If you have high blood pressure, taking a pill is not enough to cure it. You need functional medicine. You need to look into your lifestyle and see what needs to change. Is your job stressful? Are you eating properly? Western medicine tends to prefer pills over anything else. That needs to be addressed because you want to look into the root cause of your problem.
Join Pamela Wirth as she talks to Susan Gillispie about the use of functional medicine. Susan is a Functional Health Nurse Practitioner and Wholistic Health Medical Practice Provider. Find out how Susan went into medicine and why in functional health. Learn what functional medicine is and its holistic approach. Also, learn why diets need to be individualized for each person. There is no one diet. Start solving your problems by tackling the root cause today!
I am super excited to invite Susan Gillispie, who is a nurse practitioner specializing in functional health. Susan, did I explain that correctly? It's an incredibly long and important title.
You did. As a nurse practitioner, I've been trained in Western medicine but I found that Western medicine is all about pharmaceuticals. You go in, have a problem and we give you a pill. I have found that to be very frustrating. In functional medicine, we work hard to try to get down to the root cause of the problem.
Some people have heard about functional medicine versus what is considered integrative versus what is considered regular or allopathic. Can you maybe teach on the differences between these?
Allopathic is a Western medicine model that most MDs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained in. You go in and have a problem. The solution tends to be a pill of some form. With high blood pressure, you get a little set of problems. Technically, the first-line treatment for high blood pressure is lifestyle changes but our system doesn't allow to talk about what that looks like for the patient.
We do the easy thing, unfortunately. We gave you lisinopril, amlodipine or metoprolol. There are a gazillion different ones out there. Functional medicine, I look at that. I'll get high blood pressure. I look up the patient and talk about maybe some lifestyle changes. To do that, I have to get to know the patient. What's going on in their lifestyle? What are they eating and drinking? What's their family life and work like? What's their stress level? We're looking at more of a holistic view of the person.
Tell me the difference between functional and integrative.
It's pretty similar. It’s the same idea. We all have fancy words for everything.
There's different terminology being thrown around but I thought it was similar so I wanted to make sure it didn't have some major difference. Tell us a little bit about you and how you got into health and wellness. What prompted you to become a nurse practitioner?
I've been in medicine for years. It’s a little bit different. I’m in medic. We’re trained to save a life. I've got that demonstrates. Family trauma is what led me to nursing. My husband decided to go try to kill himself in a car accident and spend three weeks in ICU. The caring of the nurses impressed me. I've always been thinking about medicine and what I wanted to do but I had four young kids at home and my husband works. I raise the kids.
After that, not knowing if my husband is going to ever go back to his career, I was signing up for college courses when he was still in the ICU because I had to do something to support my family. I got a degree in Biology. The economy crashed. I would maybe teach high school biology. I love biology and then I applied for nursing school and got in. That set my career path. I fell in love with it. I did a condensed nursing course. They already had previous bachelors.
I did my BSN in fourteen months. It’s pure hell. Mind you, I learned how to drink alcohol during that time. It wasn't too long after being a nurse on the floor and realizing what the doctors were doing and how things were happening. I wasn't impressed with it so I thought maybe I could do better. I applied to become a nurse practitioner. I got into Georgetown the first time and everything else is history.
When you did the condense program, out of curiosity, how long did it take?
Fourteen months. It was pure hell. Let's face it. It was full-time, school and clinical. I barely had time to sleep.
How old are the kids at this point?
They were 10, 12, 14 and 16. It was so well worth it. My husband was a great support. The kids were very involved in my education. I had stacks of flash cards. The kids would run through with me. My oldest was a little bit of a Nazi about it. If I didn't recite word for word on the flash card, he could make it wrong and it made me do it over and over. The kids were involved in it. They probably learned as much as I did in a lot of ways.
Western medicine is all about pharmaceuticals. You have a problem, you get a pill without even addressing the root cause.
You have your clinic.
I do. I never thought I would ever own my clinic but here I am.
I'm sure, it has another whole host of things that are new and different that you're learning and becoming a small business owner at the same time in addition to treating people.
It is. Diving into the land of insurance and insurance reimbursement, that's been very interesting. It’s one of the only functional medicine providers in my geographical area.
That's super that you're nice enough to take insurance. Most functional doctors try not to because it's painful.
It is a big hassle but I'm here to take care of my patients. Everything else works out in the end and that's how I look at it.
In terms of your practice, do you find that there are certain things that you're seeing more than others? Do you see all ages? Do you see certain conditions that you're finding more of? I would imagine with time things ebb and flow in certain ways.
I see everybody. Cradle to the graves, how I look at it. I'm one of the only people in the area that will see pediatrics that are unvaccinated. I believe that vaccination should be an informed consent process and no one should be forced to it. Parents should make that decision for their children. I support that and I will see these patients. My pediatric practice is blooming because of that. I do see all ages. I see a lot of people who are dealing with the fatigue and digestive issues are two of my big ones. Muscle aches and pains or another one.
When you see folks with digestion, anxiety, depression or stress, what are some of the things that you run through in terms of your protocol or checklist?
My favorite thing to do and people can afford to is do micronutrient testing. I'm looking at all the amino acid environments that everybody needs. Most of the time, there is a vitamin micronutrient deficiency that we're looking at. I can almost count most always vitamin D to start with but then we move into the other B vitamins, glutamate or all these other ones that can be low. If we address the root cause, we fix the problem versus the pill for all pharmaceutical formulations which is like a Band-Aid. It’s not fixing the problem.
When you run the micronutrient testing, which I'm a big believer in, how much does it typically cost? Is any of that covered by insurance?
Unfortunately, no. I can occasionally get insurance to cover B12 and vitamin D but unfortunately, that's not the whole picture. I found a lab out of California where I can do micronutrient testing for about $400. It’s not horrible but not cheap.
Yes. It's both interesting on extracellular. I'm looking at both.
On my wish list of things is to find a partner one day that is saliva and urine because I think that the technology is there and it can become so much more accessible and cost-effective.
If you find that, let me know. Those tests can be upwards of $1,500.
Yes, it's crazy but that was impactful when we were going through what we were doing with our son. It was a lot of blood work. What we found were a lot of interesting things about low nutrition and vitamin levels. When I thought he was eating properly, he had a genetic mutation, MTHFR, that was preventing the absorption. He got to learn all about that and how to work around that. He's thriving but had it not been for getting to the root of the nutrients that he wasn't absorbing correctly, it never would have been a holistic type of view.
We're finding that kids with ADHD are more of an Omega-3 issue versus actual ADHD issues. We have a great supplement that we use for that. It is wonderful. We're not pumping these kids for stimulants. We're taking care of the root cause of the problem.
When you are seeing pediatrics, do you tend to say, “This might be genetic. You might want to check this out to mom and dad?”
We do, depending on what they come in for. For most of my kids, I'm so blessed. They’re a small child. It's so much fun. Occasionally, we have a child whose mom and dad don't want to do traditional ADHD meds so we look at a supplement. My other patients can't necessarily afford the blood tests so we trial and error. We know what usually is the pump. We'll try that for a few months if it works fantastic. If it doesn't, we'll tweak it a little bit.
How do you approach digestion? What do you look at?
Multiple things. Was it the beginning of the GI tract? Is it the end of the GI tract? It depends on where it starts. We're looking at GERD, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Are we looking at a gastric emptying problem? Are we looking at an absorption problem? Are we looking at an elimination problem? We have to dive deep to talk about it. Patients are sometimes horrified. I want to know about your bowel stools. I want to know the color and if it floats. I want to know if it's formed or if it's nuggets. I have to know what's going on to identify where that digestive problem is happening.
In certain clinics, there are different types of treatments for different things and folks are becoming more educated as they're doing research online. Are there certain treatments that you have found that are cutting edge that you're playing around with it that you think folks might want to learn more about?
No. It's still basic for me. Fiber is a key thing. Aloe is wonderful. I use a product from Thorne called GI-Encap that helps digestive enzymes for the stomach and digestive part. I have nothing special. It's getting to know the patient.
What do you find in terms of allergies? What do you like to do for that?
I have the best supplement. Something that we branded ourselves is called Hist. It's a combination of vitamin C, serotonin and stinging nettle. It is fantastic. I have severe allergies. I used to be the one that goes, “Nothing works except the big guns.” I was an era of Seldin, which they pulled off for cardiac issues. It’s the only thing that ever worked for me. We'd be a mess. Nothing worked. Legere came out and it worked great but I didn't quite get it. I worked with a major nutraceutical company to help me formulate this. I take one a day. I'm golden. It’s not a handful and they're green. It's awesome. They work like a charm with no side effects, drowsiness or constipation.
It doesn't make your heart race or anything crazy?
Not at all. It doesn't make you sleepy. Sometimes, I wish it would if I took it at night.
A sugar molecule under a microscope looks like a ninja death star. That's what is inside of you when you have diabetes.
Some of the nutty things are how passionate some people feel about certain diets versus others. Do you have a certain diet that you prescribed?
It depends on my patient. Are they diabetic? We're then going to go a little carb. In simplified terms, diabetics should be allergic to carbs. The body doesn't know what to do with it. No one's taken the time to explain diabetes to most patients. Their pancreas doesn't make insulin so they have a lot of extra sugar. You don't know why that causes damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves. Part of our biological process needs insulin. This is the key to getting that door to go into the house of the cell.
Your eyes, kidneys and nerves have no locks on those doors. That sugar can go right in. If you ever see a sugar molecule or glucose molecule under an electronic microscope, it looks like a ninja with all these spikes. When it sets there, it'll cause all kinds of damage, which we see in diabetics. The goal is to treat their diet by starting to reduce the number of carbs that they're eating to the level where they're not storing it in other places like their eyes, the kidney and the nerves so we're stopping that nerve damage. It's lifetime progress. We can get most patients off most meds, if not all meds, through a diet and exercise.
Is there anything in the diet itself that you feel passionate about as you're chatting with folks that have a lot of pain or inflammation?
Low inflammation diet. We want to look at foods that cause less inflammation. Everything is targeted for each patient. I don't have one diet that I prescribed to everybody because no one has the same problem. When we're looking for people with pain, we want that low inflammation diet. Probably some turmeric added, black pepper or things to work on that inflammation. As well as good fish oil.
People don't realize but that does help and then movement. The adage, move it or lose it. It is the truth. We got to have some movement. I'm not asking my patients to go to the gym or lift 100 weights. I encouraged them to take a 30-minute walk. It's amazing what a 30-minute walk will be. We do that for a while. Maybe take two bottles of water with you or a little bit of weight in your hands. It doesn't have to be this intense workout for your health journey. It can be simple as walks.
You don't have to do the walk every day at the same time for 30 minutes. Break it up. You got ten minutes break. Park out in the boondocks. In the parking lot, walk in, and walk out. It's a combination of these things and it's little changes over time for health. You didn't get unhealthy overnight. It's a process so it’s a process to bring you back.
We pick a little nugget. We pick one thing a month, incorporate it in, see you back, see how you did and incorporate something new. We're making habits. We're making permanent changes versus me dumping everything on you at one time expecting you to make all these changes and you won't. You’ll go for 1 week or 2 and you're done. It's too hard.
When someone is reading and wondering what an anti-inflammatory diet might look like instead of going to Google and typing that in, do you have any helpful hints or things to think about?
Google typing it in is going to bring up a whole bunch of things. You have to take in concerns for allergies likes and dislikes. Every patient is individualized. I look at that. I asked them, “What did you have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks?” We talk about taking things out, adding things in and small steps.
What made a big difference in our family, allergies, weight, our skin looking healthy and less acne was minimizing the amount of sugar. I was raised in an Irish-Catholic family. It was all about showing love through baking. I've had to adjust and think about how I show love through savory baking instead of sweet baking.
It can still be done. Organic honey, not pasteurized is a great one. Some of the alternative sugars like monk fruit and things like that you could still use in moderation. Sugar is one of the worst things about inflammation. If you look at a typical American diet, every meal, you're eating tablespoons or cups of hidden sugar. It's there. We see it with gluten as well. I get a lot of people to come in with headaches and severe migraines. It’s not an allergy but intolerance. You have to pull it all out and maybe add a little bit back in, depending on their tolerance level.
Once I stopped drinking diet Coke, that was a long thing for me for a long time.
That's why you have to dig in and find out what people are eating and drinking because you can't assume. I get that with people too with a lot of allergies and mucus. I find that as a milk protein allergy. Not lactose but weight invasive. If we can remove that, we clear that up.
You have enough. It's amazing. Thank you. Any last tips? How do people find you if they want to learn more information or visit you?
My website, WholisticTeleHealth.org is the best way. My phone number is there. You can reach out.
Anything you want to end with the folks should think about when it comes to health and wellness?
Little steps make permanent changes. Don't try to do everything at once because you will do it for a little while but then you'll stop. Each time you set, make one healthy choice that's a win for the diet. If you get out and walk, that's a win. Be easy on yourself. It took a long time to get where you're at. It takes a long time to get where you need to be. Little steps at a time so you can make these healthy choices and add to them. When you get one focus done, move on. It’s little steps that we all need to make. That's the best way to achieve health.
That's fantastic. Susan, thank you so much for your time and for being with us. We appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. It was fun.