Diet, Infusions Help Integrative Medicine Patient take Control Over her Condition

By Jeffrey Field
January 8, 2018

Haley WilliamsHaley Williams was about a year out of college when fibromyalgia left her struggling with her day-to-day life.

"Work would exhaust me to the point (where) I would just go home and lay in bed for the rest of the night," she says.

She said she often felt drained and lethargic. Daily tasks were tough. She had so much pain that she'd watch the clock until she could take another dose of medication. But these medicines – and she was taking a lot of them – controlled her symptoms. What she craved was control over her condition.

"I would have episodes and I just really felt like I didn't have all the tools to make it less painful than it was," she says.

Williams said her mother had a positive experience with integrative medicine years earlier and had encouraged her to try it. But she didn't heed the advice until her condition reached the point where she felt she had to try something.

"OK, this isn't helping anymore. I can't function with this much medicine and things of that nature," Williams recalls thinking. "The things I had to do weren't conducive for a functional life."

In late 2016, she made an appointment with Emily Day, APRN, in Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System. Williams brought her mother along for the initial consultation, which was a good thing because Day wanted a very detailed medical history.

"I was overwhelmed by all the questions to the point that they were asking me stuff about my birth, and I was, like, 'I don't know anything,'" Williams says. "My mom was there, which was great."

Williams was also asked what she believed was at the root of her health problems.

"I thought it was bad diet and stress and no sleep in college," Williams says, recalling a "heinous" collegiate lifestyle of late nights, Diet Coke and Taco Bell. "But they started talking about 'What chemicals are you around?'"

Williams says Day asked about a lot of things she never considered might be a factor in her health issues.

"They started taking that into account and just all the different things that happened in my life, not only medically, but emotionally," she says. "The really do understand the fact that it's also a mental stress and anxiety game, too."

Williams had blood drawn to test for nutrient deficiencies and allergic reactions. Those tests led to recommendations for supplements and a different approach to eating.

"When they started telling me dietary stuff, they said, like, 'No grains, no meat, no dairy for six months,'" Williams says.

It meant giving up cheese, mashed potatoes and many other foods she loves.

"That's all the good stuff," she says. "In my mind, that's how I felt. So it was hard for me to kind of get on board with it."

Her immediate reaction to the new nutrition plan was to rebel, like a defiant child.

"I think I ate everything I wasn't supposed to eat for a few more days, kind of almost reconciling it with myself, being like, 'You're going to get to eat everything you want and then you'll start,'" she says. "I was also just a little mad about it."

Williams said that after about a week of eating things she'd been advised to avoid, her body felt terrible. So she decided to see what six months without those foods would do.

"That's what everyone kept on (saying), 'It's six months and you can introduce it back and you'll really know how to eat for your body,'" Williams says.

Cutting back on foods taught her a lot. She discovered that her body can't handle potatoes or potato starch. She noticed that after eliminating grains, she didn't feel as bogged down and tired. Integrative dietitian Dr. Leigh Wagner helped her understand nutrition and guided her toward new foods.

Williams came to enjoy the comfort and confidence of knowing her next few hours might be pain-free.

"I'm not constantly worried that my pain is going to come flooding in at any point, based on a decision I made," she says.

She also noticed a difference when she returned to those foods she'd been advised to avoid.

"It (felt) like I was having an allergic attack. I was having so much stomach pains and my fibro flared up like crazy," she says. "It's gotten to the point now, if it's like a binder in a crab cake, I will know within the first 15 minutes. But it causes me so much pain that I don't want it."

She also discovered that getting more sleep made a difference. If she doesn't get eight to nine hours of sleep at night, she will probably wake up with pain.

As part of her treatment, Williams receives regular intravenous infusions of magnesium, vitamin C and other nutrients. She was hesitant to try it at first. Now, she swears by the infusions, calling them a game changer.

"I had so much energy. More energy than I had in more than a year, probably," she says.

Williams says her infusions help so much that she went from taking maximum daily dosages of her medication to only needing one set in the morning and another at night. She says it's a more manageable regimen for a condition she'll probably have for the rest of her life.

"As little of those meds I can get in my system, I'd much prefer it," Williams says.

She appreciates that she can email Day anytime issues come up, whether it's an urgent matter or questions she calls "random and nonsensical." She once read about leaky gut syndrome and wondered whether it might be a factor in her case. Day was able to tell her that she'd already been tested for it.

"It's a very conversational atmosphere, which I really appreciate, because then I can be more open about different things I've tried and be more open with how I'm feeling and really try to pinpoint it," Williams says. "You have more people on your side helping you work through it and they're always willing to talk, which I feel like I don't get in a lot of standard doctor's offices. I have wonderful doctors all over, but getting a hold of some of them is harder than others."

Williams now recommends integrative medicine for people who want answers for their health issues – or alternatives to medication. She said that while the treatment plan that worked for her may not be the answer for everyone, other treatments may be able to help.

"I know everybody is different, so they should give it a chance to see if they can pinpoint a person's trouble areas and potentially improve their quality of life," she says. "I just want other people with fibromyalgia to trust this program could really help if given a chance. By no means is it a replacement to other treatments, but an addition, too."

Williams says it's about having a good foundation of knowledge.

"If the foundation of your health and the foundation of your body isn't there, you're not going to be successful at kicking – or helping your body heal from – whatever is wrong," she says.

She says integrative medicine stresses many of the same ideas we're taught as children.

"Eat right, take your vitamins, get enough sleep," she says. "I feel like, as adults, especially as you get older, you have more responsibilities and you start to go for convenient food and lack of sleep."

She says her integrative medicine experience gave her the chance to re-take control of er life.

"You may not control it to the level you want," she says. "But it's a way to live a more controlled life with conditions, especially in my case – autoimmune conditions – to actually be able to take back some of your life a little bit and not let the pain dictate what you're doing."

This story is part of a series of interviews with The University of Kansas Health System Integrative Medicine patients who agreed to share their experiences in our clinic. If you’d like to learn more about integrative medicine, call the clinic at 913-588-6208 to make an appointment with a member of our team.

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