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Half-Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing

“One of the greatest strengths of integrative medicine,” observes Dr. Vaidya-Tank, founder of Regenesis MD, in North Raleigh, “is that it recognizes the complexity of the healing process—and the complex connections between symptoms and the problems that cause them.

“In integrative medicine,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank (left), “healing is a very personal, individualized processworking closely with each patient.”

“Conventional medical care,” she notes, “tends to be symptom-driven—where the response is typically a medicine or treatment for the symptom, rather than for the source of the problem. This is even more true when it comes to self-care, where people rely almost entirely on over-the-counter remedies and the incomplete information they get from ads or the Internet.

“And I have found that—far too often—half-knowledge can be dangerous. Nothing is black or white; there’s lots of gray. And if you attempt to treat your symptoms based on partial understanding and an over-the-counter remedy, you can make something worse.”

Symptoms are Signals, Not Problems

“The most common response people have to symptoms—even persistent ones—is to reach for an over-the-counter remedy,” observes Dr. Vaidya Tank. “And it may work to relieve the symptom, but it doesn’t address the symptom’s cause.”

In integrative medicine, she explains, “our goal is to discover and treat the causes of health problems. Symptoms are cues; they tell us there’s a problem, but not what the problem is. All headaches aren’t alike—even though you can treat them all, at least temporarily, with Tylenol or Advil. But the reason why someone has a headache—especially a persistent one—will vary from person to person, and it’s not always obvious.

“There are times, of course,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “when a symptom responds completely to an over-the-counter remedy. If something goes away within a week or two, that’s great. But if it lasts longer than that, or if you are experiencing multiple symptoms, you need to ask a health professional: ‘Why is this happening to me?

Hidden Risks of Self-Diagnosis and Treatment

Dr. Vaidya-Tank notes that symptom-driven care may be hazardous in unexpected ways. “Taking over-the-counter medications long-term,” she says, “may pose serious risks and may not even address the underlying issues.

“An example is a person with chronic headaches that may be caused by high blood pressure, which itself can be caused by weight gain, stress, or hereditary factors. By taking Tylenol or Motrin, they might be ‘treating’ their headache, but they’re not treating the more serious problem of high blood pressure. And, the long-term use of OTC medications may cause other serious problems.

“Just because something is over-the-counter doesn’t mean taking it regularly or for long periods of time is safe,” she cautions. “OTC pain medications can cause liver or kidney problems; yet I often find that these patients have been self-medicating for headaches and backaches for years, thinking they are taking something safe.”

Ignoring or Misunderstanding the Signs

Inaccurate self-diagnosis is a common problem encountered at Regenesis MD, says Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “It happens all the time,” she says. “So many of our patients have been treated or have treated themselves because of one symptom or another—without ever determining the source problem. The result is often months—even years—of persistent health problems.”

One such patient, recalls Dr. Vaidya-Tank, came in saying she suffered from candida, and asking for specific medications to treat it. “I was skeptical of that self-diagnosis, which was based on her own examination of patches in her hair, and suspected something else. And, in fact—after a thorough history, exam, and a biopsy—we confirmed the diagnosis of psoriasis, which is an autoimmune condition.

“She had suffered from what she thought was candida her entire adult life,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “But, actually, her immune system was so poor that it fostered an environment for an autoimmune disease like psoriasis. She wasn’t wrong in saying she had candida, but it was a secondary problem that occurred because of the psoriasis.”

Ignoring symptoms that persist is another common problem. One such patient was a woman who had a frequent cough, recalls Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “That wasn’t why she came here; in fact, she had downplayed it and said, ‘I’ve had this cough for maybe 30 years. And it’s really hard during COVID because everyone thinks I’m sick.’ And she was sick,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “We found that she had cough-variant asthma, where bronchial spasms trigger coughing.”

Once Dr. Vaidya-Tank prescribed her an inhaler, the woman stopped coughing—but only after 30 years of taking cough syrup and being told that she just had to “deal” with her symptom.

Acid reflux is another example of a poorly understood symptom, notes the doctor. “In conventional medicine, doctors are taught that acid reflux results from too much acid. Therefore, they often treat it with medications to block acid production.

“But in integrative medicine,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “we understand that reflux can, in fact, be caused by insufficient acid, which prevents proper digestion. So, the conventional approach really is treating the problem backwards. Reducing acid,” she explains, “also reduces our defenses against bad bacteria and food-borne pathogens, continuing the cycle of poor digestive health.”

An Integrative Approach to Weight Loss

Another area of health that most people tackle without physician guidance is weight loss. “Nine out of ten of my patients complain of weight issues,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “but they always think it’s about calories. And it’s not really only about the number of calories; it’s about the type of calories, the type of nutrients, and then—most importantly—how the gut metabolizes them.

“So, successful weight loss has to be a comprehensive process,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “We start with a very detailed history in order to understand the drivers behind weight gain, family history, and the patient’s own historical relationship with food and with weight.”

Lab tests can help illuminate other factors, such as high insulin levels or hormone imbalances, that can contribute to weight gain; other tests help assess overall gut health.

“Many medications, particularly certain psychiatric medications, can cause weight gain,” notes Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “so we also need to know about all medications and supplements they take, as well as what they eat.”

Once she has the full historical and physiological picture, Dr. Vaidya-Tank is able to focus on the motivational needs of each person. “Some people need quick wins, while others need steady weight loss or emotional support throughout the process,” she observes. “This helps us choose the right weight loss program to help each individual get started, stay motivated, and achieve long-term results. That is what integrative medicine is all about—it’s a highly individualized process.”