Home > Archive: October, 2014

Archive for October, 2014

Functional Medicine and Making a big Change to my Diet

October 12th, 2014 at 09:55 pm

The other thing I have been obsessed with this summer, besides long term care insurance and job hunting (expecting more interviews after the 10/15 tax extenstion deadline....things have been a little quiet on that front for the past couple of weeks, as prospective employers are busy) is learning about functional/integrative medicine.

My interest is the result of serendipity. Earlier this summer, I started attending the twice-monthly networking events offered by a local small business marketing professional, since I am hoping to work for a small business servicing other small businesses. The very first meeting I attended included the business director for a chiropracter who was offering a free talk that night on thyroid issues.

My thyroid tests have always come back as normal, but both my sister and mother are (were) on Synthroid, and I've long known that loss of the outer third of one's eyebrows is a signal of thyroid issues, and I have that, so I decided to go to the talk, where I learned that the thyroid affects everything else in your body since every cell has thyroid hormone receptors. At the end of the talk, the doctor offered a two-visit assessment for $100 that he normally charged $450 for, so I decided to see what my results would be.

The blood tests that he ordered were different than the thyroid test ordered by my doctor, which I learned is typical. Most doctors just assess TSH and T3/T4 levels, but ignore the thyroid antibodies. My results came back indicating normal (but relatively low) thyroid levels, but an elevation in one of the antibodies, suggestive of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system destroys your thyoid.

When I talked about the results with my sister, she said that her doctor said that it wasn't worth testing her for Hashi's, since her thyroid levels were low anyways, and the treatment would be the same. I have since learned that this is the conventional medical approach: wait until a disorder becomes severe enough that the patient develops symptoms, then give them drugs. If the drugs cause other symptoms, then use other drugs to combat those new symptoms.

While I can't currently afford the chiropracter's program (he suggested a six-month program of additional testing, dietary changes, supplements, etc), I got enough information from him to begin reading and making changes on my own.

The most important thing I learned is that Hashi's is reversible, if caught before the thyroid has been destroyed by the autoimmune reaction. The conventional medicine approach completely ignores this possibility--very distressing! Most patients never learn that their thyroid is in danger until it is too late and the thyroid has been destroyed, because conventional medicine focuses so much on symtoms and not causes, and considers things "normal" until they are acutely out of whack.

I learned from the chiropracter that most people with Hashi's have "leaky gut" syndrome and should go on a gluten-free diet, so I put myself on that immediately. I also am gradually working to greatly reduce all grains, and am considering, at least temporarily, eliminating grains and legumes, following the suggestions of the Autoimmune Paleo diet. I also learned that low stomach acid tends to be associated with these conditions and to make the problem worse, so I started taking betaine pills with high-protein meals.

I also learned that a vegan diet generally does not work well for people trying to reverse autoimmune disease.

This is distressing because I have been basically vegan (vegan at home, vegetarian away from home) for over two years now.

But I became vegan in order to address some annoying health problems (a big increase in my seasonal allergies and asthma starting three years ago), and the vegan diet has not resolved those problems.

I also found out from the tests that the chiropracter ordered that my ferritin (iron store) levels were quite low, at the bottom of the normal spectrum, and, distressingly, significantly lower than the last time they were tested. I have noticed for the past couple of years that my late-afternoon fatigue has been more severe, and that I don't feel as well-rested upon waking as I used to, and low ferritin levels are the likely cause of this.

I've also read enough now in the functional/integrative medicine literature to see that issues like leaky gut, ferritin levels, vitamin D levels, stomach acid levels, and symptoms, including asthma symptoms, can all be tied together, and the root cause starts with getting your gut in order, since the majority of your immune system is actually housed in your gut.

So deciding to abandon my vegan diet (especially after having been at least somewhat vocal in support of it on facebook) is causing me a great deal of cognitive dissonance, but is something I've decided to do at least temporarily. I've started by beginning to eat fish for the past month, and am contemplating whether or not to add in other meat sources as well. I also have been taking increased iron supplements, and before I decide whether or not to make further dietary changes, I'm having myself tested again for the thyroid antibodies and iron levels. I'm hoping that 6-8 weeks of being gluten free and taking increased supplements will be enough to show some positive changes on those indicators. If not, I'll consider making more "meaty" changes--though the idea of "bone broths" and particularly the organ meats that are suggested in some of these protocols turn my stomach. I don't think I'll ever go as far as to eat organ meat or make my own bone broth. But a weekly grass-fed steak I am willing to consider. In the meantime, I have fingers crossed that the changes I've made to date will show some beneficial effect.

Long Term Care Insurance

October 12th, 2014 at 09:10 pm

Long Term Care Insurance

My big financial accomplishment for the year (part of my getting organized goal) has been to enroll in a long-term care insurance policy. This was something that took a couple of months to accomplish.

I started with research, first on the internet, and then reading a couple of books. Then I went to einsurance and asked to contact brokers for these policies. No sooner had I pressed "return" on my request than my phone rang!

I ended up getting estimates from half a dozen different brokers, and sitting through sessions with three of them. This was worth the time for me since I learned something different from each new broker.

The most important factor in my decision was choosing the company. You want a company that is highly rated by the various raters (Moody's, S&P, AM Best, & Fitch), since you won't be using the policy for a decade or two or three. Then I learned about the difference between "mutual" insurance companies and the others: "Mutual" companies are owned by their shareholders (like credit unions) and thus have much less of a history of rate increases. So I ended up going with Mass Mutual. Once I had made that decision, I have a friend locally who works for them, so I decided to give her my business rather than one of the on-line brokers, even though some of those were quite helpful.

Having chosen a company, I then had to decide the daily benefit rate, the term that the policy would cover me for, and the inflation rider. Some companies have other options that you can pay riders for as well, for example, having a monthly rather than daily benefit, which gives you a little more flexibility in your spending if you use the policy. I ended up choosing a $250 daily benefit, a two-year term, and a 3% rider. The first two of those were based on average cost/use statistics for non-Alzheimers patients (people with Alzheimers tend to be in facilities longer, but there is no history of this in my family) as well as knowing the terminal health histories of my parents and grandparents. The 3% rider was based on cost--it ended up costing me just slightly more than 50% of the total premium! Back when my mother bought her policy in the early 1990s, 5% riders were affordable, but these days, they cost signficantly more than the cost of the policy itself.

While from a personal perspective (since I am currently unemployed), this was not an optimal time to buy a policy, buying one now made sense to me for a number of reasons: the older one gets, the worse one's health tends to be and the harder it can be to get a policy, so I might as well get one while I am relatively healthy; also, for each year one waits, the cost increases 3-4% based on your age. Also, this is a time of turmoil and change in the industry: several former key players such as Prudential have pulled out (they service their current policyholders but will not sell new policies), and most of the companies are changing from equal rates for men and women to a gender-segregated system, where it costs significantly more for women to buy policies than men because women use more of the care. I had the time to do the research now, and while I don't have the money from my current earnings, I do have an inherited IRA with a required minimum distribution that is more than the policy cost, and I think that my mother would approve of my using the money for this purpose.

Also, since I currently pay for my own health insurance and have a mortgage, I itemize on my taxes and have recently been able to take a deduction for medical expenses. This expense will count towards that as long as my income is still relatively low. Once I earn more and if I ever again have employer-provided insurance, I probably won't be able to deduct this, but at least then I'll be in better financial circumstances overall.

In recent years, I've seen my mother and several friends/acquaintences as well as clients end up in assisted living facilities or with home health care workers, and this has probably made me more attuned to this issue than most people my age (54).

At any rate, another item on my "getting organized list" taken care of. I also found a friend to be my durable power of attorney for healthcare, and before years' end, I hope to get the POAs for health and medical as well as a will set up.