How are you doing?” “I hope you’re doing well.” These phrases are most likely ones we have heard more often recently. Our health has taken center stage, along with all the changes and challenges, and a new focus on priorities for ourselves has emerged.
We gathered insight from someone who provides this guidance daily. Dr. Christa O’Leary of Hill Country Integrative Medicine has been doing this for over 20 years. O’Leary believes a patient-centered approach focuses on finding the root cause of an individual’s health challenges.
So what is integrative medicine? “Integrative medicine emphasizes a holistic, patient-focused approach to health care and wellness,” O’Leary said. “This involves treating the whole person, rather than focusing on an organ system. Instead of matching symptoms to a pharmaceutical drug, we look for the underlying root cause.”
O’Leary was led to this field after attending a continuing education conference in Washington, D.C. with the theme “Food is Medicine.” This changed her and her family’s life, and was also the pivotal point of her approach to practicing medicine and desire to help people heal. The biochemistry involved strongly appealed to her. “I tell new patients I can help you for two reasons,” she said. “One, I like puzzles and I like challenges. Two, I love biochemistry, all the problems come down to certain pathways. Complementing those pathways in the body allows it to heal, as opposed to just trying to band aid or force an outcome.”
Following this approach to health and healing, the family moved to New Zealand to further her training and practice. “While there, we began to feel better and we didn’t totally understand why at the time. In hindsight, our diet had radically changed and we could see it was the diet and food – real food – that made a difference,” O’Leary recounts. “When you come in as a physician in New Zealand, you must do a certain amount of training with the Maori healers. The first few days, they are digging up plants and making salve and I am like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ I had my Western doctor arrogance going on. Then you learn that there are actual published studies about this, and everyone there goes to the healers first. The people are more empowered to heal. New Zealand is a first-world country. They are not some stellar, amazing system, but they’re not as pharmaceutical-driven. I think it’s because the Maori presence is so strong, they know the ancient healing wisdom of plants.”
Chronic health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can be related to a lack of a healthy lifestyle. But our bodies have the ability to heal when given the tools to do so. It really is about allowing your body to operate the way it is designed.
Denis, her business administrator and husband, said, “She truly cares about people and doing right by them. And she loves to learn, whether it’s from stacks of books by the bed or listening to a podcast. It’s solving that puzzle to figure out what’s going on that makes her an excellent doctor.”
Stress reduction During times of increased stress, such as this COVID-19 phenomenon, it’s important to work on ways of lowering the hormone cortisol, the stress hormone. It can be lowered with lifestyle choices, such as getting uninterrupted sleep at night, avoiding Wi-fi, phones, iPads for 90 minutes prior to sleep.
Studies show being outdoors in nature and in the sun improve stress reduction. So schedule going outside for 30 minutes twice a day to exercise, garden or meditate and pray.
Healthy foods Instead of eating comfort food during stressful times, it’s important to provide the body with real food that is free of chemicals and processing. Eating refined carbohydrates increases the hormone insulin and will increase inflammation, which is terrible for the immune system. Reports are that most people dying from COVID-19, and really any infectious agent, are those who have high inflammatory markers in the blood prior to infection. White blood cells are how we fight infection and also how we remove hazardous toxins we are exposed to. It is always in our best interest to avoid any food or drink that is full of chemicals, or enhances a strain on the liver and immune system, such as alcohol. Organic meats, wild caught fish, vegetables and fruits are the best approach. Following the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 15/Dirty Dozen” is a great way to find out what foods you buy are full of pesticides and chemicals and which are not. Also, the short documentary “10 Americans” is well worth the time.
Supplements for immunity building O’Leary recommends measuring in the blood the inflammation markers and the nutrients that are involved in the immune system. She often has people take extra supplements to compensate for common deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals A, B, C, D, Zinc and Magnesium. These are critical in how the liver and immune cells function and clear infections and toxins.
She says there are also plant extracts that are helpful for fighting viruses, bacteria and fungi. One plant extract called Andrographis is a favorite for many who are skilled in dealing with viruses. Numerous others exist and have been used for thousands of years by humans with excellent results.