You may not know this about me, but I approach my health experimentally, sort of like a mad scientist tinkering in a lab.
Endlessly curious about the inner workings of my body and how to optimize physical and mental function, I'm more than willing to make strategic adjustments to diet, exercise, stress management, and other parameters in order to see how they affect me and how it may optimize my health. I take time to see what the research says about what I'm testing and—perhaps just as importantly—I keep an open mind.
Where I'm At: Fine-Tuning My Health and Fitness
Using this strategy for several years, I've honed down a pretty solid nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle plan that works best for me, IMO. But since I had Kenzie (4 years ago) I've had the sense that relying only on intuitive feedback—how good I look, feel, and function—might not always give me the deepest possible insights nor be enough to truly optimize my physical and mental health, especially after pregnancy. This is largely because I am extremely consistent with my lifestyle. I've more or less nailed it down, so at this point most of the improvements I make in my health will be subtle and incremental or are due to either getting through or recovering from a major life event to remain achieving optimal health for my body.
Take sports. A beginner athlete will see lots of drastic changes early on in their training. But as that athlete gets more and more advanced, any changes to their technique and abilities will be much more subtle and nuanced. It's akin to fine-tuning a Division 2 athlete in order to get her playing at the Division 1 level. Moving from good to great simply requires a more specific approach.
Of course, I'm not saying I'm a D1 athlete (although my husband was, for what it's worth!). Just remember that being healthy is literally part of my job (and I love it, duh). I don't consider myself a "standard" for everyone else to live by. I make the point simply to help you understand where I'm coming from when it comes to my personal health journey. Please understand that under normal measurements my health passes with flying colors, but at Dr Jim's office, they are holding you to a much much different standard. Which I like.
Sometimes Conventional Medicine Misses the Mark
I should point out that conventional medicine isn't always able to provide deep wellness insights either.
That is, the lab work and others tests provided at a standard doctor's visit tend to be more generalized and broad. This is not a bad thing per se. But for people like me who are already very healthy, we might pass these routine tests with flying colors yet still be dealing with subtle issues that could be holding us back from our physical and mental potential.
It's a bit like trying to find rocks using a sieve with holes that are too large. You may be able to catch some biggies, but the smaller pebbles will slip through unnoticed, sinking back into unawareness where they are unable to be examined, addressed, and improved upon...and worst case scenario, these smaller pebbles may roil around in the hypothetical muck, growing bigger and more problematic until BOOM—a health issue pops up.
This is why I was initially attracted to functional medicine. The functional med model takes a holistic and individualized approach to wellness. It evaluates mental, physical, and even spiritual influences on a person's health. The ultimate goals of functional medicine are to understand root causes of dysfunction, then address and prevent them. Compared to most conventional approaches to health, functional medicine pulls a few different threads and can enhance your insights into your overall well-being.
Basically- my functional medicine doctor's work with me is very specific and very specialized. I recently had a follow-up appointment, and as promised I'm sharing some main takeaways because many of you told me you'd find them interesting. I'm also sharing a way more detailed look into my life over the past year.
Time to nerd out.
First Things First: My Lab Results
Overall, my lab work (as of February 12th of this year) is a good snapshot of health. Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 levels are solid. My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is within the optimal range, which tells me my thyroids and endocrine system are functioning well (but more on that in a bit). My t3 t4 were great and my TPO antibodies are low-- lower than they have ever been, which is a major win for me.
On that note lemme back up for one minute: after Kenzie was born I had some semi-bad post traumatic stress from birth trauma, having to go back to work way too early which was super stressful (no maternity leave in this country for independent contractors which I was at the time) plus from post natal depletion (something we ALL get post pregnancy whether you're aware of it or not). Although my thyroid looked technically looked "fine" under most doctors standards, Dr Jim caught something- he noticed from just talking to me he thought my thyroid was in the beginning stages of being under-active, so we ran specific thyroid panel including TPO antibodies, which no one really checks for typically. And he was exactly right, I was in the very very very beginning stages of hashimoto's. This blew my mind but he assured me catching it so early was going to be a fairly easy fix. I was put on a strategic supplement routine plus a few other lifestyle changes, like managing my stress and eliminating some other things from my diet and within 12 months (and through a second pregnancy) we self corrected it without taking any actual medication, ever.
Back to the blood current panel: my creatinine levels are normal, which tells me my kidneys are functioning well, too. And my C-reactive protein is less than 0.2 mg/L, indicating very low levels of inflammation (and a low risk for cardiovascular disease). My cholesterol levels are good, too. I have had a much improvement on my previous visit with him which I was low in a few things (iron, vit d and a few others).
But one thing did set off alarm bells for me: cortisol (a stress hormone) came in high at 23 μg/dL-- for those that don't understand, THAT IS HIGH AF for cortisol for Dr Jim standards. As a reference, normal cortisol levels for the morning time is between 5.5 and 19.8 μg/dL—and my labs were drawn at 6 a.m. Not ok. Even if it was 19.8, he wouldn't have been ok with that either. He wants you low to mid range.
What's going on here?
My Personal Kryptonite: Allergies and Stress
Once my doctor and I took a more holistic "big picture" look at my health, personality, and lifestyle, the findings really clicked (as they always do with him).
First, my allergy response was through the fahking roof. But my gut health is perfect though-- so it's not food allergies (besides I'm dairy, gluten and egg free all which I am intolerant to). I didn't flag for heavy metals in my body or any viruses. Where does this leave us? It leaves us with environmental allergies. I don't know what exactly it is about the Texan climate, trees, air but this Cali girl's body is just NOT adjusting to them well. And aside from my own allergy issues, my kids have NEVER been more sick since we moved here. Leo my youngest, it's hard to say Texas is to blame bc he was 5 months old when we moved (so maybe he just has a weak immune system?) but Kenzie, I know for a fact it's 100% this environment. That kid does not get sick often or have ANY allergies anywhere but here. Given how I've been responding to the environmental change, I can't say I'm surprised either, since there's plenty of research to suggest that kiddos often struggle with the same allergies as their parents do. Ugh.
I never realized this until after we moved, but my family's experience with Texan allergies is not unique. It turns out that this state is ranked as one of the worst places in America for allergies- why didn't someone warn me?! Dallas in particular (where my family and I are currently located) has been named one of the worst cities for seasonal allergies. The main reason is that Texas has a super temperate climate. Plants can pollinate their little hearts out all year long because they rarely, if ever, experience freeze and frost. This means that even in winter we are surrounded by pollen from grass, ragweed, trees, mold...take your pick. Besides it's flat AF so that shit just blows and blows without getting knocked down. For people not acclimated to this kind of round-the-calendar activity, allergies, immune system overload, and subsequent illness can easily kick up.
I'm seriously not trying to hate on the state or anything. Buttttt, everything—including allergies—really IS bigger in Texas! And my tests indicate that I have some sort allergen affecting me from my nasal cavity all the way down to my gut. As such, my immune system has been running hot.
Couple this with the high stress of running my own business (or two...or three) as well as the go-get 'em attitude I tend to approach my life with, and you've got a recipe for a jacked up, overly sensitive, on guard nervous system—hence the high cortisol level.
I should also mention that while my TSH level is normal (as noted earlier), it IS on the lower range of normal. My environmental allergies seem to be causing my thyroid to "work hard." Based on this and other test results, my doc hypothesized that I am in what's considered a "pre-adrenal fatigue" stage. Adrenal fatigue is a suboptimal hormonal state induced largely by chronic stress and hallmarked by symptoms like fatigue, body aches, gastrointestinal issues, and disordered mood. I'm not in any sort of clinical disease state yet (and other than allergies kicking my butt I'm not noticing any of those symptoms), but if I don't make more of an effort to prioritize some self-care and stress management techniques, I'm running the risk of heading there.
THIS. This is what is so cool about functional medicine. Because even though I look and feel fine (as conventional lab work would confirm), there's something going on beneath the surface which I wouldn't have known about unless I consulted with him. And because I got a heads up that my nervous system is preparing to sound the alarm, I am able to proactively PREVENT the ensuing chaos instead of reactively TREAT the chaos after it already happened. Helping me avoid actually having any actual health issues in the near future.
My Action Plan
Step one, get myself and my kids the FAHK out of north Texas. This will happen June 20-- or honestly sooner if they keep getting sick. I will cut my losses and bounce the F out before I let them both go on a 4th round of antibiotics this year or go under the knife for tubes when I am 100% positive at least one of them (Kenzie) wouldn't have any of these issues if we were living in back in California. In the interim, we might be heading to West Virginia because I am seriously considering moving in with my in-laws until we can get the move back to Cali ironed out. I know this MAY sound nuts to some people. You're like, 'just deal with it'-- you have to remember though, my health and my kids health is EVERYTHING to me. Nothing matters more. If you don't have your health, you literally have nothing.
Remember, allergies cause inflammation, inflammation causes sickness, both of those cause disease. I understand to some this is like over-reacting, but from everything I know as a health professional, it's something to take seriously. Not to mention antibiotic overuse can permanently damage the gut, and the gut is where everything starts, we are learning that more and more everyday. Allergies cause an auto immune response, and that also causes sickness and disease. Call me dramatic, what-ev-er-. Yes I am uptight AF about this and I plan on doing whatever I need to, to fix this situation ASAP. Even if that means move in with my in-laws. Lol- which if you know me, you know I am independent and although I love them dearly, I would NEVER typically do something like that.
The thing is, on Instagram I really haven't been completely open with just how bad it's been here. Especially for the people that are new to following me. Listen, it's my job to be healthy and inspire you to be too-- and that's been difficult for me to do this year for the first time in my entire career (14 years). And I don't want to be the girl always complaining or talking about what's wrong in her life or her sick self or sick kids all the time. But guys, it's been really bad. Like however bad it's sounded on IG, it's actually like 10x worse than that in real life. Kenzie and Leo have been so so so sick, Kenzie misses school all the time. It's rare that a week goes by without fevers in my house, there hasn't been two weeks have have gone by this year without either Kenzie in the doctors or Leo. They are both severely struggling with allergies. Sure some of it may be typical winter colds, but it's been mostly allergies causing the issues. They have both had double ear infections 3x so far in 2019 (it's not even he end of March yet). The pedi chalks them both up to having extreme environmental allergies and says this is "common" for this area, but I just don't care. It may be common but it's not acceptable.
I have also been constantly battling sickness/allergies. There is rarely a day that goes by where I don't have either a sore throat, a headache or congestion, runny nose or a combo of all of the above. Sure things could be way worse- I realize. It's just still a problem when something as annoying as allergies can so drastically affect my mental heath, my productivity, my lifestyle, my workouts and just drags you downnnn. It’s like you have a head cold for weeks or months at a time. YUCK. I want to feel 100%. Not being able to is SO unlike me. This has actually never happened to me in my whole life. I've never even sprained an ankle before. So being on the DL- disabled list, which is what it's felt like for the past several months is something that I have never had to deal with. Even when my immune system was a mess and I was fixing my thyroid, I still rarely got sick and never had environmental allergies. And honestly a low cost of living, a big house, no income tax, a growing real estate market, is still not worth any of this bullshit we have been dealing with. I'm not saying don't move to north Texas, but what I am saying is, MAKE sure you don't have the allergies that are here before you do- at least not to an extreme degree. I never would have brought my kids into this environment if I knew it was going to be half as bad as it actually as been. My husband on the other hand- zero allergies. Wildly enough he is probably the least 'healthy' out of all of us too. Riddle me that?!
After my blood work showed clear signs of the environment I live in directly effecting my health, that was really the last straw. I figured that was going to show up, but when I realized just how bad it was, that was my finally decision that I’m done. If it’s affecting my body, it’s affecting the boys bodies, and I just can’t have that. I always thought this move would be a 3-5 year move. It’s gonna end up being 1.5 years and you know what, I’m fine with it. I’m fine with losing the money, the time, the hassle, bc getting my kids and myself to thrive again is the only thing that matters to me right now. My husband btw, he is on board with all of this. He just luckily has NO allergies which is why I didn’t mention him more in this post ;)
So other than moving which IS happening as soon as humanly possible, based on the results of his findings, my functional medicine doctor made several recommendations specific to me.
One thing he recommended was to add a simple regiment of specific homeopathic supplements. Originated back in the late 1700s by a German physician named Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is a type of alternative medicine that believes a) the body can heal itself (you won't believe how many doctors don't view health and disease from this perspective), and b) you can help the body's innate healing process along by adding specific natural substances from plants and minerals that optimize physiological function.
The interesting thing about homeopathy (at least my functional medicine doc's approach to it) is that it doesn't involve taking random endless supplements. Instead, he recommended certain homeopathic herbs and supplements which will complement and support my specific "constitution," called lachesis (sounds hot right?)
Lachesis is one of the major homeopathic archetypes characterized by certain physical and temperamental traits. As he puts it, the lachesis person has an angular face, reddish hue, and whiter complexion.
HA! So far we're three for three.
The lachesis person also is "very very sharp and quick," as my doc says. My nervous system has a "quickness to strike" and is often on high alert to perceived threats (like trolls and the internet breaking lol). But thanks to my entrepreneurial spirit (which I wouldn't trade for the WORLD) I tend not to slow down and have a lot of things on my plate. I also find myself allowing my thoughts to run laps in my head, which further wigs me out.
Essentially, my nervous system is telling me to pump the brakes. Sloooow down, Nanc. In the meantime, my good old Type A self has been slowly wearing down and riding my nervous system's brakes all along. Whooooopsies.
These insights were all confirmed on specific tests and measures used during the appointment, and ultimately reflect the overarching goal of my functional medicine plan, which is to "buff up" my nervous system. I need to increase its stamina while at the same time help it calm down so it's not constantly redlining and pushing me toward system overload. So, in addition to making lifestyle adjustments (such as eliminating exposure to allergens and moving out of Texas, my doctor believes that starting a homeopathic routine will help this process along, in addition to some other supplements like probiotics, fish oil, and magnesium and so much more.
Here is the longggg list of supps on my current routine. These are for my body and my situation and should not be taken unless you're working with a functional medicine doctor. Please keep in mind, if I didn't have severe allergy response, this list would be cut in half or more.
Nuero mag (night time)
l-thanine (when needed)
nystatin (to kill the sh*t in my nasal cavity)
still point (when needed)
Listen team, no one's perfect (juuuust in case you forgot). I pride myself on being honest and open and this is no different. The truth is getting optimal nutrition, optimal fitness, good sleep, and a healthy lifestyle gets you very very very far. But it doesn't always get you all the way. We can't control everything, we aren't perfect. Sometimes stress gets the best of us. Things like environmental allergies we can't always control. For me, I'm much more easily effected by things like allergies and sickness and it kinda can fahk with things post pregnancy bc I do struggle with a sensitive immune system during and post pregnancy as most women do. I am honestly also way too anxious about work and family which I need to fix. It's not serving anyone especially not myself. I wrote a blog post on stress actually did you guys see that? Yea, that's me. I have def mastered most things like food and fitness and sleep but I am still working on the stress part.
We feel all run down or have dysfunction for one reason or another and feel "not our best" from time to time. Then we fine tune and adjust, and then we heal. Then somewhere along the way cycle repeats itself in some way. All of us are going through different seasons and stages of life, and each season or stage may require different approaches or reassessments to help you thrive throughout it- and a lot of times, nutrition is a huge part but not the whole part, strategic supplementation is needed to heal it completely. And that's me being honest. You'll never see Dr Jim and leave with a "you're doing great nothing to tweak here" result. He goes way beyond the normal and has optimal levels he gets you to and therefore there is always something to improve on; which is why I love him and his work so much.
I'm really fortunate for the work I've been able to do with Dr Jim and Heydi (his nurse practitioner). Personally, it helps me to take a more objective (albeit alternative) look at my health and connect the dots between these unique tests and the things I intuitively pick up on. I walk away with tools I never would have received from a conventional doc and am able to add them to my experimental approach to livin' my best life.
If you're interested in fine-tuning your own health and learning more about your body (and what affects it), I highly recommend finding a functional medicine doctor in your area, but find a good one! He or she could give you some great insights about your health that you never knew you needed. With these in hand, you'll be armed and inspired to make some small changes that could make a big difference in the end. Because for me, it's not just about being healthy, it's about THRIVING. And I want to thrive.