Posts Tagged ‘diabetes’

Rising star shows the world how to live well with diabetes

I love telling people’s stories, especially when they’re as positive as the story of Alexander Star, a young recording artist/songwriter who is going places fast — and he’s showing the world that type 1 diabetes isn’t going to slow him down.

View More: story spoke to me for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I also live with type 1 diabetes. The condition can be challenging to manage, and hearing from others who are doing so successfully is always inspiring.

Star is also a prime example of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, helps people with chronic conditions like diabetes. Not only does it make insurance more affordable, the ACA’s provisions can help people with chronic condition receive better treatment.

Plus, Star is simply bursting with positive energy — living a life full of enthusiasm for his career, his music and raising his young son.

Star’s experience with the ACA and improved care is shared by millions of Americans. Learn more at my post at

How Functional Medicine is transforming my health

I am not a diabetic. I am a person with diabetes. I am not any of the health conditions that have plagued me in recent years. I am a whole person, a complex biological system that should not be chopped up into little segments. This is why I’ve embraced Functional Medicine, and it’s transforming my health.

I could just as easily say “Functional Medicine has transformed my health” — because it already has — but I don’t see wellness as a finite goal. I see it as a continuum, part of my everyday experience. It is my everyday experience, because every part of my life is fueled by my wellness, and vice versa.

img_1825My health transformation began in 2013, when I was significantly overweight. I could attribute some of it to bad habits, but a rapid piling on of the pounds in a single year made me think there was more to it than that. And I was right.

I wasn’t just overweight. I struggled to control my Type 1 diabetes. I was taking two blood pressure medications, one medication to manage my gastrointestinal troubles and another to manage my hormones. I suffered from insomnia, inflammation, lack of energy and various musculoskeletal woes.

Even though I write about healthcare for a living, all the things I was told would help weren’t getting me anywhere. When I talked to one of my doctors about losing weight, he told me, “Don’t eat bread.” When I asked for more guidance he shrugged and said, “I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Fortunately, a friend told me about Functional Medicine, a truly patient-centered approach to health and wellness that looks at the root causes of disease. It combines traditional medicine with holistic, naturopathic modalities and focuses on answering the question, “What is the root cause of these health issues?” instead of simply trying to mask or correct the symptoms with medication. Functional Medicine looks at all the factors that might impact a person’s health and then creates a personalized plan of action.

I started working with a Functional Medicine practitioner, Heidi Iratcabal, N.D.¬†After one of the most thorough medical histories I’ve ever experienced, she identified a primary cause of my health issues as being in my gut. My gut bacteria was completely out of whack and causing a host of problems throughout my body. She told me that the responsibility to make the necessary lifestyle changes was all mine, but that she would walk with me on the journey.

With Heidi’s guidance, I went on a personalized healing and elimination diet, to zero in on foods that might be contributing to my poor health due to allergies or sensitivities. The first month was rough, which she warned me would be the case. My body was detoxing. I was addicted to refined carbohydrates and sugar. But once I got through that, I started to feel better.

Since then, I have never stopped feeling better.

AnnePicI eliminated all the problematic foods from my diet: gluten, dairy, sugar, anything GMO or processed — including corn and soy — and anything pumped with chemicals or antibiotics. It’s not a fad diet. It’s a way of clean eating that ditches ingredients that create inflammation in my body in favor of whole, real food. I’ve upped the nutritional value of my diet immeasurably, although judicious use of supplements has helped, too.

I lost 100 pounds over 18 months almost effortlessly. The better I felt, the more motivated I was to start walking and practicing yoga regularly, and work on reducing stress (a big issue for me and my health) — and the circle of wellness has continued perpetuating itself. It’s not just about what I eat. It’s about how I feel and how I live.

I eat really well, as much as I want of the foods I do eat. My diet isn’t really all that limited, and it includes a few treats here and there, like some occasional dairy-free ice cream. By rediscovering my cooking skills (thanks, Mom!), I make incredibly yummy food. I call it my “new fooditude” and created a Pinterest board where lots of my favorite recipes live.

But it’s not just about weight loss. It’s about how my entire body has responded in positive ways to my lifestyle changes. My insomnia is gone. I’ve stopped taking hormones, stomach medicine and blood pressure medication. I take less insulin than ever, even though I’ll always need it. All the lab tests that measure my health continue improving or holding at a good place. I’m happier, too. Less stressed out, in part because I know that I am in charge of my health, and I now understand that everything I think manifests in my well-being.

While working with Heidi, I’ve continued seeing my traditional practitioners. One of my doctors said to me recently, “I never imagined I’d ever see a patient transform their health this way.”

Yet he never asked how I did it. He’s impressed by the lab results, but doesn’t seem to have any interest in learning what I did that might help his other patients.

Fortunately, the mainstream is starting to recognize that Functional Medicine works. The Cleveland Clinic has opened a Center for Functional Medicine, which means this evidence-based, personalized approach will start reaching more and more Americans.

2015I’ve never felt better. And I’ll never go back, because I now know what it means to live in true wellness and vitality, even as I manage life with a chronic condition.

I am not my disease. I am not a collection of health issues and symptoms. I am a whole person, who deserves healthcare that treats me as such.

With Functional Medicine, I’ve found an approach that sees me for everything I am — mind, body and spirit. Perhaps most exciting of all, it’s an approach that’s put me in charge because I no longer feel like I’m trying to “treat” conditions only a doctor could fix. With the guidance of my healthcare team, I make the decisions that have transformed my entire body into a healthier place to live.

I don’t define myself as a diabetic. Finally, I’ve found an approach to wellness that doesn’t define me that way, either.

[Photo credits: LAF Lines Photography (top and bottom) and Anne Savage (center).]

Being your own healthcare advocate

There’s nothing like a trip to the emergency room to drive home the importance of being your own healthcare advocate.

My work as a writer revolves around helping consumers engage in their own healthcare, from buying insurance to navigating the healthcare system to living well. As a woman living with diabetes, I’m also an advocate for my own good health. I practice what I preach.

14155567254_402dfb4555_zBut a recent visit to the ER was a powerful reminder that we must always be vigilant about our own healthcare. Should we trust the medical experts? Absolutely. And as patients, we’re experts about ourselves — or should be — and have a responsibility to be engaged in healthcare decision-making.

I was treated at one of the country’s best hospitals, after having symptoms of what could be a heart attack: pounding heart, nausea, sweating and dizziness.

The hospital ran tests and kept me for 15 hours to monitor my heart. As it turns out, my heart is perfect. The culprit? Dehydration — probably caused by the overly long walk I’d taken earlier in the day and a diuretic I’d been prescribed — and a mild urinary tract infection.

All’s well that ends well. However, I was reminded that you can never take things for granted. The woman in the next bed told me I was “breaking new ground” by asking a lot of questions. Asking questions shouldn’t be innovative. It should be routine — but it isn’t, because many people just don’t know they can and should do it.

I was writing this post in my head while I was still in the ER, thinking that my experience might help educate others. Here are a few tips.

If you have a chronic health condition, always carry your medications with you.

I’m glad I had the presence of mind to bring my insulin with me. The hospital wanted to adjust my regimen to their convenience, but I insisted they let me stick to what’s been proven to work. To their credit, they listened.

Always carry a list of current medications, including vitamins and supplements.

Apparently this is not the norm. When I told the cardiologist that I had a list of current meds in my purse, she looked genuinely surprised. I can’t remember the exact medication names and dosages, so being able to hand medical staff that information reduces the chance of mistakes. Heaven forbid I’d been unconscious, they would have found the list, along with other health information and emergency phone numbers, in my purse. They’d know to look because I wear a medical alert bracelet.

Know your medical history — and share it.

My symptoms mirrored those of a heart attack in women, so I told the staff I have a family history of heart disease, and a personal history of high blood pressure and diabetes. Maybe they would have asked me, but it never hurts to be proactive. In retrospect, I’m going to add key family history facts to the sheet I carry with information on my medications and health conditions, including allergies. I also learned that in an emergency, it isn’t always easy to know what to tell the medical team. It took me an hour to realize I should have told them I’d been nauseous on and off for a few days. In a medical situation, there’s no such thing as too much information.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” when appropriate.

I have food allergies and eat a very specific diet that keeps my diabetes in good control. The “diabetic” and “heart-healthy” menu options at the hospital didn’t give me much to choose from. I had to explain my dietary needs multiple times to the nurses, nutritionists and food service staff. Finally, they okayed my food request: fresh fruit and a hard-boiled egg. (I stopped short of saying that one hard-boiled egg was not going to give me a heart attack.) Again, the hospital finally listened but it wasn’t to anyone’s benefit to make it so difficult.

Ask the staff to explain things you don’t understand.

As I started feeling better, the staff repeatedly told me it was a good sign that I was no longer “diaphoretic.” I write about healthcare and I even had to look up the word. Why didn’t they just say “sweating heavily”? When health professionals don’t put things in plain English, insist on explanations.

Question anything that just doesn’t seem right.

At the end of my stay, the hospital tried to send me home with someone else’s discharge instructions. I figured it out because the nurse said I should keep taking a medication I know is for a thyroid condition I don’t have. When I said so, she replied, “Oh, there are lots of different names for medications.” I told her I did not take any thyroid medications. That’s when she realized she had the wrong Smith. She was profusely apologetic, but if I hadn’t known better I would have gone home not knowing how to take my antibiotic or make the other adjustments recommended to prevent another episode of dehydration.

2478582305_a38f404276_zI give the hospital kudos for providing detailed discharge instructions once I got the right ones. They called the next day to make sure I carried through on my follow-up care. And when I asked questions or advocated for myself, they listened to me — the patient. Overall, I got great care.

But I can’t help but wonder: What would have happened if I hadn’t asked questions? What if I hadn’t known how to provide the information they needed or ask the questions that kept me safe? What if I were someone who simply trusted them to do whatever they felt was best, even though they’d never set eyes on me before?

Ultimately, I probably would have been fine. The hospital staff knew what they were doing. They would still have given me the right prescription for my antibiotics and my personal doctor would have caught the discharge order mix-up. I would have gotten back on track with my insulin regimen and eating plan, probably without more than a hiccup. But maybe not. There’s really no way to know.

But I do know this: I’m grateful I knew how to speak up for myself, how to ask the right kinds of questions about the care I was receiving, what the test results were showing and what their plan of action was.

Healthcare staff should be offering this information in easy-to-understand terms, but the fact is that some are better at it than others.

One of my current doctors is learning to be better at communicating with me because I have forced the issue. Maybe some of his other patients are, too. As patients, we all have a responsibility to be educated health consumers, to know what’s good for us and question what isn’t — and to ask about what we don’t know.

It only makes sense to take charge. After all, it’s our own health that’s at stake.

Want to educate yourself on being your own healthcare advocate and make informed decisions? The Choosing Wisely initiative is a great place to start.

[Photo credits: Top – Tim Evanson; Bottom – Andy Smith.]

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