“What’s causing my illness”? This seems like such a basic question. One that must inherently be addressed every time a patient and a doctor get together. Unfortunately, this very basic, yet profound question is often not asked and not answered. As a Naturopathic Physician, I see a different population of patients from your typical MD in general practice. My patients are comprised of people who seek natural treatments and/or people who are not satisfied with the healthcare they’ve received within the conventional system. These are two very different types of people. However, one thing they have in common is that they want to know ‘what’s causing my illness?’. They are not satisfied with unanswered questions they feel someone should have answers for.
Why? Why? Why?
When I was a student in Vancouver I was fortunate to have an internet-based radio show that was broadcast as part of Total Health Magazine online. I’ve always been interested in public speaking, broadcasting, and writing and having a radio show was a great way to channel that creativity. My mentor during this time gave me a lot of very good advice about interviewing people and getting interesting and important information from them. Most of the people I interviewed had recently published books or articles in scientific journals. One of the most important tips my mentor gave me was to keep asking ‘Why?’ until there is no more ‘Why?’ to ask. People have a tendency to answer in layers and the ultimate answer often requires repeating why three or more times.
You may be asking yourself how this is relevant to the topic of my article. The answer is because many medical answers are only one or two layers of the question ‘Why?’. They only get you to the layer of treating the symptom. They don’t get you to the ultimate cause. However, as I mentioned before, most of my patients want to address the ultimate causes of their health concerns. I encourage my patients to keep asking why as many times as they need to in order for us to collectively as a doctor and patient to get to the ultimate causes of their concerns.
Why? Why? Why? Blood Pressure Example
I’ll use a common scenario in my practice to illustrate why I like asking ‘Why?’ so much. When patients come in with high blood pressure as a chief concern, it stimulates so much curiosity within me. The first ‘Why?’ I like to ask is, “Why, do you actually have high blood pressure?” I rarely treat high blood pressure before asking a patient to take a few weeks to record multiple blood pressure test results at home during various times of the day. It’s not uncommon to find that a person who thought they had high blood pressure actually has healthy readings most of the time.
If blood pressure seems to be on the high side, the second ‘Why?’ I like to ask is, “Why is your blood pressure high?” Instead of treating blood pressure as a problem that is isolated from all other information, I prefer to think of high blood pressure as an end result of other problems. Are the kidneys or liver overwhelmed resulting in greater back-pressure in the arteries and thus increasing overall blood pressure? Are the arteries forming plaques, resulting in increased blood pressure from narrower and less flexible arteries? Is the heart receiving increased thyroid hormone input from a thyroid condition? As you can see, the list goes on and on.
The third ‘Why?’ I like to ask is, “Why did the second why happen?” Why is the liver overwhelmed? Why did plaque form? Why is the thyroid increasing its output? In my opinion, the why questions should continue until you have a concrete answer or you’ve gone as far as we can with our current knowledge.
Why is this important for health conditions like high blood pressure? The answer is so simple that you probably overlooked it. The answer is so that we get it right. What does get it right mean? To me, get it right means, I helped you in the most profound way I could have helped you. It means I didn’t get it partially right and sort of helped. And it certainly means, I didn’t get it wrong and I treated something unnecessarily and maybe even caused unnecessary side effects. Why put someone on blood pressure medication or supplements if the high blood pressure has another cause that can be treated?