How Functional Medicine Changed Our Lives, Feb/Mar 2017
By Stephanie Colo Manning
We are two moms living in Northern Virginia with a story in common. We were both unable to control our chronic health conditions with prescription medications that modern medicine says should work.
We discovered Functional Medicine from two different paths, and it has put us both on a road to true, long-term wellness. Identifying the root causes of our conditions, we have learned to support our bodies’ natural ability to heal.
I met Carrieanne Cox this fall, when I was researching for What is Functio nal Medicine (this issue). When I interviewed Jacki Meinhardt, an Integrative Medicine Nurse Practitioner, she suggested I interview her patient, Carrieanne, who was willing to discuss her health journey.
Carrieanne had seizures for 20 years, which were medically controlled with medication. She considered herself living healthy with her disease. Her approach to healthcare was “just give me a pill and fix me.” Carrieanne was skeptical about alternative medicine, considering it “voodoo.”
After developing flu-like symptoms in 2010, at age 35, Carrieanne’s health began to deteriorate. “I had infections, muscle and joint pain, brain fog, anxiety, migraines, I was frequently sick, unable to stay awake during the day, and having more seizures.” These new symptoms meant new medications. “My medications were causing gut issues, which led to dehydration, which triggered migraines, which then led to seizures.” She was on pain pills, migraine pills, narcolepsy pills, epilepsy pills, prednisone, antibiotics – nine prescriptions in all – each side effect required another pill. Over six years, Carrieanne saw various specialists. “One doctor labeled me Fibromyalgia, another suggested Lupus, others said M.S., Epilepsy, Infection, Lyme, and one even said it’s all in my head.” She asked herself, “Am I really sick or just crazy?”
After spending the last year mostly in bed, leaving her job, and missing out on her family life, Carrieanne felt defeated. Courageously taking matters into her own hands, she discovered a whole new world. She found a video lecture by Dr. Heyman, M.D., founder of Virginia Center for Health and Wellness, in Aldie, Virginia, where he discussed Lyme Disease and Integrative Medicine. This resonated with her and she made an appointment. In the meantime, Carrieanne’s condition deteriorated rapidly and she became immobile and was hospitalized.
Carrieanne was barely able to get around with a walker when she first came to see Jacki. “I came in very hopeful, ready to get to the bottom of my symptoms once and for all,” said Carrieanne. “Jacki spent a very long time interviewing me, asking very detailed questions, and ordered blood work. I had never had anybody spend that much time with me and say to me, ‘We’ll figure it out.’”
“It turns out my immune system was struggling,” said Carrieanne. “I had mono, which likely triggered Guillain-Barré Syndrome” (an autoimmune disease of the peripheral nervous system.) Jacki recommended treatment which would strengthen cell membranes, promote proper metabolism, boost gut health, fight the virus, and reduce inflammation. “This wasn’t voodoo treatment at all. This was a very scientific process. Jacki was extremely thorough. I was given targeted treatment tailored to my individual needs.” Within one month Carrieanne traded her walker for a cane. In two months, she could walk unassisted. Carrieanne laughed as she told me how excited she feels to be cleaning her house and doing laundry again! She can help her kids with homework again, too. During our interview, she was playing with her dog and offering refreshments.
Carrieanne has much healing to do yet. She is hopeful as she begins to focus on her diet, stress, and lifestyle. She is already choosing foods more wisely, eliminating unnecessary gluten, sugar, and refined flours. She has become mindful, noticing that when she does eat these foods, her foggy brain, fatigue, and achy muscles and joints return.
“Change is hard, but there’s a mind shift. When you’re doing this, seeing an Integrative Medicine Nurse Practitioner, and putting all these new things in place, you realize, ‘I don’t want to put that donut in my mouth because I’m getting better,’” says Carrieanne. “My whole life is changing. I’m realizing for the first time in my life that I have control. I am the one to control my getting better. The prescription pill is not always going to get me better. I’m the one who has to do the work. I’m the one who has to say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t eat that Butterfinger for breakfast!’”
I asked Carrieanne what she would tell others about Functional Medicine. “Give it a try. Give it a few weeks. Once you start feeling better, you become incredibly motivated.”
My autoimmune condition was out of control; I couldn’t get out of bed for the afternoon bus. I stared at the pile of prescription meds at my bedside. Things were getting worse and I thought about how I’d arrived here…
As a teenager, I developed Ulcerative Colitis (UC), an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohn’s. Severely impacting one’s daily life, these conditions often result in surgery and other serious long-term issues.
My UC flared on and off for the next 30 years. At first, my symptoms were fairly easy to manage with prescription medications. As the years passed, my symptoms became more frequent and severe. I needed stronger prescription medications to control them.
In 2012, at age 46, my condition deteriorated; three rounds of prednisone in seven months couldn’t quiet my symptoms. My gastroenterologist prepared me for the next step: I was now facing monthly IV infusions of Remicade® for the rest of my life. This is a serious drug that can impact ability to fight infections, increases risk of developing atypical infections, and is often combined with immune-suppressing drugs to make it more effective. Now, I was very scared.
I had heard of Dr. Martha Calihan, M.D., founder of the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg, Virginia, but I dismissed alternative medicine at first, as it seemed
mysterious to me. However, after 30 years of feeling ill, sleepless nights, fatigue, E.R. visits, and countless rounds of prednisone, I realized I needed a new approach.
My initial appointment with Dr. Calihan was long, as she asked about all aspects of my life – things I had never been asked before. I was intrigued and immediately felt like I was in capable hands. That first day, I walked out of her office with new recommendations, test kits, supplements, and hope! Even though I felt overwhelmed facing challenging dietary and lifestyle nchanges, I arrived home committed to take an active role in my health.
It paid off. Within one month, I watched my UC symptoms fade and disappear! Seriously? Why did it take me 30 years to figure that out?!
I came to realize that 30 years of medications were merely hitting the mute button when my bodynwas trying to speak to me all along. In my case, the root causes of my condition resulted fromn common food ingredients, imbalanced gut flora, and adrenal hormone imbalances. With dietary changes, thoughtful supplementation, and stress-coping mechanisms, I achieved remission.
I was so inspired by this life-changing event that I decided to remove virtually all processed food and inflammatory ingredients. Soon, I began noticing improvements in my sleep, mood, energy, weight, and immune system. Who knew that food could be so powerful?
With everything I had just experienced, I felt a need to help others discover the power of food as medicine. I am currently in school for a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition degree.
It’s been over four years since my first visit with Dr. Calihan. I continue to be amazed at how much my body has healed; a recent colonoscopy revealed no remaining signs of UC! Delighted by these results, my gastroenterologist said to me, “You’re doing this without any medication. Amazing. Amazing.”
The information presented is for general interest and is not intended as medical advice.
STEPHANIE COLO MANNING
Is the owner of Colo Kitchen, where she uses holistic nutrition consulting to help clients transition away from processed and inflammatory foods in favor of a whole food diet. Manning holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and is actively pursuing a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition degree from Hawthorn University. Email her at ColoKitchen@gmail.com or visit ColoKitchen.com.
Carrianne Cox’s health began to deteriorate at age 35.
She was unable to control her condition with prescription medications. She discovered Functional Medicine, and now her whole life is changing.