After my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, doctors helped me realize that natural remedies work best alongside, not instead of, modern medicine.
I've always been the anti-medicine Mom. Flu shots? Not in our world. When my kids had ailments, my response was usually, "Drink some water!" Or "Eat more fruits and veggies." Or "Put coconut oil on it!"
All of that changed last year when my now 8-year-old daughter started losing weight. She drank cup after cup of water and used the bathroom more than a pregnant woman, but never felt better.
After a phone call to her pediatrician, I was urged to immediately pick her up from school and get her to a doctor.
Tests revealed what I had feared: Type 1 Diabetes. A "disease" with no prevention and no cure. There was no homeopathic remedy for this chronic diagnosis. Lexi would now require insulin shots every time she ate in order to stay alive. Modern medicine would become our norm, but I still had questions.
I've been suspicious of prescription medication, and even over-the-counter supplements, ever since I can remember. When I was younger, I was never able to find a daily multi-vitamin, for example, that didn't make me sick to my stomach. Basic warnings of not taking Ibproufen without eating made me weary. And then, when I was pregnant, I was told to avoid Ibuprofen all-together. So I started reading more about nutrition and the things we put into our body. I was convinced that food and alternative treatments could replace any medications I needed to take.
But when it came to my daughter's health, I decided to turn to the experts:
"The truth is that most established medicines have been extremely well studied," former pediatric emergency physician Amy Baxter, told me. "Most modern medicines are derived from plants in some way and are then purified to get the good effects. The thing I wish parents knew was that when alternative medicine is extensively tested, we just call it medicine."
While this was comforting to learn, soon after our daughter's life-changing Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis, we received more news from her doctors: Lexi also had an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's disease, which leads to an underactive thyroid gland.
Now, on top of her daily insulin shots, my daughter would have to swallow a pill every single morning. More medication? I wasn't sure how I felt about this. Out of desperation and confusion, I again started looking for alternatives.
Maybe she can just go carb free, I thought, since low-carb diets have been found to help adults with Type 1 Diabetes. Nope—our nutritionist told me carbohydrates are just as important to a child's development as sleep and exercise.
I quickly found myself out of options: I either had to learn to embrace medicine as a means of keeping my daughter healthy or feel helpless and continue to lose sleep about two conditions that have baffled researchers for decades.
Instead of fighting the use of modern medicine, over time I became thankful that I have insurance that covers the exuberant cost of insulin and related supplies. On challenging days, I remind myself how lucky we are to live so close to a brilliant team of diabetes educators and endocrinologists who care so deeply about their patients.
And I've continued teaching myself as much as possible about the history of Type 1 Diabetes, what researchers know about the disease now, and how the other nutrients we put into our bodies play a role in keeping blood sugar in "normal range."
It turns out I don't have to give up my love for natural remedies: Medicine like insulin can be more effective when supplemented with healthy eating, says nutritionist Jennifer Woodward of reformedmetabolics.com, who is the daughter and aunt to two Type 1 diabetics. Woodward said reducing processed foods, sugar, wheat, and dairy allow the body's inflammatory response to lessen, which frees the body to return to homeostasis.
"Nutrition can help, but it can't take the place of medicine," Woodward said.
Although it took me a long time to realize that food could not, in fact, replace medicine in my family's life, I have very much found that when the two are properly used together, it can create moments of harmony. And sometimes, it's those moments that carry us through the more challenging times.
Letting go of my "anti-medicine" way-of-life gave me the opportunity to step back and feel the pride that comes from watching my young warrior journey on, regardless of what her body needs to do so.