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Why Self Diagnosis May Lead to Trouble

Welcome to Issue #2 of Nourish. Today’s topic deals with an issue that is all too common (and dangerous) among people when they first come to work with me: self diagnosis.

I can’t count how many times a new patient comes into my office convinced that they’re dealing with issue X, Y or Z because of a web search when it turns out that is only a symptom or reaction to an underlying problem from A, B or C.

According to the CDC, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime¹. Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million American adults each year² and depression remains the leading cause of disability worldwide³. With statistics like these, we’re well aware that something needs to be done. We live in a rapidly changing world, from the expansion of digital technology, to increasing global concerns, to a worldwide pandemic, there’s a LOT going on that can have a negative impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Many individuals face mood disorders, chronic stress and generalized anxiety as a result. 

We often compartmentalize mental health as being separate from our physical or spiritual health, and many of us tend to ignore our mental health until there’s a serious issue staring us in the face (i.e. inability to keep a job, severe family issues, mental breakdown, panic attacks, decline in health overall, etc.). 

This is a huge mistake.

Holistically, mental health cannot be separated from its parts.

This is where self-diagnosis can be a mental health nightmare. It is rarely one thing causing whatever symptoms you are feeling. Rather, your symptoms may be attributed to a host of different problems. Unless you are an expert across a variety of medical fields, as an amateur diagnostician, you have no way of knowing whether a mental health issue is manifesting itself due to poor diet, unbalanced hormones, bad habits, lack of sleep, lack of the right food, too much of the wrong food, or the wrong supplements, or too many supplements, or too many prescriptions and on and on.

This all leads to an important fact many people who try to self-diagnose must understand:

You Know Your Body, But You’re Not an Expert

Sorry. It’s true. What you think is a sleep issue may be a hormone issue or a heart issue. What you think is a heart issue may be an anxiety issue which may be a psychological issue. Everything is interrelated, and when people try to play “expert” they can lead themselves down a road with cataclysmic results, often making simple issues more complicated or worse, turning small medical problems into larger ones.

Through our Functional Medicine program, we commonly see factors like poor quality diets, chronic stress and fear, traumatic events, medication side effects, micronutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, metabolism disorders, cardiac issues, autoimmune diseases, hormone imbalances, and much more, playing major roles in mental health status. 

We often see firsthand how a patient’s mental state influences and impacts their physical state of being, as well as how the body’s physical state affects the mind. 

Using a functional medicine approach, our goal is to address the underlying root cause of these problems. Our goal is to understand what caused a shift in the individual’s health state, and develop a plan to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as increase resilience in order to handle all life has to offer. 

3 Common Starting Points We Provide to Patients Dealing with Mental Health:

Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, fruits, and vegetables. Omega-3 and antioxidant rich foods are extremely important to promote adequate brain function. Foods with nutrients like magnesium and zinc are also quite beneficial. Try some leafy greens, beans, eggs, or cashews!

Supplements like B-vitamins enhance the production of dopamine and serotonin, which can help maintain a balanced mental health state. Omega-3 supplements have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms. Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation, regulate mood, and protect against neurocognitive dysfunction. Many nootropics contain fortified mixtures of various vitamins, minerals and herbs to enhance mental function and mood. 

Developing healthy lifestyle habits are imperative when addressing mental health. 

Regular exercise boosts mood, reduces anxiety, helps to alleviate stress, increases energy and mental alertness, and improves sleep. Movement of any kind, running, walking, yoga, dancing, biking, swimming, are all beneficial. 

A growing body of research supports the efficacy of mindfulness and meditation on mental health, especially feelings of anxiety and depression. Through practicing meditation, you are working with your brain’s neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to modify, adapt, and change in both structure and function throughout life) to create calm, positive, and loving thoughts, and change the structure and synaptic connections within the brain. 

This is just a brief overview of why self-diagnosis, although common, is something I strongly advise against. 

https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & statistics.

World Health Organization. Depression fact sheet. Published January 30, 2020. Accessed March 31, 2020.

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