Dr. Markyia Nichols on using less medication
Tell us a bit about yourself, your medical background, and how you found your way to Ciba Health.
I started out in OB-GYN, which I absolutely loved. It was fast-paced. It was quite a bit of stress. Although at the time, it just felt like lots of energy and it was fun. I noticed pretty early in my career that two things were happening. First off, I was starting to get pretty rundown. Second, I was noticing that I was having to give more and more medications and pills. Every year the same patient would come back with the same issue and need another medication. It started to become really frustrating for me. I realized that it wasn’t what I signed up for. At the same time, I was struggling with all of the stress and the running around, and I was not being kind to my body.
I ended up having an undiagnosed thyroid disorder, which looked normal from the traditional medicine viewpoint. I literally almost retired from medicine. I felt like I wasn’t helping my patients. I was pushing medications. I was sick myself, and I didn’t want to use the same stuff that I was giving to my patients. So through a series of synchronicities and just exploring some other outside of the box therapies, I ended up finding functional medicine. I was at a conference and a friend of mine suggested that I look into it, and I literally fell in love with medicine again. Once I started putting this into practice in my traditional practice, I moved completely out of conventional medicine into functional medicine. I literally saw medical issues reverse within months.
These are the same issues that were requiring years and years of medications on top of medications, and never, ever saw any progress for patients. And here I was in a field where I was able to help people literally reverse their symptoms. I was able to heal myself through using that same medicine, functional medicine, really getting to the root of the issue. I have my own private practice. And again, there were a series of synchronicities and Ciba came on my radar. I knew I had to be a part of it because this is not only cutting edge medicine, but we’re also bringing in all of these tools to be able to validate what we’re doing and really give people some data and information to validate the progress they’re making.
What is your role within Ciba health?
I’m helping to build out the functional medicine team. I’m the functional medicine director of the east coast. So, I’m working with all of the practitioners currently, but mainly I will be based on the East coast. I see my role as helping the company to grow its functional medicine programs and make sure that as we’re developing programs we’re really getting to the root cause of issues. And that as we’re building out our telemedicine platform, which a lot of people are new at, we’re making sure it’s an opportunity for people to really accomplish healing from the comfort of their home. It just gives people a really convenient way to address their health issues, to be proactive, to potentially get the family supported. That’ what we’re, we’re hoping to bring to the world.
Healthcare costs are rising, especially when it comes to prescription medication. Is it possible for patients to decrease or eliminate prescription medications?
Absolutely. And I see it all the time, and that’s what’s really exciting. For a lot of people who maybe have given up on the hope of ever coming off of medication or maybe they’re having side effects from a medication, it is possible. We know that the body knows how to heal. You can cut yourself and the body immediately goes to work to heal. That wound creates a scab. We know the body knows how to heal. The thing is really figuring out the root of the issue that’s creating disease. Once we’re able to pinpoint the root causes and create the change at the root, then the body already knows how to fix itself. You give it the right tools. It knows how to repair. So I like to look at medications as a short-term bridge.
If you’re having an issue and you’re really suffering from a symptom, medication is a short-term bridge while you’re digging to figure out what is actually creating that issue.
We’ll take me for example, with a thyroid issue. Initially, when I was having lots of struggles with fatigue, weight gain, dry hair, and everything, which was really pointing towards the thyroid issue, I was on thyroid hormone for a while. At the same time, I was digging into what was creating the thyroid issue. A lot of people just stay on their thyroid hormone forever. And unfortunately, if you do not figure out what the root cause is, then you can be band-aiding that symptom, but you’re still affecting other organs.
If I had not figured out how to repair my thyroid, for example, but taken the pill just to take care of this one symptom, it doesn’t mean the other organs and joints and hormones that are relying on that thyroid hormone won’t suffer. The other issue with medications is that usually when you’re taking medication, it is literally cutting off or blocking a certain process that’s happening in the body. That process is creating the symptom. You do get relief from that symptom for a period of time. However, when you block a process, a normal process, that’s supposed to be occurring in your body, it’s going to wreak havoc on other systems. This is exactly why these medications have side effects. When you are for instance on a statin drug, for high cholesterol, you will frequently have joint aches and pains while you’re blocking a specific system in the body, because you’re depleting a nutrient in the body. And that creates side effects. Whereas if you look and you figure out the root of the issue, what is creating the inflammation, what is creating the body to create more cholesterol? It could be literally that your hormones are low and the body is trying to create more cholesterol to make more hormones. So once you figure these things out and you repair them, and the body starts to repair itself, then you can naturally start to wean off or eliminate medications.
How did you find out the root cause that was triggering your hormones to act in a different way?
That’s the beauty of functional medicine. We go back to physiology – all of the physiology that we memorized in medical school just for the exam. If you’re in the early phases of the issue, for example with thyroid disease, when you look at someone’s thyroid labs in the traditional medical world, you have this range of “normal” and it’s a very wide range. As long as you’re within that range, your doctor’s going to say that your labs are normal. However, it does not mean that those labs are optimal.
Research studies on healthy people who have vibrant hormones have been done to show what lab ranges are optimal for a person. Because if you’re on the bottom end of the range, you’re not going to feel well, even though your labs are “normal”. With the functional medicine approach, you’re really going back into physiology.
We know that there are a lot of things that can create some imbalance in the body. We do specific testing that goes above and beyond the traditional blood work that you would normally get.
And these could be looking at something as simple as nutrient deficiencies, which were a big one on my list. I was missing zinc, selenium, and iodine – all those things that the thyroid needs in order to synthesize hormone. So if for me, I was running around in the hospital, eating fast food and not getting those nutrients. I could have taken thyroid hormone forever, or changed the way I ate to replenish those nutrients. I was off of my thyroid hormone in no time. Functional testing really goes deep into physiology. We’re looking at the hormones, we’re testing them the right way. We’re looking at nutrient deficiencies. We’re looking at the gut health and gut integrity, which is really important for everything. We’re looking at neurotransmitters. All of these things are important.
We’re also taking the time. A lot of people can relate to going to their doctor and literally having 10 minutes to see their physician. They have two minutes to chat about their issue and hope that the doctor gets a gist of what’s going on. They get a couple of labs and then they leave home with a prescription. In the functional medicine world, we realize how important it is to really take the time to sit down with our patients and discuss the issues and the symptoms.
We figure out all of the psychosocial things that could be contributing to the underlying issue. Stress is a big issue. And if you don’t take that into consideration, you’re missing a key component. You can put supplements and pills and everything in someone’s regimen. But if you don’t address the underlying stress, it literally will not work.
Do you think we are too reliant on prescription medication?
I think that we’ve been in crisis for many, many years. I think that if anything, we’re reaching a point where I think for maybe the first time ever, patients are starting to see that there might be a little propaganda behind all of the pharmaceutical commercials that we’re bombarded with. People aren’t feeling well. I think it’s vitally important now, especially with the pandemic, to open people’s eyes to the importance of being really healthy. Those who have healthy immune systems and are really taking care of those underlying medical issues aren’t the ones that are being impacted by COVID.
In general, I think people are still reliant on medications. And there are some people who really just want the pill. Whatever people’s reasons are, we’re making it easier for people to implement the changes that need to happen in order to have optimal health. That’s one of the reasons why people rely on medications. They don’t have clear instructions on how to get off of them, or they feel like the lifestyle changes that they have to make might be too drastic and won’t be able to do it. One of the things that help us stand out at Ciba and really sets us above and beyond is you have all of the support to get through it and to make it easy.
You can’t tell someone, okay, you need to eat less, eat differently, and exercise more and then send them home without unique, clear instruction. You need to go through someone’s meal plan for a couple of days, see what they’re actually putting into their body. Understand what changes need to be made. You need support, you need someone there who can hold you by the hand as you’re making those changes until it becomes a habit and a way of life.
How might someone who wants to get off of their medication go about doing this?
First off, it’s possible. There is hope. I see it all the time, so it is absolutely possible. And I think it’s important to know that there is a path that you can take. And I think that it is important to work with someone who is an expert at titrating people off of medications in order to do it in a way that’s safe for you. A lot of times, especially with diabetes, as you’re making changes, you want to make sure that you’re really watching your blood sugars and someone else is also gauging that with you. So I think that it’s important to work with a functional medicine practitioner who is not only going to help you titrate off of your medications but is also going to provide you the tools to help your body heal.
There are some medications that are not safe to come off immediately. For example, with antidepressants, you definitely want to be working with someone and repairing your neurotransmitters.
There’s usually not somebody who’s taking a medication and their symptoms are a hundred percent resolved. But it’s one of the good ways that we can use as functional medicine practitioners to gauge the progress of the therapy. Because as you’re healing from the root, you’re replenishing the nutrients, you’re balancing out people’s hormones, you’re adding in the dietary and the lifestyle changes, a person will start to feel better and better. Sometimes there’s even a tipping point where your body’s like, I don’t need this medication and you may actually start to feel worse being on that medication. So that’s one of the ways to do it is really repairing the body prior to titrating off of the medication.
And let’s say for example, someone has had a transplant, all right. And they’re on anti-rejection medicine. You would not want to remove that. But there are a lot of things that we can do in functional medicine world, even in that scenario, to really support the body and make sure that everything else is functioning, even though that medication needs to stay there. So most medications that we’re using for chronic diseases or to patch up or band-aid symptoms can absolutely be removed. If you weren’t born with it, I say most likely it can heal. If you did not come into the world with it, then likely there is some underlying process that is keeping it locked in place, and just work with work with a functional medicine practitione to help to do that. It’s possible.
What can we do to alleviate symptoms without medications? Is this safe and effective?
In functional medicine world, there are so many tools that we have when you’re looking at someone from a holistic perspective and you’re not just physically focused.
There are a lot of things that we can implement as far as mindset shifts that will also help for symptoms. For someone who’s suffering from anxiety, per se, which is big right now, especially with the pandemic – instead of relying on the medication to help in the moment for anxiety, we have natural supplements that do the same thing without being addictive, without the potential for overdose, and that are highly effective.
There is one, I call it nature’s value. It’s called “l-theanine” and it’s the active component in green tea. This is what makes green tea so relaxing. I haven’t traveled this year, but I would use it on airplanes. There are natural supplements and things that you can use to help with symptoms that aren’t going to be damaging to the body and blocking body systems, and that are actually going to help the body to repair.
We also go for mindset and sort of the spiritual shift. We can do mindfulness training. We can do meditation, and then there’s yoga. There are all these tools that we incorporate in functional medicine, when you have a holistic approach that really helps with symptoms.
How might a functional medicine approach to “pain” or symptoms be different from a conventional approach?
It’s a good question. And it’s a big question. I’m hoping with functional medicine practices and principles, we can really start to reverse this epidemic that we have here. One of the issues is that pain is so multifactorial. It’s one thing if you’re in an accident and you have pain medication after surgery for up to a week or so. We automatically assume that you’re not going to need that pain medicine over time. Why? Because the body heals itself. When it comes to chronic pain, and I’m not going to get so much into like addiction because there are things that you can do for that as well. But we have to look again at the root of the pain. So is there something going on in the body that’s creating the pain.
We can look at it from first, the physical level, fpr someone who has fibromyalgia or chronic pelvic pain. There’s a likely some inflammatory process that is keeping that in place and is creating the situation for pain. You end up being on a lot of medication, whether pain medication or auto-immune drugs that are to target that symptom. And this is where the problem is. You’re missing everything else that’s going on in the body that has created the symptom.
The functional medicine approach to pain is we’re going to look for the root cause physically. We’re going to do the functional testing. We’re going to look at inflammation. We’re going to look at the gut. We’re going to look at what you’re eating. Most of the sources of physical pain are what we’re putting into our bodies through our mouth, through our skin, on our skin. Those are the main sources of the physical pain, and then we need to go even deeper.
If there’s emotional pain there, if there’s anxiety there, if there’s depression, is there something going on at home that can be alleviated or we can do some troubleshooting around that? Let’s figure out what is creating the pain so that it does not escalate into brain fog and cancers and all of those things. So I think that’s the difference. I’ll also say that we have so many options besides opioids to address pain. And a lot of them have been and are now being well studied. We’re having more and more research on things such as acupuncture, when before, probably when I first got out into medicine, when someone spoke of acupuncture, you look at them funny.
Now we can say that, yes, this is a valid way of treating pain that is quite effective and has long-term benefits. It’s helping the entire body. And it’s, non-addictive. We are starting to hear about CBD. Our bodies have these special endocannabinoid receptors that are there. They’re in our body amd designed to interact with cannabinoids, which are very healing for inflammation and for pain and for Alzheimer’s and dementia. In functional medicine, let’s figure out what the root is. Let’s use our tools that we have in our toolbox. And while we’re working on that, we have some amazing supplements and tinctures and meditation and breathing techniques that will help you with your pain as we’re figuring out the root to heal it for good.