The team approach to managing multi-factorial chronic illness

Joy Cutrone, Wellness & Certified AIP Coach, FMCHC-Candidate

People want to know, do changes in diet and lifestyle really work for reducing symptoms of autoimmune disease?

What about conventional specialists and their pharmaceutical approach? Does the functional medicine approach to autoimmunity completely replace that?

Making changes to diet and lifestyle in combination with key supplements and healing therapies can definitely work. We know this because we’re living it.

Real world perspective

Yet we also live in the real world and know that things can happen. We would never, for example, break ties with our specialist. S/he’s a vital resource on our team. And I’m never going to say “never” about pharmaceutical intervention because I’ve seen how mean AIs can be, and I know life happens. We could experience high stress from a bad breakup or death of a family member; we could accidentally or intentionally break our diet; we could get an infection; we could back off our supportive supplements; we could wake up one day without a reason. The disease is capable of turning back on: once activated, it’s there for life. So, what we’re doing is managing the illness and choosing wellness at every opportunity: striving toward, achieving, maintaining remission as best we can — and living in the real world.

Natural and pharmaceutical interventions can intersect

Keep in mind that functional medicine practitioners use pharmaceuticals, too, when necessary. A key difference between a physician who’s gotten additional training in the functional medicine approach to managing chronic illness and a physician who hasn’t is that pharmaceuticals are not their first go-to, nor their primary mechanism for managing the disease. Medications may be in the roster of available solutions, as needed, for managing the root causes of illness – the infection, dysbiosis, or other driver of inflammation – while dietary modifications, nutritional and supplemental support, and other side-effect free interventions such as stress management will be primary for a functional medicine practitioner.  A good functional medicine practitioner may help you to reduce reliance, even, on medications that your specialist has prescribed, which is a decision you’ll make together; but they’re never going to advise you to let go of your AI specialist. Both physicians play an important role as resources for managing your illness.

A collaborative approach

What you’re looking for here is COLLABORATION. Ideally, you’ll work with a specialist who isn’t going to dismiss the other vectors you bring to bear. You want a specialist who isn’t going to invalidate that you’re working toward a whole-person approach that’s outside their wheelhouse, but which has equal validity in the mix. And you likewise need to respect that a whole-person approach is not in their scope of practice. There is very limited training in traditional western medicine for non-pharmaceutical and -surgical treatment: the pharmaceutical companies often drive medical school curricula, in fact, and there’s little, if any, training about diet in med school — even in gastroenterology, if you can get your head around that. But that doesn’t mean these specialists don’t save lives.

Team members each have their role

Everyone on your team has an appropriate role. Your specialist has a place; get your filter on, ask questions, and don’t be daunted by any pessimism or dismissal that you may encounter: diet and lifestyle protocols are not their world. Your functional medicine practitioner has a place; take advantage of the deeper insight you’ll get from searching out causes, and partner with them to tweak your protocol as you make gains. Again, ask questions. And, if appropriate, engage a nutritionist, nutritional support mechanism, or health coach for more on-going, individualized attention on a regular basis. Even as a member of this community, the community itself and/or other members in it are also on your team.

So, remember, for multi-factorial, chronic illness, we take a multi-factorial approach. This includes bringing to bear multiple team members with respective areas of expertise. You’ll want to hone your skills at navigating their different voices – because they can conflict with one another. Ah…that’s where meditation and learning to trust your inner voice comes in. Let’s explore that in another article!

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