By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

It comes down to human nature. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It just is. It’s a search to find the means to do whatever one wishes, regardless of the consequences. In medicine, I’m speaking of the never-ending, well-known, far and wide quest to discover “THE” cure, “THE” diet, “THE” pill, or “THE miracle”.  In today’s society, advertisers and marketers have convinced us that their panacea to years of abuse to the body will produce fast and effortless results with money back guarantees. We are bombarded by the media’s brilliant catering to this primitive, gluttonous quest with their use of mindless brainwashing techniques, empty promises, and assurance that a “pill for every ill” is the answer.  

These messages develop into a cultural norm to “pop a pill, erase the symptoms, and keep on going”.  This can create a block for those in the Integrative Health fields. For Naturopathic Doctors whose philosophy is dedicated to finding the true cause of a disease or symptom, we are aiming for healing over fixing. In our training, we are taught to honor nature’s time to heal. Our messages speak of working with the body, not against it. These quiet voices can be easily drowned out by the millions of dollars spent on advertising quick cure-alls with sexy marketing campaigns.

I have to admit that it does get discouraging to exist in a health care system that bases decisions on speed, time, and cheap band aids. Furthermore, if one doesn’t fit in with what everyone else believes in conventional medicine, they are deemed “crazy” or “quacks”, regardless of science or clinical results produced.

It’s part of my job as a doctor, teacher, and guide, to shine the light on the misguided notion that true healing and natural support for the body can also create instant relief and escape from organic body symptomology. Yet, this task can get daunting, when even integrative healthcare is catering to the mass media market of miracle “natural” cures.  Today’s patient is well informed, and I’m grateful, it keeps me on my toes. The problem is there are many unreliable sources that don’t reflect valid research and scientifically sound conclusions upon which people are making their decisions.

So, I’ve learned not to get on this roller-coaster. Why?? Because nutrients are not drugs, they are what feed the body. Everyone eats different diets, creating different deficiencies, different makeups, and different biochemistries. This makes ONE miracle cure all through a vitamin, supplement, or herb impossible.  For example, Vitamin D in someone with an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, could trigger an overactive and detrimental immune response. On the other hand, for someone with breast cancer, it could be the missing nutrient to signal the receptor sites to turn on apotosis, or death of damaged cells.  Still, even amongst lupus and breast cancer patients, there isn’t one rule for one disease in any type of medicine.

Clinical decisions must be based on review of the scientific evidence, patient symptoms, specific biochemistry, and lab results. Just as side effects from medications differ amongst different people, side effects from nutrients can occur in different people for different reasons. Therefore, it makes me nervous to think of those self-prescribing related to symptomology based on one article reading or one media of “scientific expert”.

Dr. Hyman, a leader in Functional Medicine, talks about the effects of treating symptoms over causes:

JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE TREATING your symptoms doesn’t mean you’re healthy. If you think your doctor is controlling your health problems because he or she has prescribed medication for them — well, you couldn’t be more wrong!

That’s because doctors are very well-trained to treat symptoms and diseases, but NOT to address the underlying imbalances that perpetuate illness.

The problem?

That’s like taking the batteries out of a smoke detector instead of trying to find the fire.

On the other hand, I am always interested in ALL of someone’s symptoms, because they are the clues to deeper imbalances.  Once you find those deeper imbalances and correct them, the symptoms go away.

This approach is called systems medicine, because it looks at all parts of the body, not just one organ.

Unfortunately, much of conventional medicine doesn’t work that way.

This is one reason why I decided to study systems biology and functional medicine. Along with my Naturopathic Philosophy of treating the specific cause of a disease, this approach provides a biochemical, genetic, and systematic framework unique to the individual. Philosophy, science, and mind-body medicine unite in this perfect balance of training in Naturopathic and Functional Medicine. My mentors inspire me every day to learn more, read more, and keep up with the current research and ancient wisdom, whilst not forgetting the individual in favor of biochemistry. It helps me distinguish which sexy nutrient of the time is helpful, hurtful, or hype based on each individual’s needs expressed before me.

There also exists the issue of when one has many symptoms, many medications, and many supplements. What interactions exist between these and even one medication and a few supplements?  The answer is still not conclusive from even the most highly sought after and well known integrative doctors. Dr. Leo Galland expressed the complicated interactions of herbs, drugs, and nutrients in his seminar on Nutrient-Drug Interactions from the Institute of Functional Medicine.

Here are just a few examples:

            1. The supplement curcumin can have anti-inflammatory synergism with resveratrol,  but can be antagonized when taken with another supplement, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). It also has a complicated dose response with green tea.

            2. Vitamin E and statins are not a good mix. Furthermore, vitamin E reduces coQ10.

            3. St. John’s Wort can stimulate the liver detoxification pathway CYP3A4, resulting in decreased blood levels of many medications. It can also act as a dose dependent inhibiter or stimulator of intestinal drug clearance via P-gp. This results in drug interactions with 50% of medications cleared by these pathways.

Therefore, playing with biochemistry is like tinkering with your car without any knowledge of mechanics. Most people wouldn’t dream of fixing their car when it’s broken down by just throwing the latest cool engine degreaser in it and thinking they did a good job. So, why do we treat our cars better than our body? Furthermore, let me caution those who haven’t studied the effects of various nutrients and their role in the body. The result can be a game of supplement roulette with our body’s biochemistry. At best, a symptom may be suppressed, but was the cause treated? At worst, interactions can occur, depleting the body more, and creating more issues.

Read more here.