Cindy Tedrow had been looking for answers to unexplained seizures, fatigue and a host of other medical diagnoses for decades. Join Cindy, and Mark Hyman, MD, as she recounts how functional medicine unraveled her complex medical mystery.

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Functional Medicine Helps Solve Woman’s Medical Mystery

Podcast Transcript

Kyle: Hey Everybody, welcome to The Comeback, I’m your host Kyle Michael Miller. During this episode we’re talking with Cindy Tedrow who suffered from unexplained seizures and a host of other unsolved health problems for decades and Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, but first, here’s Cindy in her own words.

Cindy: My name is Cindy Tedrow. I'm 66 years old and I'm from Delta, Ohio. My health declined, started to decline, about 44 years ago after the birth of my first son. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, autoimmune problems, dysautonomia, seizures, arthritis, migraines, the list would go on. I can't tell you how many doctors I've visited 20 to 30 at least over my lifetime. They told me they would treat each individual symptom but no one knew what to do, how to get me better. They would put me on a prescription or let's try this and I was willing to try anything. It made me feel like why doesn’t someone understand what I'm trying to go through but I never, I never get gave up. I just never, I just wouldn't give up. The hardest part was not being able to do what my family needed me to do and having my children say I don't remember you being well. That was the hardest part. My goal, my goal is to be off all medication. That's my goal. And to lose a few more pounds and to be toned. And if it wasn't for the functional medicine department and and my faith in God I don't know where I would be. And for my family I don't know where I'd be today I probably wouldn't be here ‘cause I'm not sure I would have survived.

Kyle: Cindy, Dr. Hyman thank you so much for joining us today. Cindy, want to start with you, your story is unbelievable. You had all sorts of health issues. Can you tell us a little about that? 

Cindy: It was it started after the birth of my first son and within three months after he was born I would get up in the morning and I, I'd make the bed and that would be it, I could hardly function during the day that I but I did. I was a new mom and kept going and as things progressed something else would happen. They discovered I had mitral valve prolapse, I got worse eventually and I was saying to you earlier that when my second son was born I always tease him, because he's a little Eveready bunny, that when he was born he sucked all my energy out of me and he got all my energy that's when I really started taking a turn for the worse. Blood sugar issues, fainting, fainting was a problem for me my whole life. Diagnosed with dysautonomia, Potts then, and then when I was 42, I had a hysterectomy and that's when things went really, really downhill. That's when the seizures started but I kept, I kept going and I kept pushing, I kept, I was teaching and I basically through the years, it was to the point I would take everything I had to get through the week and then I would recover all weekend so I could teach again on Monday. I kept searching and searching and searching, going from one specialist to another specialist and at one point I was 21 medications, prescriptions, getting worse and it was to the point then the seizures were so all consuming, I never knew when they would I would have them, I started having them in school. One day in school, I remember I was teaching and the kids were looking at me very strange and they said Mrs. Tedrow are you all right? And I had had a seizure and I was speaking and it didn't make sense.

Kyle: Dr. Hyman Cindy was treated at the Functioning for Life program right here at Cleveland Clinic. How is functional medicine different from conventional medicine? 

Hyman: Cindy was talking about this whole list of problems that she had that all seem unrelated from seizures, to fatigue, to fibromyalgia, to migraines, to irritable bowel and she was a mess and I joke, we take care people with a whole list of problems which is why we call ourselves holistic doctors, right? Because we're dealing with all these things that aren't disconnected, they're all related and functional medicine is a model of thinking about how to solve the puzzle of chronic disease. You went to doctor, after doctor and we’re trained as subspecialists or specialists who look at the body is a series of different parts, you each have a specialist for different parts, we don't actually understand how everything is connected. So, functional medicine is about connecting the dots about understanding the patterns in the story that lead to the symptoms. The symptoms are just factors that are caused by something. So we're working at the cause level what's the root cause, why as opposed to what, we can give labels to a disease like fibromyalgia or seizures but the question is why are they happening? And so at the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic we've designed a program called Functioning for Life which is a 10 week program that's immersive, you do it as a group together because we find that people do better together. Friend power is better than willpower to change behavior and change lifestyle and we, it's a foundational lifestyle program but it's also designed to actually create health you know functional medicine, we don't just treat disease we actually create health and often, and when we create health, we just take away the things that cause imbalance in the body and giving the things that create balance, the body often just recovers on its own. It’s like disease goes away as a side effect of creating health and that's really the approach and it's, it's pretty novel and new and it's based on emerging research that teaches us how the body is one whole dynamic system and through that approach we're able to help people like Cindy get rid of problems that they've had for decades that haven't been able to be helped with traditional methods and every doctor does their best but the question is, you know, they're not taught how to think differently, they're not taught, for example, the power of food. Food is the most powerful drug on the planet. Period. There is no drug, for example, that can get people off of insulin in ten days but using this approach we see type 2 diabetics literally get off insulin, or relieve migraines, or seizures, you know, you were on seizure medication on fairly high doses that were making you sleepy and groggy and causing dysfunction and were still not even working and when we dealt with the underlying causes your seizures got better and you said what you're saying to me earlier before the show, before we started this show, that you now don't have any seizures, you've been able to reduce your medications and are you driving again? Yes, you're driving again where you couldn't drive before. I mean this is a massive change in your life, from a, a few simple things that have profound effects.

Kyle: When a patient like Cindy comes in how do you guys even start to unravel these cases that are so complex?

Hyman: Well, we have a map we use to diagnose what's going on and we call it the matrix which is essentially a map of what are all the predisposing factors that could have caused the problem, what are the triggers for disease? And we look for things like toxins, or allergens, or microbes, or stress, or genetics, diet. And then we look at the fundamental lifestyle factors that all of us are affected by whether it's our food and nutrition status. You had massive nutritional deficiencies, and B vitamins, and magnesium, and other things which were causing some of the symptoms and we look at lifestyle from point of view, exercise, sleep, rest, you know, relationships, connection, all these things are important. And then how those things affect systems in the body. We look at how are these predisposing factors or triggers combined with lifestyle affect these fundamental systems and we map everything according to these systems and they are not very many that underlie all disease. We look at the gut, we call it assimilation.  We look at the immune system, and we call that defensive repair. We look at energy, how we make energy in ourselves, which is critically important as you were having a lack of energy that was affecting you which we talked about with mitochondria. We look at how our body detoxifies, we look at our structural system, we look at how our circulation, and transportation and finally we look at communication, how our hormones, and brain chemistry, and our immune system all communicate. And when those are out of balance, disease occurs, so we map out all these symptoms, all the lab tests, all the story according to this map and we're able to tell by looking at that, along with a timeline of when things happened, what to do and then we figure out where the imbalances are in the gut, and Cindy had a lot of gut problems, and so people don't realize that a lot of your health starts in your gut and you had bloating, irritable bowel, overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast overgrowth, all sorts of issues that no one had really learned how to deal with because, you know, you either have a disease or you don't. When it's an imbalance it's like, well, it's not really a disease yet but, it really was causing a lot of misery and your symptoms and was debilitating you and preparing you from actually living a life that you want to live. You know, it didn't take long for you to, sort of, recover and you were saying you lost 80 pounds which is impressive. The beautiful thing is it's not a weight loss program. The program isn’t designed to cause you to lose weight, it's not like eat less, exercise more, it’s actually about creating health and weight is just a sign of somebody being out of balance and unhealthy and when you fix that, the weight just falls off.

Kyle: Cindy you had talked about how food was so instrumental in helping transform your health. Was there a certain diet that you adopted to or were there certain foods you started to eat that you weren't eating before?

Cindy: That's, Dr. Hyman, that is the one of the main things that I learned through the Functioning for Life program was, as you mentioned earlier, that food is medicine and I, I never knew that. I never knew, I thought I was eating healthy and I always suspected that my body was not absorbing the vitamins and minerals, I just inherently felt that way. When I went on the renew life diet through the Functioning for Life medicine within the my last group of seizures was in April of 2017, I had four in nine days, and I, that was my last.

Hyman: That was almost a year ago.

Cindy: Yes and it was in May of 2017, I remember I called my mother and I said, ‘Mom, I just vacuumed the living room’, I couldn't even vacuum my living room. So, I just started the program at the end of March so, in a month and a half, two months at most, it had already, was making a change in my, in my life already.

Hyman: Food works faster, better, cheaper than most drugs.

Cindy: And it wasn't hard, it's not a hard diet at all.

Kyle: Dr. Hyman is this common for patients to see results, almost, you know, in just in a few weeks, a month? 

Hyman:  Often we'll see dramatic changes. We looked at some of the data we see 60 plus percent reduction in all symptoms from all diseases in 10 days. Now it sounds ludicrous to say that but actually that's the power of food because, as I said, food is not just calories it's actually information and it changes your brain chemistry, your hormones, your immune system, your gut flora and changes your gene expression literally with every bite and so then renew diet is designed to be anti-inflammatory and to remove things that are inflammatory and to add things that are anti-inflammatory and to remove the sugar and starch from the diet which is often driving a lot of inflammation so, most chronic disease is inflammatory. We now know that heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's – these are all inflammatory diseases, you know, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and all of these things are related to inflammation in the body. So, we can use food to dramatically reduce inflammation in the body and then you drop, you drop fluid, you drop weight and you drop disease. 

Kyle: Do you think that carbs and sugar are two things that we should cut out of our diet or just be aware of how much we're consuming? 

Hyman: Well, we have to define what we mean by that, right? So sugar is, is definitely something we eat in pharmacologic doses. The average American eats 152 pounds of sugar a year, that’s about a half a pound a day almost and some kids eat more and that is something we never worry while to eat and it's the biggest driver of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, depression, and much more.  So, that's, that's for sure. And the second thing is carbohydrates are starch, so carbohydrates, a wide variety of them, so vegetables are carbohydrates. All plant foods are carbohydrates, broccoli is a carbohydrate. Those are fine, right? We need to eat most of our diet as carbohydrates, which is a plant rich diet, not only plants but a lot of vegetables. The problem is that we eat a lot of starch so flour, we eat 133 pounds of flour which again is an enormous amount of flour, and flour actually has a higher glycemic index than sugar. That's how much the food raises your blood sugar. So, basically bread raises your blood sugar more than table sugar. So, they're equivalent at least and I think we don't understand that. So, getting rid of starch and sugar is hugely important across a wide range of diseases.

Kyle: So, we’ve talked a lot about food, but what are some of the other therapies recommended for patients like Cindy who are in the Functional Medicine program?

Hyman: So, a lot of the issues that happened are in the gut. We are now at Cleveland Clinic doing extraordinary work in the micro biome, Dr. Stan Hazen’s looking at the connection between the micro biome and heart disease, Charis Eng is looking at the micro biome in breast cancer, so we're now expanding our idea of what the gut does. We know it's linked to heart disease, to cancer, and diabetes, to obesity, to inflammation, autoimmune disease, allergies – all these different problems that we see different specialists for but they may originate in the gut and turns out Cindy had a lot of gut issues, she had a lot of symptoms, she had irritable bowel, bloating and digestive issues but we looked at her stool test, and we looked at other markers and we can see there's imbalances in her gut and there were deficiencies of the healthy bacteria, there was overgrowth of too much yeast, and there was a lack of digestive enzyme function and all these different things that we corrected. So, working on the gut is a big part of it, which is probiotics, which are healthy bacteria, removing the bad foods, giving supportive support with enzymes and nutrients to help heal the gut and that's a really important component and then we added also some basic nutrients for example, you know, magnesium is a powerful relaxant, it helps relax, in fact, muscles, and people have cramps, or anything that's tight, or tense in the body. Magnesium is a great muscle relaxant and, in fact, it's funny because in medicine we use it all the time, if someone in the ICU has a heart that's twitching out of control and we use all the drugs we can possibly think of, we use intravenous magnesium, when women come in and preterm labor where the uterus is irritable we give them I.V. magnesium, if they're having seizures in pregnancy called preeclampsia we give them magnesium intravenously, so it's not surprising that, you know, when your brain is having seizures and irritable, when you add magnesium it can really help. So, we added magnesium and there's just merely optimize for nutritional status based on some of the tests and history we did so we just basically gave a few basic supplements and often the body just thrives and responds really quickly.

Kyle: Cindy you were on 21 medications before you started this program. How many are you on today?

Cindy: I think I'm down to 16, I think now, 15 or 16 but I have asthma and a lot of those are asthma and sinus issues.

Hyman: Those get better at all?

Cindy: Yes, actually they have. My sinuses have gotten a lot better. Usually in the fall, and I live on a farm, so and I'm allergic to dust, in the fall it was terrible, it was terrible. But I did very well this fall. Yeah I did very well.

Kyle: And that was better than you did a year ago?

Cindy: Oh yes, yes I was sick all the time.

Kyle: How did your sickness impact your family? Your kids? Your husband?

Cindy: It changed their lives and it wasn't what I expected or wanted for them at all.  I feel very bad about that. The hardest thing was with my youngest son when he told me mom I never remember you being well, not that it hurt me, it wasn't that, it just felt so bad. As a mother, that he had to experience that and my oldest son had to experience that. When I would see the concern and the fear in my husband’s face it would just cut me to the core and I tried, I tried so hard, I tried so hard but I just couldn't get better or hear the concern of my mother's voice and through this, I've always been a Christian, but through this, it brought me closer to God and so I'm thankful for this experience because I never would have gotten this close to God through this.

Kyle: I think we look at you today and we see you as a fighter and somebody who overcame so many tremendous obstacles and that you're still standing today.

Hyman: Cindy, the story you tell is so common, and so sad, and frustrating and it's really why we were brought to Cleveland Clinic to do functional medicine because there’s the whole approach to chronic disease that addresses patients like you who really struggled, really suffered, who don't have the problem all in their head, right? It's not just because you're depressed, or you're crazy, it's because we weren't trained to deal with these chronic complex issues and the beautiful thing about functional medicine, it emprises a simple roadmap and it's not that hard and it's doable.

Kyle: Cindy have you ever played go fish?

Cindy: Yes.

Kyle: We're going to play a little game of go fish. So, if you want to take the lid off of our fish bowl, and you can reach in, grab a question, read it out loud, and then give us your answer for it.

Cindy: What advice do you have for others? Never give up. Never give up. I would search, and search on the internet and I would explain that. That's what happened. The Lord put the right people together at the right time in my life and I had been online searching and I had read an article about a doctor of osteopathy and it mentioned functional medicine and I thought what is that? So, I was researching functional medicine and at the same time my mom had mentioned to her, one of her doctors but he said she needs to go to the Cleveland Clinic to the Functional Medicine department. He was aware of that and so those two things intertwined and so then I waited a year to change my insurance so I could come here. Never give up.

Kyle: Two more questions in there. Why don’t you go pull them out? 

Cindy: Alright. Both of them? Who gave you the best advice and what was it? Oooh. Two – at the Clinic, ‘I will help you’, ‘we can help you’, and ‘the Lord will never leave you’.

Kyle: You always felt like you were going to make it?

Cindy: Yes, I just I never lost faith. Doesn't mean it wasn't hard, alright? I would get down, but I just wasn't going to give up.

Kyle: What about the third question? The last one.

Cindy: What's the one thing you want your children to remember about what you've been through? I'm a strong woman, I'm a fighter, and I love them very much and I wish they did not have to have this in their life but there must have been a reason.

Hyman: Now they have their mom back.

Kyle: I love it, it's beautiful. Doctor Hyman, any final thoughts?

Hyman: This is such a beautiful story, it is so hopeful, and you know, you were sick for so long and I'm sure there were moments where you really lost hope but I'm so glad you were able to, sort of, find your way to us and that we can help you and use this model of functional medicine to really get you better. Such a remarkable story. And it's, like you said, it's not that hard and it's doable and there's things you just didn't know that were keeping you from being well and your story is just so inspiring and I hope it inspires others to take a step and get help. 

Cindy: People, they have to, they have to be their own advocate. They have to, you have to be your own advocate, you can't let someone else do it for you. You have to do it yourself and just keep going until you find, and this is the place to come, this is the place to come.

Kyle: Dr. Hyman thank you for being here today and Cindy thank you so much for sharing your story, for being so open. I know it's going to encourage a lot of people.

Cindy: I hope so. Thank you.

Kyle: And thank you everybody for listening today, you can find additional podcast episodes on our website clevelandclinic.org/podcasts, on iTunes and Google Play.

The Comeback
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The Comeback

A medical journey can be a transformational point in someone’s life. Tune in as Cleveland Clinic patients, together with their physicians, share experiences of perseverance and determination. In their own words, hear how these health heroes have made the ultimate comeback.

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