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The pitfalls of self-prescribing

A male client in his fifties came to see me as he was experiencing chronic insomnia.  In fact, he said his sleep had been terrible for years but recently it was becoming unbearable and it was taking him hours upon hours to fall asleep.  The next day he would feel incredibly tired, but also wired at the same time.  It got to the point where he could not bear it any longer when he counted a total of only ten hours sleep for the whole week.

This client had been diagnosed with haemochromatosis a few years ago – a condition which causes the body to absorb and store too much iron.  His iron levels, seven months earlier, were sitting at an alarming 1200 mcg/L (anything over 300 mcg/L is a concern). He was under medical supervision and was giving blood regularly to bring the levels down. By the time he came to see me, his iron levels were down to 563 mcg/L – which was still way too high. I could only imagine the how much strain this was putting on his body.

When I asked about his supplement intake, he said the only thing he takes is ‘Noni Juice’ – a vitamin C-rich elixir made from native Polynesian fruit trees. A friend had recommended it to him.  This well-meaning friend had been enthusiastically extolling the virtues of this juice citing better sleep and increased energy.  My client desperately wanted better sleep and more energy so he started taking it religiously every night before bed.

This drink, although it may have been a miracle cure for his friend’s health, was in fact making things worse for my client and even damaging his health.  It was pumping him full of yet more iron sending his iron levels up sky-high and rendering him sleepless. This juice would be perfect for those with low iron!

Once I explained what was happening he stopped the Noni Juice immediately. I made him a herbal extract tonic to take three times a day to help detox and chelate the iron out of his system.  He continued his blood donations and added a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (also good for lowering iron) in a large glass of water to his morning routine.  He stayed on the herbal tonic for twelve weeks and, when ordering his second bottle of herbs, he reported that he was feeling great, he was sleeping much better and his iron levels were the lowest they had ever been.

I use this story to illustrate one of the biggest problems facing natural health practitioners today: the rise and rise of self-medicating. When new clients come to see me, it’s not unusual for them to be already taking a long list of supplements and medication. Some are prescribed by their GP or their specialist, but worryingly, many of the supplements are “prescribed” by the client themselves.

To self-prescribe, you only have to step foot into a health food shop or a pharmacy to be greeted with floor to ceiling shelves, packed full with endless rows of mysterious tablets, liquids, capsules and powders all claiming potent cures to any number of health conditions. 

Pick up your phone and scroll through social media, and you’ll be swamped with a frenzy of ads for all sorts of natural wonder products promising to offer “cures” to any ailment.

This can be super-confusing when you have a health issue. Which product do you choose? Is it the one with the pretty label? Or the product you saw on TV or read about on Instagram? Is it the one recommended by the friendly person at the counter?  Or, as in the case of my client, the one your well-meaning friend swears by? 

That’s why it’s important to see a qualified naturopath or herbalist as they can advise on what’s best for you. Another client of mine, a lady in her mid forties, was wondering why she had started to feel anxious as she was not usually an anxious person.  She also mentioned that she was feeling a bit depressed which again was unusual for her along with bouts of feeling slightly nauseas and was having trouble sleeping. 

Usually, with these symptoms, I would question whether the patient may be low in B12, but we tested and her levels were perfect.  Upon checking the supplements she had self-prescribed, which included a magnesium powder, a B12 capsule and a multivitamin tablet, I found they all contained B6. I tested her B6 levels and they were high.

She stopped taking these products immediately. I found her an alternative magnesium powder with no added B6 and I formulated a herbal medicine mix to replace the other supplements. She also avoided high B6 foods. Within eight days, her symptoms had completely resolved.

Again, this illustrates the importance of seeking advice from a qualified naturopath, naturopathic herbalist, or nutritionist before taking supplements.  As was the case with this client, the health picture is often not what the presenting symptoms may suggest. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like some help with your supplements on 0425-817727 or email tracie@thewellnesscompany.com.au – I look forward to hearing from you!

Tracie Lynn

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