Several years ago I began experiencing aching in several of my joints. I was in my early thirties and a few years away from my late husbands passing so at first I didn’t notice anything. At that point, I was starting to see the light at the end of my grief tunnel. Right after he died, everything hurt. My insides, my outsides, it was terrible. A tender knee or sore knuckle didn’t raise any red flags at first. I wasn’t eating the best, so I took steps to improve my diet. Green shakes, lots of vegetables, lean proteins, all that jazz. I also hired a personal trainer. At that point in life, I had not made physical fitness a priority.
Years passed and instead of feeling better, my pain got worse than before. My right big toe joint was hot and swollen to the point where I saw a doctor to receive a steroid injection to calm it down. Once that joint calmed down, the pain, swelling, and tenderness migrated to another joint in my right foot. My hands began to ache in the mornings, so much so that my work was being affected. I was tired all the time and increasingly frustrated. I saw a general practitioner that recommended I go to a rheumatologist. “I recommend an immune suppressant drug.” is what the rheumatologist told me. My gut told me suppressing my immune system didn’t make sense. The side effects and risks of immune suppressant drugs are lengthy and include an increased risk of immune system-related cancers. My husband died of esophageal cancer at the age of thirty-seven, and the last thing I wanted to do was risk getting cancer and leaving my son an orphan. My symptoms HAD to be connected to something. I wanted to find out WHY my body was doing what it was doing instead of putting a band-aid on it.
So, I started reading. The first book, The Immune System Recovery Plan, by Susan Blum, M.D., M.P.H., explained the concept of functional medicine. Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, looking at the whole picture the patient presents and working with that patient to come up with solutions for their health. The book does an excellent job of breaking down the complex structure of our immune systems and explaining it in easy terms. Dr. Blum also goes into the different reasons why our immune systems can be going haywire, and the section on stress and its relation to our health struck a chord with me.
Her plans and recommendations are fantastic but should go hand in hand with the careful care of a functional medicine doctor to root out the causes of the health problem. Anyone can buy a bunch of vitamins that a book recommends but blood (and other) tests are required to pinpoint how to begin healing. I dig a major point of hers - autoimmune disorders should be looked at together, not separately. Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, MS, are all connected in the sense that the immune system is attacking ITSELF.
I have since found a great functional health doctor in my area, and have made dietary changes after figuring out what triggers my arthritis. My symptoms have greatly subsided - they’re not completely gone, and I’m still working on that. It is frustrating at times, but the reality is that there is no easy fix. I do feel better than I did a decade ago and I have Dr. Blum’s expertise to thank, in part, for that.