In novelist Porochista Khakpour’s memoir Sick she describes her struggle with chronic Lyme disease and her uphill battle with the US healthcare system. Likely she had been bitten as a child by a long-forgotten tick, which is quite the usual case, the average age of acquiring Lyme disease being about 11.
As a result of a youth defined by what’s best described as serious self-neglect (poor nutrition and sleep, chronic stress, smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs), in her early 20s Khakpour developed a smorgasbord of symptoms. Her test results were all normal, nothing was diagnosed, and thus she entered a nightmare of chronic ill health, struggling for years as a novelist and teacher of creative writing.
After these years of symptoms and seeing literally dozens of doctors around the world, someone finally said, “This has to be Lyme disease” and referred her to a Lyme specialist.
As with any case of Lyme, acute or chronic, Khakpour was started on antibiotics to reduce the Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) population. Antibiotics usually bring about a complete cure in acute Lyme, but in the case of chronic Lyme the infection is so deep-seated that more strategies are needed to render the remaining B. burgdorferi powerless.
How Khakpour regains her health could be the basis for a textbook in the new medical specialty called functional medicine.
Right up front, I’ll admit I simply can’t stand the term “functional medicine.” It’s a meaningless phrase to both patients and most physicians. A 1989 Toyota with 300,000 miles is a functional vehicle, but it’s not functional in the way a 2018 Lexus freshly driven from the dealership is functional.
Optimal wellness medicine
Far better, to my mind at least, would be to call it “optimal wellness medicine,” because that’s the goal. Functional physicians test your body’s different systems: digestive, detoxification, immune, hormonal, etc., with the goal of finding (or putting) everything in perfect working order.
Functional medicine simple case history You’re back in the local urgent care center with yet another sinus infection, the third this year. You leave with an antibiotic prescription and after a few days you’re feeling better, barring no yeast infection from the antibiotics. And that’s the end of it until you’re back again with another sinus infection a few months later. One day it will dawn on you that something’s not right. A functional medicine physician might discover that you’re chronically inflamed from a leaky gut, which in turn was triggered by food sensitivities. Change your diet and lo! No more sinus infections.
Functional medicine complex case (Khakpour’s, for example.) You’ve got a bevy of seemingly unrelated symptoms, from headaches and brain fog to poor digestion, muscle aches, and chronic exhaustion, but all your test results are negative. You see a variety of physicians, including an array of specialists, and nothing turns up. You’re advised to see a psychiatrist, obediently keep your appointment, but rip up the Zoloft prescription and scream at the doctor that the only reason you’re depressed is that you feel like hell.
Both of these cases–the recurrent sinus infection or years of chronic ill health–are ideal for a functional medicine approach (remember, think optimal wellness). The goal is to treat the underlying causes of your condition, not the symptoms.
In fact, many times the disease itself is left untreated, because once your body is functioning normally it takes care of the rest. Too often drugs, or even surgical procedures, mask the real problems at hand.
Tell me your story
A functionally-oriented physician starts by spending a great deal of time on your biography– genetics, lifestyle, and environment—because your biography represents the heart of your biology. She’ll look over all your previous tests, including those that produced normal results. Because each of us is biochemically unique, a lab test result may be within normal range on a printout but may be significantly abnormal for you.
A functional physician will ask about (and may test for) the following vital issues:
–Are you eating a healthful diet?
–Do you have any nutritional deficiencies?
–Are you able to digest and absorb your food well?
–Do you have hidden sensitivities to certain foods that could be impairing your health?
–Do you have a healthy balance of bacteria in your intestines?
–Do you have an accumulation of toxins from the environment in your body?
–Are you chronically inflamed and if so, why?
–Are the detoxification systems in your body functioning properly?
–Are each of your hormones (thyroid, adrenal, sex) at optimal levels?
–Is your immune system functioning well?
So, yes, Khakpour was finally diagnosed with chronic Lyme, but simply giving her buckets of antibiotics would miss the point about what really happened to her. Had she taken better care of herself when younger, most likely the stealthy Lyme would have remained suppressed by her immune system and itself be quite harmless. But she lived a rough life and was sick for years.
If she’d been treated for Lyme without regard to her whole self, she would also remain susceptible to other stealth organisms like Epstein-Barr, herpesvirus, Cytomegalovirus, and hepatitis, all of which an optimally functioning immune system would hold in check.
Jumpstart to wellness
Khakpour needed everything turned around, a jumpstart to wellness. This is why functional medicine physicians rely on an integrated team of practitioners (naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists, chiropractors, nutritionists). It was when Khakpour started her whole-body wellness approach that she finally began to emerge from the mire of illness. When given functional medicine recommendations, Khakpour, thoroughly sick of being sick, became an ideal patient. She ate a nutritious diet, took all the supplements that were recommended, and used the services of chiropractors, herbalists, acupuncturists, and homeopaths as recommended by her Lyme-savvy physician.
By optimizing her health, Khakpour was able to get her Lyme into remission and reduce her chances for relapse, which is when the Lyme stirs awake again.
Like many chronic Lyme patients, she can sense a relapse coming on and for this is sometimes prescribed an antibiotic but most often takes nutritional supplements, herbs, and IV ozone.
Interestingly, Khakpour attributes a lot of her recovery to ozone therapy. This is an alternative therapy that has been around for decades but until recently has been little used in the US. Today, though, virtually every metropolitan area in the country has at least one or more physicians trained in ozone therapy.
Ozone itself is a molecule containing three oxygen atoms. This compared to the oxygen we know, which contains two oxygen atoms. By removing a small amount of your blood, bubbling ozone through it, and then transfusing the blood back to your bloodstream you increase the amount of oxygen available to all your cells. Everything in your body receives a jumpstart and starts to function more efficiently.
There have been some promising studies, mainly in European journals, on ozone’s benefits to health. Since ozone therapy is in the public domain, Big Pharma has no interest in funding research.
Currently, physicians are using ozone therapy to:
–Inactivate bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, yeast, and protozoa.
–Stimulate the immune system and speed healing.
–Improve circulation by cleaning the arteries and veins.
–Purify blood and lymph.
–Normalize hormone and enzyme production.
–Reduce inflammation and chronic pain.
–Limit stroke damage.
–Reduce abnormal heart rhythm.
–Improve brain function and memory.
–Improve nail and hair growth and skin texture.
Ozone therapy is available to WholeHealth Chicago patients (interested patients can simply request an appointment for ozone evaluation). If you’re not in our area, likely your local chiropractor or naturopath will know where it’s being offered.
In conclusion, Khakpour describes herself as well and generally optimistic. After so many years of illness (she just turned 40) her situation is one of watchful waiting. Oh, and by the way, her novels are excellent.
David Edelberg, MD