functional medicine

My Functional Health Story: Amy Bull

Since I was about 6 years old, I have had chronic joint pain. I remember going to a pediatrician, who told my mother that he would not diagnose anything related to my pain because I would be un-insurable.

I have spent much of my life taking anti-inflammatory medications, mostly ibuprofen. This led to acid reflux, which caused the need for proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), like omeprazole and others for over 20 years. The joint pain progressed to back pain, and I had many epidural steroids. The first series worked, and I remember being on a trip out west and exclaiming to my husband that my back wasn’t hurting! I was ecstatic, and thankfully I was pain free for about 9 months.

Then, I had other epidural steroids. Some helped briefly, some not at all, and I had a very frightening episode when I developed the loss of my distant vision for 30 minutes after the procedure. It was determined that the steroid inadvertently had gone to my brain.  I later broke my knee when I tripped while taking out trash. This led to chronic knee pain, as well, and I had injections in my knee, which helped but only short-term. The orthopedic surgeon said my knee was not well-aligned, and I needed surgery. I asked to go to physical therapy, which the surgeon told me he thought wouldn’t work. I went to physical therapy and started massages in 2015, and the pain went away without surgery.

My overall joint pain continued and one day I decided after watching a docu-series by Dr. Mark Hyman, from Cleveland Clinic, that I would go gluten-free. And three days after I went gluten-free, all of my pain vanished. Vanished! I haven’t had to take any anti-inflammatory pill for my pain since. Soon I was able to stop my PPI, too; Most people usually can’t just stop these, as they get severe acid reflux, but I was able to stop without any problems. Previously, one piece of dark chocolate would give me severe pain and reflux, but I can now eat dark chocolate without pain!

Once my healing started, I realized I had found a new way to practice medicine, called Functional Medicine. Probably the largest and best-known practice that offers Functional Medicine is Cleveland Clinic. While I was a professor teaching nurse practitioners the traditional practice of medicine, I decided to go back to school through the Institute of Functional Medicine. I left my teaching position and transitioned to full-time practice and started offering functional medicine to interested patients.

Functional Medicine

Traditional western-medicine can be considered the medicine of ‘what.’ What is wrong and what can fix it? The patient has reflux and the treatment is medication. Functional Medicine is the medicine of ‘why,’ not what. The patient has reflux. Why? Because they take anti-inflammatory medication every day for their pain. Why do they have pain? Because they are eating a standard American diet, which is highly inflammatory, and they aren’t able to exercise. Now that we have the why, we can fix the reflux by addressing the root cause through changing the diet. The pain is resolved; the reflux resolves; the patient begins an exercise routine; and their overall health improves. Now obviously, this is an over-simplified case.

Most of the patients who I see have chronic fatigue or other significant health problems. They have seen many providers over years, and they aren’t improving. They are taking or have tried many medications and still feel unwell. The answer is to find the ‘why.’ Sometimes it’s simple; Sometimes, it involves some new tests that haven’t been done. Mostly, it involves a deep commitment on the part of the patient to change their life, no matter what it takes. My commitment is firm….to help them get there!