you kind of think, what’s the harm?

green-headed-mallard-duck-in-flight
The only kind of ‘quack’ I want to see

So I went to a functional GP near me (also known as ‘holistic’, ‘integrative’ or ‘functional’). She spent a good hour with me. She ordered a blood test that nearly drained my body as well as stool & urine samples. Wow, I thought, she’s really comprehensive. She’s ordering so many tests, she must really know what she’s doing. I’m so grateful she’s taking the time to find out what’s wrong with me.

The follow up appointment involved her going through an iGg antibody test which showed me what I might have an intolerance to. It came up with dairy, egg whites and sheep’s milk. She said to cut those out of my diet completely. She also told me to give up gluten, starchy foods, most grains, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and sugar. I asked her what was left… She told me that it was all about making the choice to improve my health and that yes it’s hard, but I had a responsibility to eat better. I left feeling really guilty about how terrible my lifestyle choices were, despite being a healthy weight, fit, non-smoker who’d never touched drugs in her life. Who knew caffeine & gluten were silent killers?

I decided to take her advice with a grain of salt and reduced my dairy intake. She’d provided no information or evidence as to why I should give these things up. Low and behold, I felt better in about 6 months. Job done. 

So a year and a bit later when I’ve discovered I’ve now got PCOS and have just miscarried, I thought ‘’Well, this lady fixed me up last time, maybe I’ll get get her opinion on how to treat my PCOS and if there’s anything else amiss”. 

An appointment later, and she’s told me that I probably have a thyroid problem (because my temperature is too low) and that could have caused my miscarriage. In order to heal my thyroid, I need to give up all the aforementioned foods and take my health a bit more seriously. 

Hang on, what?? My fertility specialist had told me (and I know from common sense and my own research) that the miscarriage was not my fault. But here is this lady, suggesting that if I had given up all the fun things in life and not been so irresponsible with my diet (!), I may have carried this baby to term? First of all, I think this is a really irresponsible thing to say. Miscarriage is a really tough thing to go through, and many women automatically think that they’ve done something wrong, that their bodies have failed them. But statistically, its just a risk with any pregnancy. It’s incredibly common and although it’s tough, it’s just part of life. So to infer that a woman does in fact have power over this, and that it may indeed be caused by dietary problems, is largely inaccurate and just plain horrible. I left the appointment thinking I’d been irresponsible in drinking the odd coffee and indulging in a treat every couple of days, that this had caused my thyroid to fail and me to miscarry. My husband had to talk me out of this nonsense, and told me to listen to the specialists. I knew in my head that she wasn’t right, but it planted a tiny seed of doubt in me that I in fact do have a thyroid problem and that I won’t be able to carry a baby to term.

Since then, I’ve done a FUCK TONNE of research. It’s what I do. I used endocrinology journals, studies & blogs, (like Hormones Demystified which is an excellent source of endocrine truth) to sense check this advice. And what I got from these sources, is that the integrative medical community is largely the modern form of quackery. 

For example, the IgG test that my ‘functional GP’ ordered for me is pretty much useless as a diagnostic too for intolerance. It is not recommended by the mainstream medical community, as there is no evidence that it is actually indicative of intolerances, and actually harms those who have genuine allergies, because now there are so many people walking around thinking they’re intolerant when they’re not, there is a lot of crying wolf. I’m pretty sure the reason I felt better after giving up dairy, is because I stopped eating things like ice-cream, yoghurt, custard, treats with dairy, and a daily skim milk coffee – all of these things have sugar in them. I generally started eating more healthily (instead of cheese or yoghurt as a snack I’d take to vegetables & nuts). I think this, and cutting out sugar made me better – a known cause of fatigue & insulin issues. 

The other misguided quackery were the thyroid tests she ordered. My endocrinologist said TSH is the only test anyone needs to diagnose thyroid disorders, and mine was at a really good level. The Functional GP ordered TSH, as well as T3, T4, Reverse T3, and a bunch of thyroid antibodies. I’ve now realised that NONE of these tests are diagnostic tools and are warned against by endocrinologists. The other red flag is that I fell inside the lab’s normal range for all of these. However, I was in the ‘upper end’ of normal, and she told me that I needed to be in the ‘lower end’. Surely if I was falling into the normal category for all of these tests, I’m not at risk of my thyroid causing miscarriage? I know in my head that I’m fine. But it’s really hard to shake this seed of doubt in my head now. It’s really hard to not be anxious that I’ll miscarry again. 

There are a lot of women out there who are desperate to fall pregnant, or desperate to find out why it’s so hard. And I think the alt-medical community is taking advantage of this, whether they believe it themselves or not. 

So I’ve resolved to listen to the conventional medical community, who are telling me I’m fine. But I can’t help thinking how much anxiety & confusion these Functional GPs are promoting..

5 thoughts on “Functional medicine is making me dysfunctional

  1. Wow… how can anyone be so insensitive? While it is theoretically possible for a thyroid issue to cause a miscarriage that kind of issue would definitely be detectable using traditional tests (the reason it isn’t detected in most cases is because those people never had any tests!) and I’m very sure it’s not caused by drinking coffee or eating gluten. My TSH value was actually at the upper end of normal – according to my first fertility specialist it was within “normal” range but higher than they like to see for pregnancy – so I’ve been on the lowest dose of levothyroxin for nearly 2 years and it’s done absolutely nothing for my fertility. I definitely agree with you that a lot of alt-medicine practitioners take advantage of vulnerable/desperate people. Like being infertile isn’t already bad enough without someone making you feel like it’s all your own fault for daring to eat anything that’s vaguely enjoyable 😦

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  2. Helen Bainbridge

    I think when you’re trying hard, it’s probably good to hit all avenues but seriously, there’s a reason we fall back on the proven medical system, it usually works. It’s like when Adam was getting all this ‘eat this food, drink this Chinese concoction, take this herb…” advice as an ALTERNATIVE to chemo. Use as an adjunct if you must but face it, chemo kills cancer.

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