Have you been told somewhere by someone that the ‘perfect’ TSH is 1.5 mIU/L? This is a wonderful, terrible & wonderfully terrible example of ‘magical numbers medicine’. As a push-back against the published reference ranges we’re given, that are so wide you could drive a truck through them, there has been an over-correction by some, leading to the myth of ‘magic numbers’. We can narrow the reference range substantially for many parameters with good rationale, make no mistake about that but once we start setting ‘aspirational goals’ that are explicitly rigid…well we’ve done 2 things 1) forgotten about the patient to whom this result belongs and 2) disregarded viewing each result as part of a ‘pattern’, that we must piece together and make sense of.
Back to TSH then… if my obese patient had a value of 1.5 mIU/L this in fact would be woefully inadequate.
Also too low for any patient, no matter their size, if their T4 is low and we’d like a higher value as well for risk minimisation in our elderly clients too.
But the same result would be excessively & worringly high in my patient who’s undergone thyroidectomy.
Being given a list of ‘magic numbers’ will never replace learning labs correctly. When we do this, we come to truly know that meaning can only be made of the markers when you can answer the following questions:
What is this (metabolite, analyte, binding agent, plasma protein etc)?
What do I know about its physiological and biochemical context – what is its role and regulation in the blood, what moves it and to what magnitude?
How have the reference ranges been determined for this lab – who am I comparing my patient to?
Therefore, what is the significance of a result that is: ‘normal’, ‘low normal’, ‘high normal’, below or above the range?
Does this value ‘fit’ with my patient?
What else could explain an unexpected result?
How strong is my level of evidence?
What do I need to do from here to confirm or refute this?
And a few more 😉
Realising the full value of any test result in terms of what it reveals about the person sitting in front of you, requires these skills. Unfortunately, in contrast a list of magic numbers will often lead you astray. And building your scientific knowledge about labs will not only help you avoid the pitfalls of pathology but will strengthen your pathophysiology prowess in surprising ways, saving your patients a packet in terms of additional extraneous testing and help you truly personalise your prescriptions…because the ‘invisible (biochemical individuality, oxidative stress, genetic probabilities, subclinical states, imbalanced or burdened processes etc) just became visible’. I started requesting lab results early in my career and years later was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of Dr. Tini Gruner. I found some of our shared notes, from 10 years ago, scribbled all over patient results recently and I was struck by just how lucky I was to have her encouragement to really pursue my interest and how she was a guiding force about learning to recognise pathology patterns over single parameters. A decade on I can confess, much of clinical and educative success has come off the back of this foundational skill-set and I know, this is true for so many I’ve taught too.
“The guidance I’ve received over the years from Rachel in relation to pathology interpretation has been one of the most valuable (and fascinating) investments I’ve made as a clinician. Her teachings have filled gaps in my knowledge base I never knew needed filling and have significantly enhanced my understanding of the inner workings of the body! Rachel has an incredible ability to make the numbers that patient’s so often present us with, both understandable and clinically meaningful. The knowledge I’ve gained by investing in this skillset has paid off in dividends and I’m certain will continue to do so into the future.”
Stacey Curcio – Cultivating Wellness
I hope you’ll join me for the most exciting up-skilling opportunity in learning labs yet. Oh…and all this talk about thyroid testing..that’s just a serving suggestion 😉 this year my MasterCourse is focused on the most routine labs of all: ELFTs, FBE, WCC, Lipid and Glucose Panels…an absolute treasure trove of free integrative health information about your patient!
This skillset has been found by many to be biggest ‘game-changer’ in Integrative Medicine!
There are limited places. To sign up for the MasterCourse: Comprehensive Diagnostics click here. For more information about the program click here.
Assessing Adrenals can be hit and miss, especially given that even more so than other labs, timing is everything. That’s why endocrinologists typically won’t look at anything less than a 24hr urine collection. If the total output is deemed to be high = Cushing’s and if it’s low = Addison’s. Sounds simple right? But to say only values outside of this reference range flag a problem might just be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or urine in this case!). Especially given it has been established that humans frequently fail at correct & complete 24hr urine collection! Alternatively we can use saliva or blood assays and capture the cortisol at any given time point, comparing that to expectations based on diurnal rhythm – but again, how are the reference ranges for these ascertained and is there such as thing as low normal. high normal results for cortisol, that actually warrant follow up investigation? I’m so glad you asked.
I see a number of patients who present with possible indications of flagging adrenals: from some distinguishing, but far from definitive features, in the clinical picture, to secondary lab markers. However, when they ‘limp’ over the line with their morning blood cortisol result I am often left talking to myself in an echo chamber about the need for more follow up.
But with the RCPA a.m. reference range of 200-650 nmol/L (Some seriously wide goalposts!) and some labs even going down to 150 with their minimum acceptable level for morning cortisol…are we right to still flag hypocortisolism (for any reason) as a differential in patients with low normal results?
Well Medscape yet again delivered Christmas 🤶 early last week with the largest study to date of blood cortisol, that has narrowed what’s ‘normal’ significantly…at least in terms of how low you can go before warranting further investigation. In this study they tested blood cortisol in the morning and afternoon, in over 1200 individuals presenting at an endocrinology clinic to determine in real world terms how low is too low (and associated with an increased likelihood of genuine adrenal insufficiency). They then gave this new ‘minimum cortisol’ a bit of test-run in 2 other large cohorts of patients to check it really did work as an effective cut off and wham bang…we now have a fully validated bare minimum… and guess what…it’s 275 nmol/L in the morning and 250 nmol/L in the afternoon!
Let’s be clear, their cut-off has what’s called a low ‘positive predictive value’ – which means most people (approx 2/3) with cortisol under this cut-off, upon further investigation (typically the ACTH stimulation test) will be found to be fine. BUT the point of this study was to ensure we don’t miss patients with adrenal problems just because they have ‘within range’ cortisol…and this new cut-off delivers on that.
This is big helpful news actually. Previously with patients who had am cortisol between 150- 275 we tended to find ourselves in ‘no man’s land’ – unable to provide enough of an argument about why adrenal insufficiency should still be on the differential list but unable to abandon that suspicion entirely. Thanks Medscape! Now if all the labs, RCPA and the referring physicians can just read this study and shift their goal posts…🙄
Our Group Mentoring 2020 Doors are just…about…to…close!
So if you love labs (or want to learn to love them more), desire to be a better diagnostic detective than you already are and want truly independent mentoring in a collegiate and structured environment for next year and you haven’t applied yet…best shove your foot to hold that door open right now! We offer a range of different levels & types of special interest groups: from New Graduates & the Mental Health Primer group (for those wanting to upskill and focus on this area), from rotating case presentations in our regular groups which are a mix of funky similarly skilled clinicians, to our pure GP group…take our pick! But get in quick by emailing us right this very second: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our knowledge is subject to constant change, and it is oh so necessary to stay up to date in our field for a bazillion reasons, give or take a few 😉 So sometimes we can feel like we need eight arms (for the visual amongst us) to manage and keep up with it all. However, if we ‘use the force’ together we are stronger, learn faster and can stop with the whole ‘recreating the wheel thingo’ that so many practitioners find themselves doing out there in solo practice. Like, like…well, how confident do you feel about putting pen to paper? How good are you at your inter-professional communicating?
Referrals and inter-professional communication are just lightly touched on in the current undergraduate degrees (if at all!). But it’s actually such an important way to grow your own professional reputation while simultaneously the credibility of our whole profession. One might even argue, a pillar that stabilises the castle of shared patient-centred care & the future of true integrative health. I hear from my “New Graduates” as well as seasoned mentees about the unease that starts to creep in at the thought of writing the dreaded referral letter. I’ve been writing referral letters for 20+ years and it’s given me a lot of time to think!And refine. And refine again! To make inter-professional care a positive experience for everyone, we need to correct some misperceptions and ensure that our patients are everyone’s priority. And to fulfil our duty of care, communicating with the other practitioners on your patient’s healthcare team is fundamental. Sometimes, as you’ll learn, it’s about modelling the best kind of shared care to boot and being the bigger person 😉
Better still, positive experiences of inter-professional communication will bring collaborators out of the woodwork. Medicos and other allied health professionals you may never have been aware of otherwise, with a desire and openness to shared care tend to rise to the surface.
To get you even more excited about referral letters (you didn’t think that was going to be possible, right?!) and unlearn that Pavlovian procrastination you may have developed, Rachel has completely redesigned an older presentation to ensure it’s truly reflective of the contemporary healthcare landscape (oh yes, RACGP position statement included!). Expect to roll up your sleeves and get seriously practical advice with loads of examples about how to medico-speak naturopathic concepts, explain your role in the patient’s care, provide rationale for consideration of investigations and present ‘red flags’ with punch but minus the sensationalism. And above all else, reveal yourself as the asset you really are to the rest of the healthcare team.
“Thank you so much for a wonderful presentation yesterday, Rachel. It gave me a new perspective on how it must feel as a GP to receive incessant demands from Naturopaths/Nutritionists to order pathology for their clients. I am in awe of your integrity, desire for patient empowerment, humility and respect for other professionals in the mainstream health arena. I felt that every single naturopath and nutritionist out in the big wide world ought to have listened to your insightful words of wisdom when it comes to shared care of our clients. We are blessed to have you as our teacher.” – Michelle Blum (Mentee 2019)
If you know me, you may wonder if I’ve recently undergone a personality bypass. I am passionate about diagnostics, pride myself on ‘making the invisible visible’ through better understanding of pathology markers and confirming the true nature of the underpinning problem in order to be most effective in our management of every client. And I absolutely see that for the majority of patients ‘ knowledge is power’, so what on earth is this all about? Well, while I stand by my stubborn commitment to diagnostic sleuthing for ‘most patients most of the time’, there are occasions when I’m left wondering about the value and the likely outcome should we finally catch that elusive diagnosis by its tail…case in point:
Recently I’ve been aware of a bit of spike in ‘diagnosing’ Ehlers Danlos Syndrome for patients who present with myriad problems – from the text-book connective tissue issues (loose joints, hypermobility etc) to the seemingly more far flung like mast-cell activation syndrome and overactive pelvic floors.
Just so happens this ended up being a thought-provoking 3 way conversation. Got to love having so many wise women’s email ear..and especially such generous ones. First, I ran this case and the differential past the wisest dual qual physio/naturopath I know Alyssa Tait who specialises in pelvic conditions and any and every other bizarre – no-one-else-could-name-it, kind of conditions. And her response, breathtakingly comprehensive and punctuated by copious journal articles throughout as always, proceeded to flesh out the evidence for and against the more unusual patient features and the possibility of EDS from bladder irritability (maybe) to functional GIT disorders (definite maybe) to the dysautonomia link (patchy). But it was what she said next that struck a deep cord for me:
“This happened recently to me when I referred a very difficult Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS) patient to a GP – suddenly she had EDS as the answer to all her problems. But we can’t change genetics. All we can change is the function, and I have seen a worrying pattern of blaming the unchangeable (EDS) at the expense of looking for the changeable (e.g. an EDS patient of mine who actually had low thyroid function which had been over-looked.)
My feeling is it’s better to evaluate and treat what we see. As soon as we start giving our patients a litany of all the possible horrible ways their health is/will be pervasively affected by a completely unchangeable genetic reality (EDS), it’s a major “thought virus” that can both reinforce the “sick person” self-image and negatively impact their health-seeking behaviour – either by making them give up, ‘cause it’s all too overwhelming, or to follow an infinite journey through rabbit holes that make health their hobby rather than experiencing their life and relationships to the full.”
So back I went to the original practitioner who was contemplating chasing this EDS diagnosis in her patient and she was not short on some of her own wisdom. Like many people who end up working in health Gabby battled her way out of her own ‘no-one-cold name-it’ health crisis before training to be a naturopath. So understandably she sees both sides:
“As a terrified 20 something who kept ending up in the emergency ward with flares – I desperately wanted to know what was wrong with me, why it was happening, why I was in so much pain and why at the time no-one could tell me. I remember being about 28 asking my Prof (of immunology) whether what I had was going to kill me. He said ‘If you want me to be honest I’m really not sure at the moment darling but I’ll do my absolute best to take care of you’. That answer changed my life. Now as a Nat with a history of chronic conditions – I can see managing the symptoms is probably really all you need plus regular monitoring. Which is what I do for myself and many of my clients. The hurdle is getting over the lack of trust these clients feel after years and YEARS of being misdiagnosed and fearing for their lives.”
So..I’m asking us all again..is a diagnosis always helpful? Perhaps with each patient we need to think this through afresh? Thanks wise women 😉
There’s a significant increase in the number of women in their 20s to 50s presenting with ‘atypical’ joint pain, that seems hard for specialists to diagnose and therefore, hard for any of us to know how best to treat. If we listen closely to these patients, however, they are often telling us that their, ‘gut isn’t right’. It doesn’t tend to grab so much attention but maybe it should! We examine 3 ‘atypical’ arthropathies that can have GIT symptoms and arguably may represent a key driver of their joint pain. The different clinical pictures & targeted investigations for these big 3 together with some key papers are covered in this audio.
With the increasing weight of evidence pointing to a potent pathogenic portal between our mouths and every other part of the body, whether that be in terms of cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, appendicitis, even a growing case for Alzheimer’s disease, we need to ensure we’re not overlooking the condition of each patient’s oral cavity. I got very excited about the recent Medscape article: A rapid non-invasive tool for periodontitis screening in a medical care setting. It’s true, I live a quiet life 😉 But seriously, a validated tool for all non-dentists to accurately pick up on the likelihood of this condition would be a nifty little thing indeed, so we can narrow down just who we quick-march off the dentist as well as understand their whole health story. But then I read the 8 actual questions which included gems such as: Do you think you have gum disease? and Have you ever had treatment for gum disease such as scaling and root planing, sometimes called “deep cleaning”? I thought, ok, this is not rocket (dental) science.
But that’s the point, I guess, right?
So while I encourage you to check out & employ this screening tool by all means, we can also be reassured that just by ensuring that when we ask about someone’s digestion (and when don’t we?!) we start at the very top of the tube, we’re doing a good job!! As my new grad mentees learnt this year…following the patient’s GIT from mouth to south anatomically, is my rather simplistic way of guaranteeing I cover everything digestive..without using formal consultation script. So in the case of the mouth, my questions include things like: last trip to the dentist; any prior dental diagnoses, number of amalgams, implants, root canals etc & their routine dental care techniques, any signs of bleeding on brushing & all foods they avoid for dental or oral reasons? Look, it hasn’t undergone the rigorous validation that the Self-Reported Oral Health Questionnaire has..but I think it’s a good start.
Whether we’re being picky about pathogens and exactly how they got access to the rest of the body (and gums make a great entry point!!) or just concerned about chronic low level inflammation, a ‘gurgling’ CRP between 1-5 in an otherwise ‘healthy adult’, picking up on periodontitis is a pivotal.
Oh and if you’ve ever wondered about possible health implications from mouth metals other than amalgams…don’t worry, soon I’ll be getting to that with a forthcoming UU30.
Want to hear more about how certain microbiota (from the mouth to the south) are being implicated in joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis and how we can investigate these individuals?Getting to the Guts of Women with Joint Pain is a recent UU30 instalment that gets down & dirty on the detail.
I’ve had a bit of ‘a bee in my bonnet’ this year. I heard that! Ok, arguably it extends a little further back…like my whole career! But if you’ve seen the topics I’ve been speaking on at conferences in recent months, you’ll know exactly the soapbox I’ve climbed up onto. Inter-professional communication & collaboration. My particular focus (naturally 😉 ) has been current issues regarding the sharing of, and access to, pathology results for our shared-care patients. However, in the face of several distinct threats to the practise of both naturopathy and medicine in Australia of late, especially in the form of anti-collaborative rhetoric/push affecting both professions right now (read PHI reforms, promptly followed by proposed MBA review..if you haven’t read this regressive and repressive set of recommendations you seriously must), the question of how to improve collaboration in order to ultimately serve our patients better, has never been more urgent.
Last week, at the ICCMR conference, I outlined the current barriers for naturopaths to accessing patients’ pathology results (current and historical) and the heightened risks that this results in, either because of incomplete information or because of the subsequent direct pathology referring by naturopaths. Yes, bypassing the GP and another set of trained eyes on your patients labs comes with risks. I also spoke to the opportunities that await us if we can overcome this: in terms of improved patient outcomes, reduced risk, more economically responsible public health budget spending etc. etc. need I go on?! In the Q & A following my presentation, a doctor in the audience made two very important contributions, which deserve some additional air…she said:
“Shouldn’t the patient ultimately own their own pathology results? Then it would be a case of them electing who has access to these: their GP, their naturopath, their osteopath. Rather than the other way around – after all, we are all supposed to be members of their health care team, right?”
She said it. Not me. But I applaud her. She’s right of course. Right now, under the current proposed changes, we and integrative health care delivery and patients’ right to choose and self-direct their healthcare and public health budgetary burden…are all under threat of de-evolving. Right at the time when, with the current chronic disease burden and predicted public health budget blowouts, it should be all hands to the pump! Who has ever conducted a cost-benefit analysis of what integrative health care (successful patient sharing between naturopaths and GPs /specialists) saves the government? No one is my guess and when I proposed I do exactly this for my PhD on a particular parameter some years back, I was not so subtly told, that in spite of a great application, given the primary funding of the research group was from government, and a clear conflict of interest with the head researcher who was also a government advisor, ” my proposal was not in line with the current directives”. Yep.
Last week, a dear mentee of mine mentioned that a GP one of her patients sees responded to her respectful correspondence regarding their shared patient with absolute terror, citing possible de-registration if they are seen to be collaborating or interacting with her in any way…assuming the MBA changes go through. This doctor then decided the lesser risk, was to cease communication with this other key member of the patient’s health care team, not refer the patient for any follow up investigations (including those representative of basic duty of care) and certainly not enable access to any pathology results for this patient from the past or in the future. My mentee’s exemplary response to this doctor:
“My apologies for placing you in an uncomfortable position. I do understand the restrictions and guidelines GPs must work within for Medicare and AHPRA and understand that as you are the requesting practitioner you are liable for any pathology referred for. I make this clear to all my patients and that my referrals are on a request base only and it is up to yourself or the requesting GP for the final decision. I only try and request pathology through a GP or other medical practitioner to try and minimise both risks (of only myself viewing these labs) and unnecessary costs to the patient.
…’X’ has currently been seeking medical and alternative treatment for over 2 years and yet has had no change, if not a worsening of his condition and when I saw them 2 weeks ago, it was my understanding that not even basic assessment of full blood count, liver function and other general health markers had been completed. I had advised X that not all pathology may be covered under Medicare, and to come back to me so I could send him privately for those tests not able to be completed under Medicare. My apologies this was not made clear to you at the time of his appointment.
I take pride in my evidence-based approach to nutritional health in my practice, and work frequently with other patients’ medical practitioners in supporting their health. Thank you for your time and I appreciate your thoughts on this matter”
If the patients’ best interests are no longer the primary goal, as decided by bureaucrats, both government and organisational, is it time to ask the actual health professionals to please stand up?! Is it tipi-talk time for practitioners from all disciplines? Growl over.
Want to ensure you are writing professionally to other health care practitioners? Then our recording and resource Dear Doctor, is for you!
In this 45min podcast Rachel succinctly covers the serious Do’s and Don’ts for your professional letter writing. Rachel gives step-by-step instructions and examples for key phrasing and clear medical justifications, what terms to use when in order to come across respectfully, and how to present urgent red flags without sensationalising. This podcast is will help your professional letters improve collaboration for you and your patients need.
Let’s talk turkey about our pharmaceutical Pet Hates, mine are Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). They irk me more than any other drug class. It’s not entirely rational. Let’s face it, they have some stiff competition but for some reason, in my mind, they almost always win: helping so little & at such a high cost to patients. What fuels my fire of course is their over-prescription, followed closely by the complete disregard for the prescribing guidelines which state:
“When clinically indicated, PPIs should be used for the shortest duration necessary and chronic use is not recommended except for treatment of pathological hypersecretory conditions including Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and maintenance healing of erosive oesophagitis.”
Sorry…did I hear you correctly?Chronic use is not recommended – yet this is one of the drugs most commonly on ‘set and forget mode’ in general practice. To boot, their chronic use has been associated with a number of serious concerns, which I’ve touched on before, from osteoporosis to increased rates of GIT infections. not to mention just the little ol’ detail of malabsorption of multiple nutrients! But this week, yet another health concern has popped up and into my inbox…and well..I found myself shouting at the medical newsfeed on my screen…[again] 🙁
“In their analysis, more than 42,500 adverse events reported to the US Food and Drug Administration by patients on PPI monotherapy were compared with more than 8300 reports from patients on histamine-2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs)….Patients on PPIs alone were 28 times more likely to report chronic kidney disease than those taking H2RAs, while the frequency of acute kidney injury reports was around four times higher…Reports of end-stage renal disease were 35-fold higher among PPI users, while reports of renal nephrolithiasis were three times higher”
To be clear, while these increased rates are TERRIBLE and unacceptable in the context of the ‘set and forget’ prescribing that seems it be rife in most countries, they still only effect a small % of patients e.g. approx 5% of patients had adverse renal effects on PPIs Vs 1% on the older generation H2 blockers for reflux but it’s yet another reason (like we needed more?!) to think twice before our patients are initiated on these meds, which are presented to patients as being benign. Typically with drug development, the older drugs in a class are superseded by newer ones that are ‘cleaner’, and therefore more effective with less adverse effects but this is one situation where if one of my patients really did need a med, I would say out with the new and in with the old!
One scenario where PPIs in combo with multiple antibiotics get routinely rolled out is of course H.pylori infections. But does this make sense??
For a bacteria identified just a few decades ago as being a cause of chronic gastritis, atrophic gastritis and gastric carcinoma, the escalation of number of antibiotics used to eradicate it (4 at last count + PPI) has been nothing short of breathtaking. A management approach more consistent with both integrative medicine and with an improved understanding of the delicate microbiome focuses on changing the gastric environment to ‘remove the welcome mat’. What do we know about how to do this successfully? It turns out…quite a lot. You can find out here with our previous UU30: H.pylori- Eradicate or Rehabilitate?
So you’ve gone to all the effort. Be that writing referral letters suggesting some pathology investigations might be warranted or you’ve coached your patients endlessly to get copies of ones done elsewhere so that you may be privy to their findings. Worse still, you’ve directly requested the pathology, with your patient paying out of pocket for the tests. Then the results come in and they look…well wrong. You, as the conscientious clinician, typically do 3 things:
Step 1 Spend hours pouring over & over the labs and back over the case notes
Step 2 Worry about the new differential diagnoses that are now suddenly seemingly a possibility in your patient. It doesn’t look good.
Step 3 Doubt your own pathology reading ability, ‘Hey maybe I just don’t understand these bloods like I thought I did’
But (often)…it’s not you, it’s them.
And that’s what I often explain to practitioners who contact me (step 4). You see sometimes what they’re losing sleep over are what I call, Bad Bloods. Occasionally, the fault of the pathology company…but way way way more often the fault of the patient and the referring practitioner, who has not educated the patient correctly about what to do and not do prior to blood collection for certain tests. I am excited to see how many practitioners are competent with pathology reading these days and building their skills and confidence all the time, that’s why it is so so disheartening for the practitioners (and for me as a mother hen mentor) when they lose time (& sleep) getting to Step 3 when they should be able to spot ‘Bad Bloods’ fast. There are 7 classic give-away patterns.
Will are unlikely to know every quirk of every blood test our patients will ever have done, but knowing what constitutes the ideal time and conditions for the most commonly performed ones, can go a long way to minimising any future Bad Bloods between you and patient as well. This includes things like exercise, alcohol intake, duration fasting and even sexual intimacy…yup!
This month’s Update in Under 30 installment Beware of Bad Bloodsteaches you the 7 patterns to watch for and provides you with a great resource stipulating the best collection conditions for the most common blood tests. Don’t let Bad Blood come between you and your patient, the right diagnosis & management or just some well-deserved sleep!
Good practitioners are being led to bad conclusions by some patients’ pathology results. Not because they can’t interpret them or the testing has no merit but because they just don’t know when to discard a set because they are ‘bad’. Occasionally, the fault of the pathology company but much more often the fault of the patient and the referring practitioner, who has not educated the patient correctly about what to do and not do prior to blood collection for certain tests. This recording clearly describes the 7 classic give-away patterns of ‘Bad Bloods’ which will enable you to spot them fast in the future. In addition to this. while we are unlikely to know the idiosyncrasies of very lab our patients will ever have done, knowing the ideal collection times and conditions for the most common ones assists you and your patients to avoid any in the future – handy clinic resource included.
Never say never, right. Back in my old uni teaching days, I scorned the very notion of treating someone with ‘actual melatonin’. Always in favour of upstream approaches over downstream, I was keen instead to give patients the ‘ingredients & cofactors’ so they could whip the right amount up themselves. Well fast forward another decade in clinical experience, and research too, and while I refuse to give in with many other ‘replacement remedies’, melatonin, has snuck well and truly into my list of treatment considerations for some very specific presentations such as silent reflux, treatment refractory GORD and Barrett’s oesophagus, buoyed by some amazing clinical successes. So much so…that in fact I’ve embraced this replacement approach, whose results in this setting especially, can’t be replicated by treating with ingredients and cofactors. Turns out of course I am not alone – melatonin has won a lot of fans over the last decade.
A recent Australian article from 6 minutesrevealed a significant increase in GPs prescribing melatonin for sleeping issues in children and then of course, there is its substantial use in cancer and typically at mega-doses that will make your toes curl.
But always in the back of my mind is the old me. Whispering things like, ‘ but melatonin isn’t a nutrient, nor a herb, so it’s not naturopathic’ – hence we can’t even prescribe it, needing to refer patients to others for access and yet more pressing, ‘what do we really know about the full implications of replacing such a potent and ubiquitous neurotransmitter?’ I know. This old me, she’s annoying, right.
“While this review reveals a high degree of safety for melatonin with few adverse events that cannot be easily avoided or managed in most populations, it also reveals lack of clarity regarding melatonin’s relationship to endocrine processes, and its effect on hypertensive patients and potential drug interactions in this population.”
But the devil is in the detail.
So here’s a newsflash for you – 4 human studies found melatonin had negative effects on key aspects of reproduction, like sperm counts and ovulation and not at mega-doses my friends, no…at 2mg/d over several months. We shouldn’t be surprised, right, melatonin is critical to fertility cycles in all other animals…but how many health professionals know this, or not just know it…but make our recommendations with this in mind? Other studies reported fascinating impacts on insulin sensitivity (5mg) and amazingly, (or not being the king of all things circadian), opposing effects depending on the time of administration. Then there’s the drug interaction with anti-hypertensives…a negative one, I must add. No information still unfortunately about the impact of long-term replacement on our own endogenous production. Anyway…enough spoilers… READ THE ARTICLE. This hasn’t wiped melatonin off my list of potential recommendations all together but it has given me some serious food for thought and much greater clarity about in whom this suggestion should be off the menu.
‘Melatonin – Misunderstandings and Mistakes’ – this important 2017 clinical update about what we are getting right and wrong with Melatonin answers in particular, one of the most common sources of fascination & frustration for clinicians, the reasons behind the Melatonin non-responder. We’ve all encountered patients who have taken Melatonin for sleep problems and reported no benefit, or initially responded and then lost efficacy quickly, or even patients who experienced insomnia after taking. What does this tell you about your patient and what should you do to resolve this and better still, prevent it? This UU30 from 2017 reveals all!
Finally a systematic review puts paid to the nonsense that ‘withdrawal from antidepressants’ is problematic only for a few, is ‘mild’ & ‘lasts only 1-2 weeks’ with no treatment necessary other than reassurance, which is still being perpetuated by current prescribing guidelines both here and overseas. In fact their review found that 56% of patients experienced problems with stopping antidepressants and the majority of these rated these as ‘severe’. Back in the good/bad old days when I worked for a pharmaceutical company who made psych meds the phenomenon of an ‘initiation phase’ during which time suicidal risk was heightened, was acknowledged and freely discussed…in-house at least. However, the concept of a ‘withdrawal syndrome’ was less clear. Anyone who has witnessed patients coming off ‘even the cleanest’ SSRIs will speak to a potential myriad of worrisome experiences including…
“Typical AD withdrawal reactions includeincreased anxiety, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, imbalance, sensory disturbances, and hyperarousal. Dizziness, electric shock-like sensations, brain zaps, diarrhoea, headaches, muscle spasms and tremors, agitation, hallucinations, confusion, malaise, sweatingand irritability are also reported (Warner, Bobo, Warner, Reid, & Rachal, 2006, Healy, 2012). Although the aforementioned symptoms are the most common physical symptoms, there is also evidence that AD withdrawal can induce mania and hypomania, (Goldstein et al., 1999; Naryan & Haddad, 2011) emotional blunting and an inability to cry, (Holguin-Lew & Bell, 2013) long-term or even permanent sexual dysfunction (Csoka & Shipko, 2006).”
Previously termed ‘discontinuation syndrome’ by expert panels – to distinguish these inconvenient effects from the more seriously viewed (read nasty) benzo-associated discontinuation problems – was an act of smoke and mirrors, according to this scathing and insightful review by Davies and Read, who argue strongly this is a clear cut withdrawal picture and it deserves as much consideration and concern. In particular they point out that of course, patients can experience these symptoms even without ‘discontinuation’ – but simply as a result of a delayed or skipped dose, an intentional dose reduction etc. And they provide the alarming context that one third of people in the U.K. (and likely similar developed countries) who take antidepressants for more than two years have no evidence-based clinical indications for continuing to take them. But wait..I’m just getting to the worst bit, this is the part that gets me personally…having been a peddler in the past of these meds and in certain patients still spruiking their benefits, I am in no disagreement about them being necessary, helpful & even life-savers in some patients…yes I have seen this too many times to ignore it…BUT…and now this is where I start raising my voice a tad….
Patients need to make informed choices, and having a clear understanding of what you are likely to experience on any given medication has been shown to improve outcomes but according to the 2 largest surveys conducted to date,< 2% of antidepressant users are being told any of this. Do you know why? Well, let’s start with the misleading guidelines… if the RACGP says it isn’t so…then can we expect their GP to know or say any differently?
Grrrrrrrr…. yes that’s me…not a wild animal in the room with you.
Because you know what happens in the absence of this?! And let me say I have also seen this too many times to ignore as well, people feel compelled to stay on them & this is truly heartbreaking to witness. The experience of a reduced dose or a period without is so terrifyingly disconcerting to that poor unsuspecting individual, and without explanation, is misinterpreted by them (and according to this review often by their doctor as well!!) as being either a sign of their inherent mental instability and need for ongoing medication, or misdiagnosed as a separate condition. Ok…apologies, this is over a decade of pent up frustration…resurfacing as a result of reading this incredibly important and disturbing review. I think I need a little lie down now 🙁
Helping patients off anti-depressants is a challenging and important function that must be initiated by the patient with the full support of the prescribing practitioner, however there’s a role for complementary medicine here too. Rachel walks you through a range of strategies and when you might consider each. Listen to thefree samplehere from the Update in Under 30 from 2013 – Leaving Anti-depressants Behind. Or perhaps you’re interested in all things Mental Health and should find out more about our specialist mentoring group running in 2019.
As an avid reader of medical news I face a barrage of headlines both domestic & international everyday. I feel this is important for many reasons – not just so that I know what’s being said about their medicine but what they’re saying about ours as well! Anyone see the jaw-dropping headline last week: Could Probiotics be bad for your gut? Yep.
Now how many of you didn’t make it past the headline? It’s hard isn’t it.
There’s almost a reflexive shutdown for many of us to dismiss such a proposition as simply ‘ridiculous’, surely on par with our response to an article from a climate skeptic…as we shake our heads with ‘you gotta be joking right?’… but unless we read on, we’ll never know. (more…)
Not long ago, Kathryn Simpson and I were sharing a hotel room on yet another work trip to somewhere. The lights were out, it was way past our bedtime and we were just gasbagging incessantly like a couple of teens, when a thought pops into my head:
“Hey Kathryn, back when you were my student, did you ever imagine this scenario in the future – you know us being colleagues and friends and having slumber parties full of laughing?”, she replied, “Well no, but you know what I REALLY never could have imagined in my wildest dreams…the Australian Naturopathic Summit and you inviting me to be a co-founder of something that’s had such a big impact! That one I just didn’t see coming!”
Well to be honest, neither did I but sometimes I just have an idea that won’t leave me alone and is too important and too promising to ignore. Three years ago when I shared one of these, the vision of a national naturopathic conference by naturopaths for naturopaths, that would lift us all professionally, offer collaboration over competition and provide us the highest level of non-biased education, with Nirala Jacobi, turned out she’d been visited by the same thought bubble. Then I approached Kathryn, who was working for me at the time and pretty fresh out of uni but full of passion and drive about building a better ‘new’ naturopathic career path, one that supported rather than splintered those emerging out of great courses into a harsh, challenging professional space.
Time-travel forward to now, we are just 10 weeks(ish) out from erecting the chai tent, marquees and lanterns, for the second inception of this extraordinary thing called the Australian Naturopathic Summit24-26th August at Lennox Head.
This is the culmination of 3 years of work from us, one paid project manager and the exceptional generosity of over 25 of our naturopathic idols, thought leaders and torch bearers who are donating their time to present plenaries, workshops, case studies, panel discussions… because they believe so strongly in the cause and the need for such an event.
If you think I am running out of breath between all these words..I am. This thing…has taken on a shape and life much greater than even we had envisioned.
If you follow the work I do – you’ll know that I am passionate about collaboration over competition. I could never have come to this place in my career without the input of many (some who remain on speed dial even now!) and through my mentoring programs, the infamous RAN internship and hopefully times we’ve come across each other…I’ve encouraged you to do the same and by doing so, grow bigger together. So just imagine the value of collaborating face-to-face…over 3 days…at a festival in Lennox Heads… ? And not just for 1 hour, but for 3 full days with 100’s of other practitioners from all areas, specialities and locations. Oh and if you’re thinking you’ll just have to wait ’til the next one’…SPOILER…there is no guarantee of a next one! Being a passion project that we 3 donate our time to, for you, it requires your support to keep it going.
So with saying all that…..(cajon roll…that’s a drum for you non-hippies)….It is with great excitement and enthusiasm that today I can announce a special deal for RAN subscribers. Yes….that’s you! Just like myself you all see a need to grow and build skills, knowledge, competence and confidence in the practice of naturopathic medicine. Come join the very best of your profession and take up this special offer to attend the second independent Australian Naturopathic Summit held in Lennox Head on 24-26 August.
To get 15% off a full 3 day pass enter Festival at the checkout
This summit is unprecedented in Australia for the following reasons:
It is free from commercial bias
It is about professional development, improving our practices and career paths, not products
The primary objective is to support the Australian Naturopathic community, celebrating our diversity and creating a platform for our own Naturopathic torch-bearers in various areas (Practice, Research, Herbal Manufacture, Corporate Health, Entrepreneurship etc.) to help light the way for the broader professional community
This year our theme for ANS 2018 is ‘Coming Together On Common Ground’ Naturopathy has many different practices and paths, but we all work for the same purpose, guided by the same principles.
Saturday 25 August: Upskilling Your Clinical Practice
Sunday 26 August: The Business of Business Development
The morning of each day consists of plenary sessions followed by a lengthy lunch break that allows for networking, beach walking, guided outdoor meditation, perusing the vendor village, or simply enjoying the festival atmosphere in the beautiful outdoor location that our summit is surrounded by OR for those die-hards some amazing case studies presented by the likes of Jason Hawrelak, Dawn Whitten and Sandra Villella. Afternoon sessions are workshop-style, designed to be more interactive. There are plenty of workshops to choose from to keep you riveted and inspired.
We have created a jam-packed program to do just that. Download your copy of the fullprogram here! ANS 2018 – come join the very best of your profession.
Quite the month for it, I hear. My inbox has run hot with practitioners deeply concerned about some serious finger pointing that’s been going on.
The fingers in these instances have belonged to medical practitioners and the direction they’re all pointing, is seemingly at any complementary medicine their shared patient is taking.
Here’s a couple of good examples: “Your high blood pressure is the result of the combined mineral formula you’re taking!” These were the words of a GP to a 50 something female patient when he discovered she was taking a calcium, magnesium, potassium containing formula. The patient was hypertensive at the initial appointment, at which time the naturopath encouraged her to actually seek review, assessment and prescription of an anti-hypertensive, however the patient declined. The nutritional prescription was recommended in response to high acidity (raised anion gap) and prematurely low GFR (impaired renal function). Patient’s HBP continued to be problematic so the next doctor she sees, points the finger and says, it must be this product!
Would anyone like to explain that to me? In fact, that was my advice back to this very concerned and understandably rattled practitioner…just to cordially request the GP to outline the mechanism by which this might occur. (more…)
I was just reading the results of a spot Facebook poll of GPs asking what the most wonderful medications ever invented are. Once everyone got the customary “caffeine” gag out of the way, the rest of the nominations and auspicious award winners unfolded like a who’s who of the modern medicine prescription pad. Naturally, Penicillin took out first prize (no surprises there unless you’ve been living under a rock…a very clean sterilised one at that that!), one vaccine made the top 10 but I thought there were a few unexpecteds in here:
1. Penicillin“Because of it, entire nations can now afford to worry more about diseases of old age rather than infection. Penicillin’s success ushered in the era of modern pharmacology. To be fair, alongside antibiotics were profound improvements in housing and sanitation.”
2.Smallpox vaccine according to the author of this poll Dr. Justin Coleman,”was a triumph of research, pharmaceuticals, human cooperation and public health planning.”
3. Contraceptive pill for changing the lives of women all around the world. True but BOY does it change it for the worse in some!! (more…)
If you receive the free Medical Observer newsfeeds you’ll know what I’m talking about. Here are some recent headlines:
I stand accused of rorting Medicare. This is what it’s like
A GP is sued after doing everything right — except her notes
After-hours funding shakeup
‘We’re becoming unviable,’ says GP hit with $22K e-PIP repayment
This Christmas I wish for doctors to feel valued again
So the answer is, probably. Tales direct from the trenches that I hear from GPs, suggest it is increasingly difficult to make a living without adhering to a crazy volume of <10min appts, without being sued (too often) or dragged in front of AMA or APRHA. I hear them and know that the increased pressure is coming from multiple angles and I think it is very sad that previously such a respected and valued role in society appears to be ‘losing its value’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the old ‘Doctor as God’ model and think it ‘s very unhealthy actually for patients, but I feel like GPs with all their extensive training, knowledge and expertise are in urgent need of an Oprahesque ‘new dawn’! (more…)
No this is not a joke. The room they enter happens to be the clinic space of a practitioner I mentor. The older women are friends, both originally from the UK and they sit in on one another’s consultations sharing many of the same experiences: grief over loved ones lost, memories, laughter and both describe waking in the morning with a sense of dread, because they’re tired, feel they’ve lost their oomph, their motivation, their chutzpah…that’s mostly why they’ve come today.
But know what else these two have in common? (more…)
May was the month of teenage girls presenting with severe digestive problems, especially ‘food intolerances’, leading to avoidance of specific foods and at times significantly reduced food intake overall. As integrative health practitioners, validating and creating insight for clients on the nature and source of their food reactions is our bread and butter, right? Is it wheat? Dairy? Gluten? FODMAPs? Salicylates? Oxalates? We are not surprised by how many ‘sick’ patients we see in spite of a theoretically ‘healthy diet’ – healthy for others perhaps but not for the individual in front of you, right? But what if I told you that each of these teenage girls had a BMI < 18 kg/m2, does that change your opinion about your role? Would you assess, monitor and manage these teenage girls differently? You should.
Take the example of one of my clients: 14yo female with a BMI 16.3, who had her first confirmed food reaction under 2yo with failure to thrive, which was attributed by a paediatrician & dietitian at the time to severe salicylate sensitivity. She underwent jejunal biopsy at 3yo for suspected coeliac disease, due to ongoing concerns and a primary relative with CD but it was NAD. In the 11 years since, there have been a couple of other digestive diagnoses based on solid evidence, such as mainstream stool PCR testing. So surely, the fact that she is underweight & that she skips lunch at school due to digestive discomfort is proportionate and explained by her organic digestive issues. Or is it?(more…)
Just back from a truly wonderful Australasian Integrative Medical Association (AIMA) conference in NZ. I don’t know what it is about the land of the long white cloud but they seem to produce some of the loveliest, most earnest health practitioners and this conference reflects this, setting itself apart each year as a result of its very organic mix of speakers (general practitioners, naturopaths, nurses, specialists) who are all equally embraced and lauded. To boot we had medical students invited to attend this year and guess what, these 20 or so med students…they stayed for the full weekend much to everyone’s surprise(!), loved it and want more. Really. At the AIMA NZ conference, on the two occasions I have spoken, I feel a sense of coming home…no I don’t mean I am about to move there (too cold!!) but I mean coming home to integrative medicine.(more…)
Often we assume our patients know at least the basics about health – especially about things soooo seemingly basic…that we fear mentioning them would offend and make us look like someone trying to teach grandma anything! But there are some instances where I’ve found I have simply assumed too much.
I think the issue of what I affectionately call ‘Vag Care’, is right up there as an example.
Soapy water? Female deodorisers, daily panty liners, re-enacting bad movie scenes with soapy suds sex…what the??? It’s been my astonishing discovery that women of all ages, but especially a frightening majority of younger females (<30 yo), in this time of increasingly unreal ideas about sex and sexuality, feel inclined or pressured to adopt these practices in order to erase all trace of natural odour and healthy discharge. The abnormal has become normalised. (more…)
I became interested in working in mental health not entirely of my own free will. I guess you could say, it had made it’s way into my world via family members and friends as well as my own problems when I was younger. So when I was at uni and I came across any information about mental illness, whether it was pathology or prescription, it was when I undoubtedly resonated most strongly with what I was learning. I’ve had some great opportunities throughout my career to feed my interest, met some wonderful mentors and some other powerful teachers who were often my patients. It’s now become a running joke among my teenage children that all my friends are either psychologists or have some sort of mental health diagnosis, ‘…and what does that say about you?’ they love to add teasingly. Well it says a lot probably: that I enjoy people who are comfortable talking about the psychology of our lives and ourselves, that I deeply appreciate that to be human is to suffer and we all suffer it’s just a question of degrees and the bravest of us share that with others. Lastly, I think it tells you that I live in the real world with real people 🙂(more…)