Dr. Talia Marcheggiani
Many health complaints are common, but not normal.
“I take migraine medicine everyday,” boasted L. She then went on to describe her plenitful medicine cabinet that, at the age of 23, she’d stocked quite well. “I get headaches when the weather’s bad, when I forget my glasses, when I’m hungry-” she went on. I repressed my immediate impulse to give her a list of supplements she could take and dietary changes she could make to never have another headache again, and simply said, “Well, L, you know I have a practice in the West end. If you want any more support…You can call—”
“—No, I’m good”, she responded, hurriedly. “I just need to find out how to get more of my medication.” The medication she referred to was high dose acetominophen, or Tylenol. She was taking 1 g pills and her doctor had told her that she could dose up to 4 g per day. Since 4 g will cause immediate liver failure, I was happy to learn she hadn’t needed to get that high… yet. What’s more, she wasn’t treating the cause of her condition. She was just addressing the symptoms, and consequently negatively affecting her health.
To use the car dashboard analogy, when your fuel light comes on and makes a noise while you’re driving on the highway, what do you do? Most people, without giving it another thought, will pull over to address the root cause of the chaos by adding more gas to the car. Very few of us will take out a hammer and smash the dashboard in. In fact, most of us cringe at how ridiculous the thought is. Imagine the entire naturopathic community cringing when they hear about someone swallowing several grams of Tylenol to smash out their migraine.
Pulling the car over to refuel and smashing the dashboard both serve to stop the annoying blinking and beeping of the fuel light. One of them is addressing the root cause and actually paying attention to what your car needs. The other is, well… I’ll let you come up with an appropriate adjective.
So this begs the question: why do we insist on smashing our symptoms away? The fuel light may be annoying, but drivers value its presence as a tool to let us know that we need to refuel lest we end up stranded on the highway without gas. The blinking light lets us know what is going on inside our car.
Why don’t we view our body’s symptoms in the same way?
I have patients who think that their depression is a part of them, or that the painful distention under their belly buttons after eating is “normal”. Sometimes we identify with our physical ailments to the point where they define us, as if it’s our lot in life to have acne or poor digestion or to be overweight—it’s not.
Dandruff, painful menses, seasonal allergies, aches and pains are not “normal.” Sure, they’re common. No, they don’t necessarily mean you have some life-threatening disease, and therefore your family doctor probably doesn’t have a reasonable solution for them, besides smashing at them with the hammers in their toolbox from time-to-time.
When I saw my first ND, I was excited at the idea that, even though my doctor assured me that the random, annoying symptoms I was suffering from were “normal”, they were in fact not normal and something could be done about them. From the ND’s standpoint, the symptoms were an indication of budding imbalances and treating them was preventing more serious conditions down the line. Feeling cold all the time and excessively full after meals weren’t just annoying symptoms, they were important messages from my body that things weren’t all right and that something needed to be done.
Is there an annoying symptom you’ve been experiencing that you’ve come to accept as something you just have to live with?
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