"A Case Study in Complex Symptom Patterns"
by Clinical Herbalist, Laura Bairstow
As I read over the intake form, I knew this was going to be a memorable case.
A 40-year-old female signed up for the Acorn clinic with chief complaints of possible autoimmune disease, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue. Although very petite at 5’1” and a meager 105 lbs, when we met for our session she turned out to be quite the firecracker—full of life, energy, and laughter. She appeared very thin, pale, and physically deficient with a very cold constitution, but she was energetically vibrant and animated. I learned she had recently taken Paul Bergner’s class Systemic Inflammation, Food Intolerances, and Autoimmunity and was looking to address her potential autoimmunity in the vitalist paradigm, so at least we were starting off on the same page.
During our interview, she complained of reactivated Epstein-Barr virus and reactivated Parvovirus triggered by her recent Covid-19 vaccine shots, expressing that she has a history of bad reactions to vaccines. Since then, she had experienced painful lymph nodes, severe pain in her jaw, numbness in her arms, joint pain, fatigue, headaches, night sweats, bowel problems, and a small skin rash. Additionally, I learned of her extensive medical history including multiple car accidents, surgeries, infections, antibiotics, traumas, various medical diagnoses, and lab results, all of which were woven into the story of her current condition. Although she was not taking any prescription medications, she had a laundry list of supplements, vitamins, and herbs that she was taking at various times for anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and heavy metal cleansing purposes. It was all very intimidating and overwhelming.
Furthermore, her diet was no less complex. Although she ate a generally whole food, home cooked diet of vegetables, legumes, fish and meat, she was intolerant of gluten and dairy and occasionally had bad reactions to certain meats. She had been strictly gluten-free and dairy-free for many years and noticed improvements in her overall health by removing these items from her diet. At various times in the last few years she had eliminated and reintroduced many other foods to test for food sensitivities, but at the time of our interview, she was omitting eggs, oats, and corn in search of the source of her possible autoimmune symptoms and was seeing a rheumatologist.
Assessing her case seemed complicated and above my education level. But as I reviewed all the factors, I remembered to stick to simple vitalist therapeutics and start with healing the digestive tract. I didn’t want either of us to get caught up in disease names, lab numbers, or which-came-first causality, so we just started where it was easiest for the client.
"... stick to simple vitalist therapeutics and start with healing the digestive tract"
After taking Paul’s class, she had purchased dried chamomile, peppermint, fennel, licorice, plantain, calendula, burdock, and turmeric, so I devised an intestinal-tissue healing formula using these herbs and instructed her how to make medicinal-strength teas. I suggested she experiment with brewing some tea to familiarize herself with the herbs while I wrote up her treatment protocol.
A couple days later she contacted me after making her first medicinal brew. She had drunk an entire quart and had an intense, yet positive, reaction. Although she felt like she was “on drugs,” she reported she felt “amazing” and “better than I have in months” just after that one ingestion. It was a testament to the power of these plants when taken therapeutically. It was also a reminder to be very explicit when discussing dosing, since individuals can react very differently to various herbs. I told her to stick to a cup or two daily while she was getting used to them.
By our next meeting two weeks later, she reported her rheumatologist had ruled out any autoimmune diseases and had supported her starting a gut-healing protocol. She had also begun gentle physical therapy and continued to drink the digestive tea, noticing positive effects on her energy and a reduction in her symptoms. She was very motivated to keep drinking the tea, so I suggested powdering the herbs and mixing with a little honey or applesauce to form a paste as an alternate form of ingestion.
"10,000 IU’s of vitamin D for one month to support GI tissue integrity"
Additionally, she had recently started taking probiotics so I instructed her to continue on a high-dose probiotic with prebiotics and inulin for a couple more weeks to regenerate her microbiome, and to take 10,000 IU’s of vitamin D for one month to raise her serum levels and support GI tissue integrity. At her request, I sent her flower essence formulas to address themes of fear, trauma, cleansing, and exhaustion. We also discussed increasing her protein intake, especially at breakfast, and the importance of warm, nourishing foods on her cold constitution. Her lack of appetite and reactions to eating red meat were both dietary obstacles to overcome.
Again, what seemed like a harmless recommendation had a significant effect on the client. This time, she contacted me saying she had tried the herbal digestive formula as a honey paste and her menstrual cycle had come early. Additionally, she felt exhausted and had flu-like chills along with an increase in purgative symptoms (diarrhea, night sweats). Although she was curious about the role the herbs played in this, she attested it to an ongoing immune reaction to her Covid-19 vaccine. I, however, spotted a healing crisis.
"...what seemed like a
had a significant effect on the client"
It’s true that many of her digestive herbs also have emmenagogue effects, and they played an undeniable role in the onset of her cycle (including a reduction of cramps and pain!). However, since she had been consuming the digestive tea and honey paste for a few weeks, it's likely that a larger systemic cleansing was taking place, either overlapping or initiated by her menstrual cycle. She had reported significant improvements in her symptoms prior to the start of this episode, and her symptoms were all purgative in nature and lasted a few days, leading me to believe the Vital Force was doing some long overdue house cleaning. She was familiar with and understanding of healing crises, and no harm was done. In fact it propelled her into the next phase of her healing as her initial symptoms continued to improve.
Evolution of the Case
At our third meeting a month later, we reviewed her extensive supplement list and paired it down to an essential few, including magnesium and omega-3 fish oils, along with her self-chosen regimen of quercetin, L-lysine, cat’s claw, and irish moss. She continued to take vitamin D daily, but after finishing her probiotic capsules she switched to eating fermented foods for long-term maintenance. She also continued to take her digestive herbs as a honey paste and it has become a household favorite with her kids. I applaud her enthusiasm and commitment to taking this one, simple formula each day. It took her for quite a ride.
Fortunately, she was able to reintroduce eggs into her diet with no issues, but she noticed red meat was still causing a couple minor discomforts, although not to the extent it was before—and in fact, she was craving it! She also was reluctant to test corn and oats, since she felt they were a likely problem-food for her. However, her loss of appetite had improved and she was often hungry before 11am. Again, I stressed the importance of eating a warm, high-protein breakfast to increase her energy, strengthen her immune system, and support her connective tissue.
Upon this assessment, her joint and muscle pain, fatigue, jaw pain, headaches, and loss of appetite had all been reduced to mild. Originally rated as a high 7-9 (and one 15!), she now rated them all as a mild 2 or 3. Additionally, her painful lymph nodes, digestive issues (except for occasional red meat), and night sweats had disappeared completely. In fact, she was interested in addressing an entirely new topic, as if her previous concerns never existed.
had all been reduced to mild or disappeared completely"
Although that was our last formal meeting, we corresponded some by email and that was the last I heard from her, even though we left it open-ended for more visits. I would have liked to continue further with her treatment protocol—monitoring foods, increasing her nutrition, and addressing other lifestyle factors. But clients choose their own course of action and treatment path. On one level, it felt incomplete to me, but on another level, she had successfully worked out the complaints she came to me with in only 3 sessions (including the intake) over 2.5 months, so it was a win. It was a valuable lesson in allowing the client to lead, even if you didn’t “get everything done” on your list.
"...she had successfully worked out
the complaints she came to me with
in only 3 sessions "
There’s also a question of timing. Would her symptoms, being reactions from the vaccine, have subsided in time anyway, or was it the interventions? What role did removing a food allergy play? What other improvements would we have seen if we continued treatment? Can we really ever know where a problem started, or what contributed to it? No, but what I know now is it doesn’t matter what name a disease has or how intimidating a diagnosis sounds—I’ll use the same skillset to treat clients holistically and as a vitalist herbalist.
Laura can be reached for private consultations at RisingMeadowWellness@gmail.com