By Heather Bryce
Hamptons Naturopath Anne Van Couvering Works with Patients Struggling With Weight Loss to Lyme Disease
Having reached that “certain age,” I’ve found that despite a wholesome diet and plenty of exercise, my once wasp-like figure resembles the Michelin Man. With this in mind, I made an appointment with Anne Van Couvering, N.D., a naturopath with a practice in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Her bright office is lined with shelves containing an apothecary of healing potions including herbs for allergies, homeopathic remedies for migraines, and vitamin D. Most of her patients present with low-normal levels of that crucial supplement.
Fortunately for me, she works with a lot of patients in my predicament, as well as those with chronic Lyme disease (a huge problem in the Hamptons, which has been called “ground zero” for Lyme), autism (her son has Asperger’s), and many other conditions with which conventional medicine has limited success.
Indeed, the naturopath likens much conventional medicine to pulling out the battery from a smoke alarm. Yes you’ve stopped the symptoms, but the fire is still raging within. “Our job as doctors is to remove the obstacles that prevent our body’s innate ability to heal,” she says, “and support the systems that need it.” It is decidedly not her duty to suppress the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Dr. VC, who follows the naturopathic paradigm of allowing the body to heal itself by detox and support, is like an old-fashioned doctor, the kind most of us can’t remember – who spent time with you, getting to know all your health issues, big and seemingly small.
Before our visit, she recommends a blood-work panel and I fill out a multi-page questionnaire asking me everything from “Do you enjoy your work?” and “Are you in a supportive relationship?” to “Do you have slow wound healing or chronic infections?”
Her philosophy about what causes weight gain is enlightening. “We’re all about blaming ourselves about being fat,” she said. That’s for sure. “I don’t think we’re an obese nation because we suddenly lack will.” Rather, she believes that the toxins in our bodies and foods turn on estrogen production and other hormones. “Junk food and a sedentary lifestyle have been around three generations, but it wasn’t till this generation that we had an exponential rise in obesity.” What clinches the deal for her is observing the dramatic weight loss in her patients whom she puts on detoxifying anti-inflammatory cleanses to “get bad stuff out of cells.”
I’m slightly nervous as she looks over the results of my blood tests, and reads my intake form (in which I’ve admitted that I many not be 100-percent committed to changing my lifestyle). The good news is that anything she may find will enable me to get a head start on taking care of it. In allopathic medicine, the tests often point to problems when it’s too late to do much about them. In naturopathy, “we have things we can do before [numbers] get to the pathological range.” She cites diabetes, which she says starts when the blood sugar level hits 125; pre-diabetes is 110. When she sees a patient’s blood has reached 100, she will talk to them about diet and exercise changes. “Sometimes we can reverse full-on diabetes,” she says.
Dr. Van Couvering has a reassuring desk-side manner as she reads off my results. Drum roll please … Great vitamin D level. Phew. Well, I do take 5,000 to 10,000 international units daily. My cholesterol is on the high side by conventional standards, but she explains, a score of 250 was normal before the invention of statins. My glucose level is quite high, pre-diabetic in fact, which is alarming and mystifying. I eat no sugar, minimal natural sweeteners, and hardly any high-glycemic foods. We finally determine that it might have been a result of stress – I got lost on my way to the blood lab and was an hour late. She wants to “watch” those numbers in the coming months. My Bun/creatinine ratio is “not optimal,” but not terrible either. Something else to track. My carbon dioxide is low, which might indicate “something’s going on with my kidneys.” Egads.
My lymphocyte level looks as if I’m fighting a chronic virus. Yikes, I’m surprised I’m still alive at this point. My mcv and mch are high, the high dosage of folic acid I’ve been taking could be blocking my folate receptors. Holy moly! She goes on and on, and frankly I don’t understand much of what she tells me, though I’m relieved to be in such capable hands. When was the last time your doctor discussed your glutathione intake with you?
Back to my belly (or should I say bellies?). Such bloating – she felt around and declared it not to be fat), usually indicates a food intolerance, she said, it having something to do with lymph nodes swelling as they react to antigens. “It’s a matter of figuring out what’s doing it,” she said, then suggested I go on an “elimination diet,” where certain items are eliminated over four weeks — gluten, dairy, eggs, soy. “It’s the gold standard for figuring what you’re allergic to.”
No gluten or eggs I could live with, and soy I avoid completely (except miso), but no CHEESE! Was she kidding? “Often the thing you most crave is the thing mostly likely giving you the problem.” Go figure.
So, I did the elimination diet. It took me a couple of weeks longer as I screwed up several times in the first two weeks by not being prepared when out and about, and having to eat the wrong thing. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. Once I got the hang of it, and prepared most of my meals myself – lots of humanely-raised meat, seafood, vegetables, it was actually quite easy.
The next step was to reintroduce these same items back into my diet and see what happened. Alas, for me, nothing. Which was good … but also bad, because if food wasn’t the culprit, then Dr. Van Couvering suspected that spirits might be. If I thought eliminating cheese was a challenge, I didn’t want to think about foregoing wine.
Luckily Dr. Van Couvering isn’t going to make me go that route. “I don’t think you’re ready for it,” she said.
Anne van Couvering, ND, CNS, LMT
17 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY