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Be your own advocate- the prescription for a happier, healthier human being

I learned over the past two years as I have chased the elusive unicorn of good health and proper physical function that even the most well-meaning doctor doesn’t have all the answers, and specialists may not be up to snuff on every development outside of their area of specialty that has happened since they attended medical school.  In order to have proper care, you need a TEAM, and you need to run point on that team. You need to understand how your body works, how the pieces fit together [because your body is COMPLEX, everything working in balance, with feedback loops, up- and down-regulation, and internal signaling that takes place all the time] the basics of the protocol prescribed, the complications of any treatment applied, how your personal genetics react to such treatment, the latest developments in that area of medicine, and any special needs your specific body requires for proper every-day maintenance.

As paradigms of care shift, the prescribed treatment MUST shift as well.  Our understanding of medical issues is constantly being modified by studies and ongoing research efforts.  You need a doctor who is always on the edge of discovery, and if he or she falls behind, is confident enough to admit it and CHANGE their protocols of treatment to give their patients the best treatment possible.  You need a doctor who sees you as a PARTNER in your own health.  Any doctor who will not discuss the latest research with you, consider alternative methods for treatment and ongoing care (or at least direct you to a specialist who does deal in such alternatives), or consider your own logical theories, advanced testing requests and courses of treatment (founded on research and intellect, not a request based on a commercial you saw for some miracle drug that you’d like the doctor to prescribe to you just because you want it) is not a doctor you should continue to see.  A good physician understands that our comprehension of the human body is constantly evolving and that part of being a physician is the responsibility to continuously and actively research, evaluate and assimilate new methods of treatment to provide proper care and avoid harm.

In addition, even well-meaning doctors can be derailed by their ego.  They spend years in school and hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain their knowledge and title.  It is understandably difficult to realize that the information you spent so much time, effort and money to gather may no longer be accurate, and that anyone that walks through your door may profess to know more than you (and there is a possibility that for some small fact or particular area of medicine that they may just know something you haven’t discovered yet thanks to the power of the internet and a curious mind).   Remember, you want a PARTNER, not a dictator, when it comes to your health-care provider.  You need someone that is willing to see you as a valid member of the team, whose voice must be heard, and whose suggestions must be considered and evaluated.  That is not to say that a physician should be required to base a protocol solely on the patient’s opinions and wishes, as so many people are blind to their health and the truth behind their conditions and may be lead astray by Big Pharma’s promises of the perfect life in a pill; but when a patient provides a conscious level of information and body awareness, that viewpoint must be included in a proper course of treatment and health management.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  You mean I have to stay educated on the latest developments in science and human anatomy???  Isn’t that what we pay doctors for?  Isn’t that why THEY went to school?  In a way, yes.  Doctors are healers who have dedicated their lives to the research, treatment and eradication of disease, and the maintenance of well-being.  But ultimately the responsibility for your health-care lies with you.  No surprise, even the best-laid plans and prescriptions by the world’s most educated, informed and responsible functional medicine doctors and specialists are worthless if they are not followed by the patient.  What we need to understand is that the responsibility for our own health lies ultimately rests on us, and that includes all phases of care (diagnosis, testing, treatment and maintenance), and that waiting for a diagnosis and a pill or lifestyle prescription is no different than submitting to a welfare state, expecting someone else to care for and rule over you based on their own plans and desires.  To be a happy healthy citizen and human being, you need to arm yourself with knowledge about how the body works so that you can ask intelligent questions, object when necessary to specious and outdated reasoning, and take control of your own body to live your best life possible.

So what can you do to get involved in your own health care?  My top 5 suggestions are:

  1. Start a food journal – write down everything you eat and how you feel physically and emotionally throughout the day, as well as how things may affect you 2-3 days later.  Your nourishment is directly connected to both your physical and emotional well-being.
  2. Move your body and rest your body-humans are designed to be physically productive and to take adequate time to repair.  Treat your body to healthy, muscle-building, fat-burning activities and give it adequate rest/sleep time to repair and rebuild.  Be aware of any activities that cause pain, and whether or not you are slow to recover from your workouts.
  3. Research both traditional and alternative sources for any current health concerns you have, as well as general health and wellness.  I recommend looking at www.mayoclinic.com, Wikipedia, www.robbwolf.com, www.chriskresser.com and any forums built on a community of people suffering from your same condition.
  4. Do your research.  What has your doctor done to keep up with the changing paradigms of care based on new scientific discoveries in medicine, movement and nutrition?  What kind of continuing education does he or she participate in?  Are they open to new ideas as research unfolds, or are they mired in the often outdated textbooks of their formal education?
  5. Ask questions and be curious.  When you visit with your physician, be it for a routine check up or a specific concern, share your new-found knowledge with your doctor and have a dialogue about his or her thoughts and opinions on the matter.  Don’t be afraid to request specific tests or treatment protocols based on your knowledge and understanding.  If they refuse to engage with you in a meaningful way, it’s time to find a new partner in your health care!

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