By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
A large part of what I do in my practice is interpret people’s symptoms. We have been taught to look at symptoms as the problem – like a headache, a rash, stomach pain, low energy, but really these are just messages that the body is using to communicate a problem.
Our tendency is to be scared by a symptom and want to treat it immediately – take a painkiller for a headache, use a cream on the rash, take an ant-acid for stomach pain. But what if you took a step back and asked what is your body really trying to tell you?
Conventionally, medicine has grown to chase symptoms: treatments are aimed soley to give relief to these messages. But the problem is that if you don’t treat the underlying cause, the issues build and multiply. As a naturopathic doctor, my medical training was very much based around treating the root cause, and to do this requires using the symptoms as clues to guide us to the underlying imbalance.
Here are a few examples:
- Skin conditions almost always root in the digestive tract: from food intolerance to imbalance in gastrointestinal flora to intestinal permeability. This applies to acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis to name a few.
- Menstrual pain can be tracked to overall body inflammation (which can partially be treated by diet), estrogen dominance, an imbalance in the immune system, and often overgrowth of intestinal yeast.
- Migraines can be related to inflammation through diet (intolerance or overall inflammation), structural alignment problems (often the neck), adrenal gland overdrive, poor blood sugar regulation, and sometimes hormone imbalance.
- Irritable bowel syndrome can be caused by a combination of food intolerance, imbalance in intestinal flora (usually too much yeast), and is amplified by stress.
By following the symptoms deeper, you will find that in treating the cause, the symptom will also disappear.
A symptom is a message from the body – if you simply put on a band aid, it will get louder.
I firmly believe that if you ignore symptoms, or simply use band-aid approach treatments, the body will get louder with its message. This could be really obvious like imbalanced blood sugar leading to diabetes, or like life-long allergies leading to an autoimmune disease, or it may be less clearly linked when someone with chronic adrenal (stress) issues and immune imbalances develops cancer. Our bodies usually give us many, many messages that things are not right before we develop a more serious disease though – we just need to retrain ourselves to start paying attention.
The availability of quick fixes for pain, stomach discomfort, skin conditions and allergies for examples allows us to keep functioning. And this act of sweeping an issue under the carpet is what causes the body to be stronger in its next message.
As an example, there is a common progression of allergic conditions in childhood of eczema, allergies and asthma, and often later in life, autoimmune disease. When talking about their health, people will say that they ‘outgrew’ their eczema from early childhood. If however the eczema was treated only with cortisone creams and was not addressed with food intolerance and digestive health, it is very likely that this person developed asthma next. The asthma may or may not last to adulthood, but this same person will have seasonal and environmental allergies that linger. If on the other hand, the eczema was treated at age 2 by eliminating intolerant foods, and the intestinal lining was repaired, the subsequent stages of immune disorders would have been much less likely to develop.
The body’s message through a symptom may also be related to stress or emotional health. A lingering headache may mean that you’re working too hard and need a break; a new development of anxiety may indicate that there is something in your daily life that is not right – for example a neighbor who can’t be trusted; and often chronic pain conditions come after prolonged periods of emotional pain. In some cases emotional and spiritual work are key relieve a symptom.
Next time you have a symptom and want to take a quick treatment, I encourage you to take a step back and ask what your body really needs right now.