Each day, I woke up feeling like I had run a triathlon the day before. My joints hurt, my muscles burned. I was achy and tired. I experienced chronic pain every single day and every single night. What was going on with my body? Why was it betraying me?
Eleven years ago, I stood on the landing and started to cry because I couldn’t figure out how I was going to get up the six stairs to my bedroom. My husband, who had already tested positive for Lyme urged me to see a specialist. Soon I was on a three-month course of antibiotics, which alleviated some of the worst symptoms. I thought I was cured.
But no. Certain symptoms persisted and new ones cropped up. It became clear that something was very wrong. I consulted a battalion of doctors and specialists, presenting each of them with a neatly typed list of my bizarre and inconclusive symptoms.
I was variously tested for and/or diagnosed with Lyme disease, post Lyme fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism, and Sjögren’s syndrome. I became pre-diabetic. Doctors continued to prescribe a cornucopia of drugs. Nothing helped except prednisone, which is an effective but pernicious steroidal drug you cannot take long term because of the awful side effects (eroded bones, hair loss, weakened immune system, a hunchback). I was diagnosed with a “non-specific auto-immune disease.”
The information I was given was contradictory and confusing: eat gluten free, eat dairy free, eat nuts, don’t eat nuts, try low carb/high protein, eat high fiber/low protein, eat a plant-based diet, eat lectin-free foods, avoid nightshades vegetables, eat fruit, don’t eat fruit, take vitamins, don’t take vitamins because they could cause liver toxicity.
One doctor told me that I just needed to accept the fact that I was getting older. Seriously? I had tried everything that conventional medicine had to offer, and it was only making me sicker, so I decided it was time to investigate other options. I believed that someone, somewhere would be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out how to make me well.
When I first consulted with Dr. John Salerno of the Salerno Wellness Center (salernocenter.com), now located in the Sportsplex (he also has a long-standing practice in New York), I was polite but secretly skeptical. I’d been down this path many times before with other doctors, and gotten nowhere. However, a very small part of me was also hopeful. Maybe this doctor would unravel the enigma of my health woes?
Dr. Salerno is affable, smart, and he really listens. He is a symptom detective who analyzes your medical history and works systematically to find root causes of illness. Over the years, he has treated and cured thousands of patients who have presented with a host of different conditions. He is a whiz at diagnosis. Dr. Salerno predicted what my blood work would reveal, and he was right.
My hormone levels were a disaster—low estrogen, low progesterone, and testosterone so minimal that the lab could barely measure it. Apparently prolonged use of prednisone diminishes hormones. Who knew? My adrenal glands were in distress, and my thyroid levels were sub-optimal. Thanks to the frequent use of antiperspirant, I also had high levels of aluminum in my blood. And arsenic. Arsenic? Apparently rice and wine are to blame. Dr. Salerno encouraged me to adopt a low carb lifestyle and to choose organic wines. My vitamin D, C and B were also deficient.
Dr. Salerno also said possibly the nicest thing any doctor can say to a patient: “It’s not your fault.” I almost wept. I was so grateful not to be judged for my health challenges. He provided me with a list of supplements to take and prescriptions for bio-identical hormones. He tweaked my thyroid meds and customized IV treatments specifically for me (Dr. Salerno has 36 proprietary IVs for every ailment and condition imaginable).
Not everyone believes in using this approach to wellness, but all I can tell you is that I am a convert. Within six weeks of following a plan designed to balance my thyroid function, shore up my vitamin deficiencies, and stabilize my hormones, I felt and looked a lot better. I dropped eight pounds and the chronic muscle pain that plagued me for years diminished by 90 percent. My rosacea has calmed down and food sensitivities have disappeared. I no longer wake up at 3:07 am, unable to fall back asleep. My blood sugar levels are now normal. Am I running marathons? No. I am cycling, swimming, and feeling so much better. Functional medicine may not be for everybody, but it is the right choice for me.