Have You Been Diagnosed With a Fake Health Condition?

Alternative medicine and nutrition therapies have been gaining significant popularity in recent years. Maybe it’s the internet making these things so readily available, or maybe it’s our increasing obsession with finding the fountain of youth and optimal health, but people are turning to unconventional medicine more than ever.

Obviously as a Dietitian and Personal Trainer I am a firm believer in nutrition and fitness playing a HUGE role in keeping us healthy. But I am also a firm believer in science, and understand that there are limitations to what just diet, exercise, and supplements can do. For example, yoga and meditation will not cure cancer. IV injections of tumeric will not rid you of arthritis pain. A detox tea will not cure your irritable bowl syndrome. Some medical conditions do have a significant lifestyle component to their management, but many do still require medications or other medical therapies. As much as a healthy lifestyle can do for us, it cannot do it all.

As much as a healthy lifestyle can do for us, it cannot do it all

Now, the troubling thing is that many naturopathic/holistic nutrition websites claim to have all the answers. Their stance is that those of us who follow what science tells us and provide only evidence-based recommendations are living in the stone age, and are a bunch of close-minded food and drug industry puppets. They think as Dietitians we promote only Canada’s Food Guide, and are not capable of thinking outside the box (obviously a huge load of BS!) To them, our admission of not having all of the answers to the complexities of the human body means we are not truly experts in our fields. To me though, a person pretending to have all of the answers when in reality they are just making assumptions is far more sketchy than working with someone who clearly understands the limitations of their knowledge.

A person pretending to have all of the answers is far more dangerous than someone who openly admits and understands the limits of their knowledge

Have you ever heard the phrase “He who knows the least speaks the loudest?” This is because real health professionals are very aware of how many mysteries still exist within disease and human physiology. We can’t go around jumping on every bandwagon that passes, recommending this diet or that supplement to treat people’s conditions, because there needs to be solid evidence to tell us not only that something works, but how and why it works. Without that type of information, how do we know what we’re recommending is safe?

Any evidence-based professional will openly admit that they don’t have all of the answers. Science is rapidly evolving and continually changes the way we view and interact with our world. Particularly in the area of nutrition, which is a very new science  and still has much to be discovered. We need to be open to this change and willing to shift our practices when evidence tells us to, not become stuck in our ways, or promote practices that have long been debunked simply because they are old. If we still practiced medicine the way we did a few hundred years ago most of us would certainly be dead. 

So, I think we can all agree that science and evidence is important. It gives us a better, clear understanding of the world around us, but also ensures that the nutrition therapies and supplements being recommended to you are proven to work and SAFE. If we ignore scientific evidence or pretend that we know better than the experts in the field, we are most certainly capable of doing harm.

This brings me to my list: Common diagnoses made by alternative providers that in actuality do not exist. Why is such an article necessary? As I mentioned before, the use of alternative medicine is on the rise, and more people than ever are seeking out unlicensed nutritionists and naturopaths to help diagnose and treat their medical concerns. They are frequently diagnosed with conditions like these having to follow absurd diets and take handfuls of supplements to “treat” these non-existent conditions.

This does not mean that as a Dietitian I’m ‘behind the times’, armed with only a copy of Canada’s Food Guide to defend my stance. It means they’re not backed by current science because as you’ll see, most do not have any clear method of testing for them. So how can you tell if you’ve treated something if you can’t prove that it ever existed in the first place?

If you have been diagnosed with one of the following conditions, I am truly sorry to have to break this news to you. We put a lot of trust in our healthcare providers, and it sucks to find out something you thought was true, isn’t. I hope that with this information you can still find a solution to what your real diagnosis actually is, and with that the proper therapies to manage it. If you scroll to the bottom of this post you will find a link to my Healthy Living Checklist. For many people this is a good starting point when making a healthy lifestyle change. 


1. Leaky Gut Syndrome

Symptoms:

  • Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Poor immune system
  • Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea
  • Cravings for sugar or carbs
  • Arthritis or joint pain
  • Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn’s

What alternative providers say it is:  The space between your cells in the GI tract are too large (because of your poor diet) and you have food particles leaking into the bloodstream and body, causing digestive issues and chronic inflammation.

Damn, that sounds serious!

It definitely is, or would be if it were actually happening…

What’s the real story?

Leaky Gut syndrome is somewhat similar to a medical term called ‘increased intestinal permeability’. They sound like the exact same thing, except one is a diagnosis and one is only a symptom of an underlying condition. This idea of ‘Leaky Gut’ is not a disease unto itself when we’re talking real-world medicine. In some disease states the integrity of the digestive tract wall can become compromised. But it has nothing to do with eating sugar or dairy.

In some gastrointestinal diseases (such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or with autoimmune conditions like Celiac Disease), the wall of the GI tract is damaged. The cells walls are compromised and yes, could become perforated (get a hole). But this is capital S serious, and will likely require surgery to repair. Taking a probiotic, detox, or eliminating sugar from your diet will do nothing to fix an issue that extreme.

Alternative medicine likes to toe the line between real and made-up. One naturopathic website I visited while writing this article mentions that Leaky Gut Syndrome can cause death. And yes, it can if you really had substances from your gut leaking into the rest of your body you’d become really sick really fast, but it’s quite rare, and certainly not the result of a poor diet. 

So, if you think your guts are leaking, seek medical attention immediately. Otherwise, speak to a Registered Dietitian about any gastrointestinal concerns!


2. Adrenal Fatigue

Symptoms:

  • Mild depression or anxiety
  • Brain Fog
  • Multiple food and or inhalant allergies
  • Weight gain
  • Food cravings
  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Increased effort to perform daily tasks
  • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • Dry and thin skin
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low body temperature
  • Palpitation
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Alternating diarrhea or constipation

 

What alternative providers say it is:

Our adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the high stress world we live in. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing a large number of hormones that regulate many processes in our bodies. Adrenal Fatigue occurs when the glands become overworked and under-perform. This leads to the very long list of above symptoms.

What’s the real story?

Similar to leaky gut, this diagnosis also has a similar legitimate condition that sounds kinda the same. Addisons disease is the name of this real-world condition, where the adrenal glands are not producing enough hormones to keep us healthy.

So then what’s the difference?

If you have Addison’s Disease, a blood test will tell you the levels of hormones circulating in your blood. If your levels are normal- you don’t have Addison’s Disease. Alternative medicine providers claim that our lab tests are not sensitive enough to detect these small decreases in hormone levels, so despite it not showing up on a lab test, you can still be insufficient. *sigh* 

The list of ‘treatments’ for adrenal fatigue is really long, rather absurd, and full of contradictions (such as eat breakfast to restore glycogen, but don’t eat any carbohydrate at breakfast).

Of course, there are also a whole bunch of supplements you can purchase for the treatment of this condition that you can’t prove you had in the first place, and won’t change your lab tests because they were normal to begin with. Ugh. 

The troubling thing with this is that if you spend your time and money trying to treat a pretend condition, you may be delaying getting treatment for a serious, real medical condition. Some of those listed symptoms are significant, and could be pointing to something legitimate.


 

3. Hypothyroidism (with a normal blood test)

Symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Dry, rough pale skin
  • Hair loss
  • Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
  • Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Decreased libido

What alternative providers say it is:

Similar to Adrenal Fatigue, Hypothyroidism is a lack of circulating thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. This decrease in thyroid hormone causes the above symptoms. However, most alternative providers point to a poor diet, stress, and even leaky gut as a cause for hypothyroidism, and often recommend a specific “thyroid” diet which includes the elimination of sugar, dairy, refined carbohydrates, tap water, gluten, among others. They also recommend a handful of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements to naturally boost thyroid function.

What’s the real story?

This scenario is very similar to the Adrenal Fatigue thing. Hypothyroidism is most definitely a real medical condition, however if your blood tests reveals a normal thyroid level, then your thyroid ain’t your problem.

Our thyroid gland is responsible for many metabolic processes in the body. If we do not have enough thyroid hormone circulating in our bodies, the above symptoms can occur. However the real treatment for hypothyroidism is to simply take thyroid replacement medications, not a detox or elimination diet.

Similar to Adrenal Fatigue, wasting time treating something like this if your blood test is normal can delay getting treatment for something legitimate.


4. Candida Overgrowth Syndrome

Symptoms:

  • Skin and nail fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and toenail fungus
  • Feeling tired and worn down or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, or Multiple sclerosis
  • Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD, and/or brain fog
  • Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
  • Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Vaginal infections , urinary tract infections, rectal itching, or vaginal itching>
  • Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
  • Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings

What alternative providers say it is:

An overgrowth of the yeast Candida is to blame for many of our health woes. From leaky gut syndrome to yeast infections, to mood imbalances, Candida is to blame. How does the growth of ones’ Candida get out of hand? Eating too much sugar, starch, or alcohol, which feeds the yeast excessively. Some websites also point to treatments for other conditions such as antibiotics, corticosteroids, cancer treatments, diabetes, or birth control. Having a leaky gut on top of this candida overgrowth can lead to systemic inflammation throughout the body, wreaking havoc on our physical and mental state.

Treatment of Candida usually involves an elimination diet (no sugar, dairy, alcohol, or tap water of all things), in addition to a myriad of pricey nutrition supplements. Many Candida diet websites also encourage eliminating all sources of chlorinated water from your life (including bathing water), as the chlorine can promote yeast growth. Of course you can purchase an expensive water filtration system to do this for you.

Whats the real story?

Again, the seed of truth here is that yes, candida is an organism that lives within us (we have a huge number of different microbes that thrive in and on our bodies, it’s not weird!). It is also true that some individuals can experience an overgrowth of Candida yeast, leading to vaginal yeast infections or oral thrush. However, both of these come with noticeable symptoms which should be treated medically, not by cutting sugar or gluten out of your diet, or doing a detox. Oral thrush for example can be common in infants who do not have fully functioning immune systems yet, or individuals who are immunocompromised (such as patients undergoing cancer treatments).

In a normal adult Candida is a normal part of our physiology, in balance with the other microbes coexisting with us. 


5. Food Intolerances

Symptoms:

  • Bloating, gas, cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Poor sleep
  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Brain Fog
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Feeling under the weather
  • Stomach ache
  • Irritable bowel
  • Hives
  • Weight gain
  • No symptoms at all

What alternative providers say it is:

The cause of many of our health issues today can be pinned down to our poor quality diets. We consume large amounts of sugar, dairy, soy, and eggs, and it wreaks havoc on our bodies, causing inflammation and disease. We feel tired all the time, irritable, and like we can’t think or remember anything. If we feel this way (and even if we don’t), we should have allergy testing done to determine what foods should be eliminated from our diets. We should detox our bodies after eating these types of foods because the toxins from them build up in our systems.

What’s the real story?

In my experience working with clients who have seen naturopaths or holistic nutritionists and had these sorts of intolerance tests done, the vast majority of them have the same handful of foods they are “intolerant to”, including eggs, dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, starches, mushrooms, and nightshade vegetables, or some combination of these things. Many people have zero symptoms at all (or very vague non-specific symptoms), yet are told that eating these foods is causing “inflammation” in their bodies, which leads to disease. Common allergy tests that alternative providers utilize actually do not test for allergies at all. What they reveal is exposure to a food or substance and are not indicative of an allergy or intolerance. So your test will likely show that you are “intolerant” to foods you commonly consume such as grains, eggs, dairy, or soy.

umm, no. 

Let’s use a commonly known one, Lactose Intolerance as an example of a real food intolerance.

Lactose is the type of sugar found in milk. In our digestive system, we produce an enzyme specifically made to break down that type of sugar. Some people don’t produce very much of this enzyme, so if they consume more milk than their body can handle, they end up with undigested lactose sitting in their digestive tract. This leads to the gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea that often follow milk consuption in those people.

How do you know if you have lactose intolerance? Trust me, you know. If you don’t have symptoms of lactose intolerance, then you aren’t lactose intolerant. End of story. 

Same goes for any food intolerance that your “intolerance test” might show. No symptoms = no intolerance. This idea that there is some sort of sinister background inflammatory, disease-causing effect that comes from eating these foods is absolutely ludicris and uneccessary.

The idea that there is some sort of sinister inflammatory background effect from eating certain foods is ludicris 

My advice to those struggling with digestive woes? Keep a food journal! Track what you eat and any symptoms you have to try and establish patterns. If you notice a food frequently causes you issues, try removing it from your diet to determine if the symptoms improve.

Remember, it isn’t always about the food! Stress, anxiety, caffeine, and activity can also all play a role in digestive function. 


Reflecting on these common diagnoses, isn’t it curious that they almost all have the exact same list of symptoms? Most are somewhat vague symptoms that truly could be caused by many different things. Many symptoms are also very subjective, in the sense that if we think we will have more energy, we will. I believe a lot of what alternative providers encourage is positive (for example eating fewer processed foods and adding more fruits and vegetables to our diets), but many of those simple messages become lost in the pushing of dietary supplements and detox products.

I also think that in our busy, fast-paced, convenience food reliant lives, most of these symptoms could be relieved with some basic healthy lifestyle changes, without the need for wacky elimination diets, expensive supplements, or coffee enemas. Starting with small simple changes can do huge things for our health, without breaking the bank on unneccessary products. You can learn more about my simple healthy living checklist by clicking here! 

Have a question about nutrition? Ask a Registered Dietitian!


Read more: Why You Shouldn’t Take Nutrition Advice From Just Anyone

 

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