What Symptoms Can I Expect?
Have you heard of "retracing"? In Naturopathic medicine, this is the concept that your body has strayed from a healthy balanced path over time. In order to bring you back to health, you have to "retrace" your steps. This means that often a patient will "relive" symptoms that they have experienced over that time. For instance, they may have had a period where they ran fevers frequently, and so while working with natural medicinals, they may experience some fevers. Feeling your symptoms is actually a sign that change is happening.
Also your body may be receiving nutrients that it has done without for a long time. Functions may start up that have been stalled, chemical reactions may take place that have long been impossible. Once this happens, your body will attempt to make up for lost time. This rapid move towards health can have a number of bumps in the road, causing temporary symptoms.
The Shoe and the Closet Analogy
First of all, each body chooses how to express symptoms of dysfunction and disease. Some people have headaches, some people get stomach problems, some people can't sleep. Whatever pathway your body uses is like a comfortable old shoe. It's a well-worn symptom pathway and your body is used to it. So as you begin to change, even for the better, you may feel temporarily worse. The symptoms you were experiencing will now happen when you're stressed, when you get sick, when you don't get enough sleep or when you eat the wrong food. In fact, your irritating symptom will gradually disappear, but only after your body has been convinced it no longer needs that symptom pathway to get your attention.
The second reason is that when you begin to truly heal, your body may for the first time in a long time, have all the tools and ingredients needed to fully function. Think of when you get a big check. You automatically look at your wish list to see what you can now afford to do with this financial windfall. So you decide to get a complete organizational system for your closet. Before you can do that, you have to clean out the closet, evaluate everything in the closet, sneeze a lot, throw away a lot of trash, plug your nose when you find your old sneakers from last year and vow never to be so disorganized again. You will essentially relive the same thoughts and feelings that you experienced when you put each item in the closet.
This is what happens to your body when you embark on a natural medicinal path. You are emptying out your body's storage areas and opening up space for material to be "thrown away". Your body is making decisions about things that it may have delayed, removing unneeded items and as those items leave your body, symptoms can emerge simply from your body finally getting rid of something toxic. Your body will quickly choose healthier food over stored remnants of junk food, fresh oxygen over anaerobic biochemicals. The cells your body makes while restoring health will be stronger, more vital, more active than the cells that were created in the past. In fact, healthier nutrients in and toxic substances out equals resolution of your symptoms. Thus the organized closet!
Learning from our symptoms
Symptoms are your body's way of providing signs of dysfunction and imbalance. When these signs are suppressed or ignored, disease begins. It is an unsettled acceptance that your body is forced to make. As you begin natural medicine, these signs become clearer and no longer are ignored. This allows the underlying issues to finally be identified and resolved. This is the biggest difference between natural medicine and conventional medicine. Conventional medicine and pharmaceuticals suppress these signs, while Natural medicine pays attention to these signs and follows them to the source. You can learn a lot from your symptoms, even while healing.
Following the retracing path tells you how you have been affected by many illnesses, injuries and experiences that you never realized had created a chronic disturbance. This is the idea behind Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We don't realize at the time how traumatized we truly are, and the effects can be even more physiological than emotional. This tendency of the body to compensate in the moment, but to be dysfunctional over time, is true of many illnesses and injuries we experience. Concussions, malnutrition, menstrual dysphoria, headache syndromes, even arthritis will all challenge the body over time resulting in a gradual loss of function. To restore this, we have to resolve this path of chronic challenges.
What symptoms can I expect?
During the healing process, the symptoms that you have already experienced may temporarily increase. Even symptoms that you may have had in the past, but not recently, can return. Depending on the systems that are involved in the move towards health, there can be effects that may be uncomfortable, but they are not indicative of disease. Think of someone going through withdrawal while trying to move away from addiction. The symptoms of withdrawal are due to the fact that the body had gotten used to the presence of the addiction and without it, there is confusion and discomfort until the new pattern can be established. Any change can be uncomfortable and so can change in the body.
So what symptoms would be perfectly normal during the changes that natural medicine can bring about?
Inflammation and swelling - Inflammation is actually the first step in healing any damage to tissue. So if you experience increased inflammation or swelling, then you know there is damaged tissue that is trying to now heal. This can especially be true with a history of NSAID use, because clinical research has shown that NSAIDs actually prevent healing of damaged tissue.
Fevers - A rise in body temperature is one of the best ways your body can fight off bacterial infections. As your body begins to eliminate stored toxins or handle a chronic immune problem, fevers would be the body's natural first line of defense.
Headaches & body pain - Changes will often require shifts in circulation and oxygen to body tissues long starved for nutrients. This can create pain in other areas that have been used to excessive circulation. Also, neurons are very sensitive to changes in posture, muscle tension and even glucose availability. Even something as simple as giving up coffee can bring on headaches because of the addiction to the caffeine.
Fatigue - Simply put, you cannot expect your body to have the energy to make these essential changes if you are using all your energy in your daily life. To heal and to change you have to free up some energy for the body to use.
Digestive discomfort - Diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and even acid reflux can all be temporary reactions to material that your body is releasing into your digestive tract. As body functions begin to turn on, and enzymes begin to be available, more chemical reactions will take place. Once this material is in the intestinal tract, your body may act quickly to clear itself. Or your digestive system may have become so sluggish over time that it doesn't know how to handle healthy fiber, creating a temporary back-up due to the weak peristaltic muscles.
Skin breakouts - The skin is the largest detoxifying pathway your body has. If other pathways have been congested, such as the liver, the colon or the kidneys, then the skin becomes an available and preferred pathway to rid the body of toxins. This can create eczema or psoriasis symptoms. Hives also can occur if the body is reacting to an allergen or an immune challenge that is part of the healing process.
Mood changes - Many challenges to our health have come with emotional symptoms as well. Fear with asthma, depression with an injury, anxiety with an infection. When you begin natural medicine, and your body begins to change, emotions can be tapped and released as part of the healing process. This may even be more true in situations where emotional memories have become embedded within a particular area of dysfunction in the body. Emotions are chemicals and chemicals can be trapped throughout the body creating dysfunction and disease. Experiencing these emotions can alter your mood for no apparent reason, or create reactions that are not relevant to the situation. Patience and kindness are important during any healing process.
So what is normal?
Generally any symptom that is not severe, can be tolerated, lasts less than 48 hours or has been typical of your body in the past, is normal and expected with natural medicine. Should a symptom be very rapid, very painful, debilitating or worrisome, then a trip to your physician would not be out of line. If you experience allergy-type symptoms, such as congestion, swelling, sneezing or skin rashes, then try to work through them to see if they resolve in a few days. Allergic reactions to any ingredients in our natural remedies is exceedingly rare and mild. Most of the time, testing will reveal that there is nothing wrong, and this is confirmation that your body is simply experiencing a natural reaction to this time of natural change.
What can I do when I have symptoms?
If you can ride it out, then that is the best advice. Fluids, lots of water, rest and generally treating yourself as if you were sick is what allows the healing process to continue. But if symptoms are really laying you low, then here are some ideas to reduce the effect to a low roar:
- Take a hot bath or sauna - sweating can speed the detoxification effect and help remove toxins from the body.
- Make sure you are having regular bowel movements. If not, then come in for a Colonic Hydrotherapy session. Also, adding a natural powdered fiber (we recommend Whole Food Fiber), drinking some cabbage juice, taking Magnesium Lactate or Disodium Phosphate will help ease bowel function so you can eliminate what is being removed by your treatment.
- Make sure you are drinking at least 1/2 your body weight of water per day. Avoid caffeine and tea (even herbal tea) which can dehydrate and remove water from the body.
- Cut back on your dosage. Sometimes your body needs to work its way into your protocol slowly. So try cutting the dosage in half and see if your symptoms abate. Once abated, try to increase slowly until you are back to your regular dose.
- Take time off. Many times trying to maintain your regular schedule of work, exercise, mommying, can all be a bit too much while your energy is being pulled towards the facets of healing.
- If you have swelling, skin breakouts or soreness, then Lymphatic Drainage may be the solution. Getting a session can reduce all these symptoms and help to speed your healing.
We are always available for any questions or concerns regarding symptoms that you experience while on a natural regimen. We encourage you to allow your body to "feel" the facets of change. You can learn a lot from your symptoms!