Any time you’re in a conversation with patients with chronic illness, the topic of alternative treatment is bound to come up. For people who live with constant pain, fatigue, and other burdens of being ill, it may seem to make sense to turn to these kinds of solutions, especially when traditional medicine might not have the answers you need or want to hear.
Functional medicine is defined as “medical practice or treatments that focus on optimal functioning of the body and its organs, usually involving systems of holistic or alternative medicine.” Often, functional medicine promises a patient-centric approach, looking to address the root of any problems the patient has rather than an isolated set of symptoms of one disease. This may seem on the surface to provide a level of comprehensive and cohesive care that sarc patients often dream of. However, it should be noted that very few functional medicine doctors have expert knowledge in sarcoidosis, and none can replace a well-trained team of specialists. In fact, many practitioners of functional medicine aren’t even medical doctors at all.
FSR takes a patient-centric approach to everything we do, so naturally we wanted to explore the possible benefits and caveats that come with adding a functional medicine doctor to your care team. We interviewed a sarcoidosis patient, Sandra S., who has had a positive experience with incorporating functional medicine into her sarcoidosis treatment plan. Check out her responses to some questions below, and be sure to check out our concerns to consider at the bottom of the page.
Interview with Sandra S., sarcoidosis patient:
Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research: How long have you had sarcoidosis? When and how did you receive a diagnosis?
Sandra S.: I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis ten years ago, as a result of a common age-related health screening, a colonoscopy.
FSR: What made you decide to pursue adding a functional medicine doctor to your care team?
SS: I did not feel as energetic as I am now. My usual doctors did not know about vitamins or minerals or dietary changes I could be making to help myself feel more energetic. So, I added a functional doctor to my team of doctors.
FSR: Did you try to look for a functional medicine practitioner who knows sarcoidosis well?
SS: I already have a specialist doctor who has experience with sarcoidosis, so having my functional doctor advise me about diet and vitamins and minerals helped me to be healthier overall, still dealing with my chronic illnesses of hypothyroidism and sarcoidosis.
FSR: What happens at the first appointment with a functional medicine doctor?
SS: It is a get to know me. I get to know the doctor. She describes how our meetings would happen. The doctor is interested in getting to the root of the problem(s.) I took some blood tests which told the doctor what vitamins/minerals I was deficient in. She wanted to help me with my hypothyroidism initially, which she did through blood tests and diet advice. As of the last time I saw her, my thyroid antibodies were within normal range. And keeping up with the vitamin/mineral regimen, and diet allowed me to just washout (lavage) my nostrils once or twice a day, making my specialist doctor (for sarcoidosis) happy.
FSR: How often do you see this doctor?
SS: I see the functional doctor approximately every six months now, in the beginning it was every perhaps 3 months.
FSR: Are they in contact with your other specialists?
SS: Yes, I am sure to give all my doctors results of my lab tests and other screenings so everyone is on the same page. Each of my doctors has contact information for the others on my medical team as will as a business card for my pharmacy.
FSR: What immediate and long-term benefits have you experienced that you attribute to your functional medicine doctor?
SS: I attribute my functional doctor with the elimination of digestive upset, a healthier eating plan and no problems with sleep due to digestive problems in the past. And since I get a good 7hours 30 minutes of sleep each night I wake with energy ready for the new day.
FSR: Anything else you’d like people to know about adding a functional medicine doc to your care team?
SS: Functional doctors are not covered by Medicare or most other insurance, so it is an OUT OF POCKET expense for anyone going to a functional doctor. Adding a functional doctor to your current medical team can be something you may want to consider.
Concerns to consider about adding a Functional Medicine Practitioner to your care team:
- Not all practitioners are equal: As mentioned before, individuals are not required to be a medical doctor to become a licensed Functional Medicine Practitioner. Licensed practitioners can come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including acupuncturists or dieticians. If you do choose to add a Functional Medicine Practitioner to your care team, ensure you do your research and check out their background and degree first!
- It’s another appointment: Sarcoidosis patients often have to see multiple specialists as it is, so the decision to add yet another doctor to that growing list is not an easy one.
- Not everything works for everyone: Just because someone you know went to a functional medicine doctor and got prescribed supplements that helped their fatigue does not mean they will work for everyone. As sarc warriors know, every case is different and every individual will respond differently.*Note: Do not start taking any supplements or vitamins without first consulting your primary physician- even all-natural supplements can cause adverse reactions with other medications!
- It’s additional expense: As Sandra mentioned, functional medicine may not be covered by your insurance. Patients with chronic conditions like sarcoidosis know all too well how medical bills and expenses can add up as it is. For many patients, it not realistic to take on the additional cost of functional medicine in your treatment plan.
Within the next month I shall be entering into my 7th decade. During the past decade I have been dealing with sarcoidosis. I have two grown children who have their own families now. My granddaughter is in college. My husband and I have been divorced for many years.
Always interested in biology, I went into healthcare by working in a variety of healthcare settings ultimately furthering my education and certifying in gerontology. Using my medical education, I have worked with clients who were either people with disabilities, or older people through an agency for people with disabilities and older people through Senior Options Consulting.
FSR does not endorse replacing any medical professionals from your care team with Functional Medicine Practitioners. Any Functional Medicine Practitioner should be an addition to your care team, working in collaboration with your current sarcoid specialists. FSR does not provide medical advice and this post should in no way be construed as such.
Have a story about alternative treatments that you want to share with other sarc warriors? Share your story today!