Recently, I asked a friend about a little pink area on her shoulder. It looked like a rash.
"Oh, yuck," she said, pulling at her shirt to cover the spot. "That's my psoriasis. It's awful. And it's spreading."
"Do you know what's causing it?" I asked.
"No," she said dejectedly. "They don't know. But they say I'll have it for the rest of my life, and it will probably just get worse. Eventually it could cover my whole body."
"Yikes," I said. "Can I see that spot again?"
She consented. After peering at it a minute, I said, "You know, that looks a lot like the weird spots I had on my torso when I had an overgrowth of candida. Has anybody checked you for anything like that yet?"
As it turned out, nobody had really checked her for anything. No labs had been run. There'd been no investigation of her other health complaints (like her itchy ears and throat, or her flaky scalp -- all classic signs of yeast overgrowth). No evaluation of her health history, diet, or lifestyle.
Her doctors (she'd seen two) had just looked at the spot, diagnosed it as psoriasis, and proclaimed it incurable.
Then they had given her the bad "incurable" news and sent her home with a prescription for some cream to help sooth the symptoms. Other than that, they just couldn't offer her much else in the way of help, or hope.
Now my friend had a half dozen of these little spots scattered across her upper body, and some itchy, raised flaky patches behind her ears. As her doctor had predicted, the problem seemed to be getting worse.
Her last doctor had told her that when it got bad enough, there were other drugs he could prescribe -- immune-system suppressants like Humira and methotrexate. But because they carry life-threatening risks and serious side effects, he thought it would be better to wait.
I thought it might be better for her to go see a doctor who had more familiarity with how rashes express underlying inflammation and immune-system irritation in the body, and with how eliminating the root cause of that inflammation and irritation generally gets rid of the rash, too.
So she did. Her new doc did an in-depth investigation of her various health complaints and ran some labs to find out what else might be going on in her body. Those labs revealed she did, indeed, have an overgrowth of candida, among other imbalances in her microflora. She also had food intolerances and nutritional deficiencies.
Her doctor prescribed a round of antifungal medication, some dietary and lifestyle adjustments, supplemental fatty acids, and a probiotic to get her microbiome back in balance.
Within days, the rash was receding. Within two weeks, it was gone. No more "incurable lifelong psoriasis."
Bonus: She felt better than she had in years.
Now, it's important to point out that my friend's rash could have been caused by all sorts of things. My lucky guess was less the result of my knowing "the answer" than my willingness to pursue a question -- What might be causing this? -- and believing that there was an answer.
I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to offer "medical" advice of any kind. But I am qualified to ask questions, to be both curious and knowledgeable about what is going on in my body, and to go in search of information that might help me better understand the dynamics behind my health concerns.
Revolutionary Act No. 7 -- "Practice Medicine Without a License" -- is not a suggestion to avoid seeking professional medical help, or to practice reckless acts of self-medication. It's certainly not an expression of disrespect for the education, judgment, and practice of licensed medical professionals.
Rather, it's an invitation into a mindset of root-cause inquiry. It's an encouragement to advocate for your own health and well-being.
Here are some ways you can do that:
Regard any problematic symptoms you are experiencing as your body's call for help and healthy change. Honor the powerful role you play in creating the conditions for your own health and healing.
- Make a list of all the symptoms you experience, noting when they came on and when they tend to get better and worse. Look for patterns and connections.
- Consider an elimination diet (removing and methodically reintroducing common food irritants) to identify potential food intolerances.
- Recognize that most physicians, while highly trained in dealing with infectious diseases and trauma, receive only limited training in the lifestyle-driven conditions that most frequently send us into their offices. Be prepared to seek out second or third opinions from health professionals who have received additional training.
- Know that diverse medical complaints -- headaches, skin conditions, digestive distress -- can all stem from a single root cause. A leaky or inflamed gut, for example, can provoke rashes, fatigue, asthma, mood imbalances, and more.
- Explore the biological dynamics and interconnected systems that drive inflammation, imbalance, and disease. I like Dr. Jeffrey Bland's book The Disease Delusion, and Dr. Thomas Sult's book, Just Be Well. Also see the "Revolutionary Reading" suggestions below.
- Use discernment in researching your conditions online. Avoid pages that push a lot of products rather than offering thoughtful information and referencing scientific research.
- Ask your doctor about lab testing (e.g., blood, urine, stool) for any unresolved conditions. Many labs are also now available on a direct-to-consumer basis. Ask a qualified health professional to help guide you in interpreting your results, and ask questions about anything you don't understand.
- If you get overwhelmed or confused, refocus your efforts on the essential foundations of health: Eat a whole-foods diet with a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and brightly colored vegetables; drink a lot of pure water; minimize your intake of sugar, flour, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners; avoid fast food, junk food, and processed foods as much as possible; create space for movement, sleep, and relaxation.
These steps alone will increase your body's resilience and help you feel more empowered to take additional steps when you are ready.
Above all, remember that the most powerful tools for healing most chronic health problems lie not in magic-bullet treatments, but in the kinds of ongoing daily lifestyle "treatments" that only we, as individuals, can administer.
Knowledgeable health pros realize this. They are there to help us access the support we need -- not just to quell current symptoms, but also to get and stay healthy for the long haul. That's the kind of medicine we'd all do well to practice more often.
"Owning Your Health" -- Your body is your most valuable piece of personal property. Shouldn't you be the one in charge of keeping it safe and sound?
"True Blood: Lab Testing" -- Direct-to-consumer lab testing gives us a chance to see our biochemical realities more clearly -- sometimes with surprising results.
Functional-Medicine Series -- A greatest-hits collection of our articles on functional medicine and the systems-biology approach to conditions of all kinds.
"Kicking Candida" -- When yeasts and fungi like Candida albicans multiply out of control in our bodies, they cause a variety of mysterious symptoms. Are they breeding in you?
"Repair Your Thyroid" -- Millions of people suffer the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction without ever knowing why. Here's how to recognize problems your doctor might miss.
Pilar Gerasimo is a nationally recognized healthy-living expert, author of A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and the creative force behind the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. She serves as senior vice president of Healthy Living for Life Time, the Healthy Way of Life Company, and is currently working on a book about the art of being healthy in an unhealthy world. Learn more about Pilar's work and connect with her via social media at PilarGerasimo.com.