Many Naturopaths stumble upon our medicine out of personal experience and my story is no different. At age 23 I was three years into my career in emergency medicine. Working for a county ambulance service in rural Colorado, we attended may fairs, athletic games and community health events. One of these health events changed the course of my life forever and it all started with a simple blood draw.

While running an information booth at the 9News Health Fair, the event coordinator offered free blood draws and diagnostics to all booth attendants. “Sure!” I said, mostly to help the green phlebotomist shaking like a leaf, nervous to stick real humans with needles instead of oranges and plastic arms. She did great, and I didn’t give the lab work a second thought… until my results came in.

At the age of 23 I was diagnosed with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) and hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland). Further imaging of my neck arteries through a diagnostic technique called “Intima- Media Thickness” or “IMT” scan showed that I had the arteries of a 55-year-old! I asked my doctor “is there something I can do to fix this?” He responded, “oh sweetie this is genetic. There isn’t anything you can do but take the medicine.” All in one visit I had two medications prescribed to me, simvastatin for my high cholesterol and levothyroxine for my underactive thyroid.

During the first few weeks I was nervous about my new medications. I have a long history of bad reactions and sensitivities to many kinds of pharmaceutical medications. To my amazement, I got more energy and felt more awake during the day. I hadn’t realized how incredibly tired I was. Underactive thyroid can do that to a person! My amazement at my thyroid medication was short lived, however, around week three my high cholesterol medication started giving me some serious side effects.

I will never forget the first time I woke up in a cold sweat and utter panic. I was on shift at the station, in the middle of my 72-hour shift. My sheets and uniform shirt were soaked, my heart was racing, my chest was cramping and immediately I thought “this is it, I have an alien getting ready to pop out of my chest!” Then I woke up fully and more realistically thought I was having a heart attack. I jumped out of bed and ran to the ambulance bay, which didn’t help my symptoms, AT ALL. I fumbled with the electrode stickers and struggled to get them to stick to my sweaty skin. Finally, that little line started to make its dance on the EKG monitor, a machine used to look at heart rhythms. I held my breath, which also didn’t help my symptoms. But slowly I reached for the print button and waited the 8 million years it took for that sucker tospit out that report, only to find…. Normal Sinus Rhythm with mild Tachycardia, in other words a complexly normal heart rhythm, albeit a little on the fast side.

I sat there, feeling no relief whatsoever because that alien was still straining to explode out of me! What on earth was this? Why do I feel so horrible? In the days that followed, my coworkers and I determined it had to be a fluke, something I ate, or a bad dream. I didn’t have another episode until almost two weeks after that, then again the next night, and again the following, and on and on it went. Enough. I went back to the doc.

Statin medications commonly given for high cholesterol can have side effects like any other drug. Some are mild and annoying and some can be quite severe and terrifying. My doctor said that I just had one of those unfortunate rare and severe side effects and that he would prescribe me something different for my high cholesterol. As I stood in line, script in hand I looked forward and behind me down the line of what my future would look like, a lot of really unhappy and sick looking people. Typical millennial style pulled out my phone and googled the name of the new medication on my prescription sheet, then I promptly left the store. Turns out the new medication had all the same risks and side effects as the last one. Nope. Not doing that again.

So now what? I have high cholesterol that will eventually lead to clogged arteries and end with a non-fictional heart attack or even a stroke. I already have the arteries of a 55-year-old so that gives me what? A solid 10-20 years of life left? Death at age 33? Well, isn’t that bucket full of rainbows. At this point I did what any other rational millennial would do, I asked for a second opinion from Dr. Google.

Turns out, everyone has expert opinion on how to cure everything from high cholesterol to migraine headaches (which I had by the time I finished my journey down the rabbit hole), yet none of them agreed on how exactly to do it. I then did what I would latter realize is another commonality between most all naturopaths, I experimented on myself.

The single thing most of those experts on Dr. Google agreed on was that nutrition could alter and cure most any condition under the sun. But which one? Vegan? AIP? South Beach? I eventually settled on the Paleo plan. Dr. Loren Cordain is a household name and staple in Colorado. As the founder of the Paleo and primal lifestyle cultures I had gobs of information and resources to help me down this path.  The sugar detox was rough, and the low carb flu was no picnic, but waking up on day five was like waking up from a long sleep. The fog was lifted, I saw more vibrant colors, heard things more clearly, had no more brain farts, and could actually taste my food! Who knew different lettuce plants tasted like more than just chewing water?! The best part? I had my labs redrawn. Within six months I had effectively reversed my high cholesterol and underactive thyroid to the point where I no longer needed any medication. A cool side benefit? I went from a size 10 to a size 6, could lift more heavy things and didn’t feel winded going up a flight of stairs with our 50lb EMS bag.

To this day I am amazed at how my body reacts to the food I eat. In my early 20’s I thought I was healthy. I did all the things like working out 5 days a week and eating “healthy”, and thought I was strong and vital, but in fact, I was sick. I changed nothing about my life routine and changed everything about my nutrition. I would later learn the quote “Food makes you thin, exercise makes you fit” from one of my favorite health and wellness experts Sean Stevenson. I got sucked into his podcast, The Model Health Show, devouring episode after episode and then I got bit by the spider. He interviewed a Naturopathic Doctor on his show.

In all my Googling I had never even heard of this kind of doctor! How is that possible? She spoke about treating the body through nourishment, finding the root cause of illness, and treating the whole person. She spoke about the versatility of the naturopathic toolbox stating they could use gentle effective therapies like water cure and homeopathy, while also having the ability to use higher therapeutic methods such as injection therapies and minor surgery. Hook, line, sinker. Guess what I did? Yup, back to the Googles. My search for Naturopathic Doctors proved to be a rabbit hole I have yet to find the bottom of.

While my journey began with the simple desire to help a new phlebotomist feel more at ease about her day’s task, it led me to attend naturopathic medical school at the National University of Natural Medicine where I received my own degree as a Naturopathic Doctor. I now have the honor of passing on the wisdom and care that is naturopathic medicine.

Everyone deserves a vibrant and vital life free of fear, of pain, of chemicals and of aliens popping out of their chests!