Linda Elsegood: Today, my guest is Laura Dankoff, who is a functional medicine nurse practitioner, speaker, and author. She has her own practice, which is a path to health and healing. Thank you for joining us today,
FNP Laura Dankof: Linda, thanks for having me on. I'm looking forward to this.
Linda Elsegood: Now, we interviewed you about three years ago, and as you well know, so much can change in a period of three years. What has been happening in your practice?
FNP Laura Dankof: Well, I've noticed in my practice over the last three to five years, that the interest and number of people seeking out LDN as a treatment option has increased. And that's certainly been mostly due to word of mouth, but also some people have actually found me through your website as well.
Many have travelled to meet with me to determine if LDN is an option for them, as they are really frustrated with their healthcare. Sometimes they are not getting answers, or perhaps feel that there's another path that they could be exploring, and they're wondering if low dose Naltrexone is an option for them.
Linda Elsegood: And we didn't say where your practice is did we?
FNP Laura Dankof: That is correct. My practice is located in a little town called Westcliffe, Colorado. I used to practice in Iowa for several years in internal medicine, and so I still am licensed both in Iowa and in Colorado. And, I offer virtual and in-person appointments.
Linda Elsegood: Oh, that's very interesting. All right, so then what would you say your patient population consists of?
FNP Laura Dankof: My patient population is a lot of people with autoimmune disease, digestive issues, hormone issues---et ceteria. Quite frankly, they're generally people who have already been through the conventional healthcare system with a traditional workup, and either has been handed a laundry list of medications or been told that there is nothing wrong with them, and there's nothing that can be done.
And they, of course, are looking for answers. They don't want to settle for that conventional diagnosis and treatment. They want to figure out, with functional medicine, what the root cause is that is preventing them from feeling well. And so, this is where we start to look at lifestyle and what's happened along their life timeline.
And in the process of that, particularly people with autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s, and other conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and even severe depression, people have come to me wondering if LDN would be something that could help them. And a lot of times I also learn from my patients, and so will look to find what research is available out there and to determine that there is no contraindication, say, for example, them being on narcotics.
Then I would tell them, it's not going to hurt us to try LDN, to see if it helps you.
That certainly has been true with a couple of cases of severe depression that came to me. I had never really used it in that way, and so that was one of LDNs use that kind of surprised me, that it did seem to help anecdotally, just from my experience with these patients.
With one patient Debbie, LDN did seem to help some with her depression. I used it in one patient with Lyme disease, a lot of cases of Hashimoto's, where we looked at and monitored their antibodies, along with other things, that can certainly contribute to Hashimoto's. You need to look at gut health, hormone balance, detoxification pathways, and a lot of other things.
So it's just not using. Low Dose Naltrexone alone. You certainly want to look at all these other things, and for people that have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, one of the things that I'm looking for is if they've had evidence in the past, of exposure to various viruses. That can be a possible indication of one of many contributing factors to their condition.
For these patients, I may try anti-virials on them. If that doesn't work, we move on to Low Dose Naltrexone, and for some, I do a phenomenal type of response to it, and I'm always amazed by this result.
Linda Elsegood: Well, it's interesting because there are so many people with autoimmune diseases that suffer from depression.
I always think if you took a healthy person who never had depression, and gave them all the symptoms and the quality of life that some of these people have, you're going to feel depressed by having to cope day after day with these symptoms. So for the people that are listening at home, who might be feeling hopeful that their depression can be helped, in several different ways, what is the first thing that you do if somebody comes to you suffering from depression?
FNP Laura Dankof: So there are a few things that I'll do. First, I want to get an extensive history on them. Things like, does depression run in the family? What emotional or physical traumas have they had? What's their nutrition like?
Though many people do not know this, gut health is so important to our mental health. So if we don't have a healthy gut, we're not going to have a healthy brain. I may also do a few genetic tests on them looking for MTHFR, and other gene mutations and deficiencies. The reason for this type of testing is that those mutations and deficiencies can play a role in how people process their nutrients, particularly like folate. We need to take a really comprehensive look at things.
We also need to know what things have they previously tried that did not work. And from that, you really need to take a thorough history from each patient and make sure you've ruled the possible contributing factors to their depression, and then decide the suitable treatment. We need to know if they are using natural herbal remedies in combination with Low Dose Naltrexone, or in combination with their prescription medicine.
I would never just pull anybody off a prescription antidepressant if they are on one, but I may add Low Dose Naltrexone or other nutrients, and nutrients such as B12 and folate and things like that if needed to, but would cross that bridge at that time, and see if that's an opportunity to work in conjunction with those things.
I may be that they will be able to wean down to a lower dose or even off of these medications? So you basically just have to take an individualized approach in each case.
Linda Elsegood: And how long would it take if somebody came to you that had been suffering from depression for quite a while, and we're currently not taking any medication, for you to do all the testing and begin implementing a treatment plan, such as herb's and supplements, LDN, whatever, before they could start to feel an improvement?
FNP Laura Dankof: First, I would do the evaluation and workup, and then I’d certainly look at their hormones, gut health and test for the MTHFR gene. Then after I get results, I will create a treatment plan based on my experience in the few cases of depression that I've had, and see if they maybe want to try that. In my experience, patients see a difference within the first month of taking it. Now, I know in some cases, with other conditions, you need to give them a longer time, but generally speaking, when I'm seeing them back in a month, they're starting to notice a difference. Well, then they're excited about it.
Linda Elsegood: Yeah, I bet. You know, there are people that think if you start LDN, by the end of the first week, you're going to feel better. But anything takes time, doesn't it? And you have to be patient. What dose do you normally start your patients on?
FNP Laura Dankof: I will start them on anywhere from 1.25 to 2.5 milligrams of compounded LDN. If a patient tells me that they're very sensitive to things I will adjust the dose. I had one person one time that was concerned about that, and we started her a little bit lower. The maximum is usually around 4.5 milligrams. I would say that the average range is 3 milligrams of LDN. I maybe have a few higher, a few lower, but I'd say the majority seem to have best results in the 3-milligram range.
Linda Elsegood: Oh Okay. And what age range are your patients?
FNP Laura Dankof: Previously to starting the path to my health and healing practice, I was working in internal medicine. So I would see people generally age 18, you know, on up to the end of life. But I would say people that were generally seeking LDN and other treatments for their autoimmune would be anywhere from age 20 to the mid-fifties.
Linda Elsegood: Oh okay. And what about now in your new practice, will you do any consultations for children?
FNP Laura Dankof: Yes. I am trained as a functional medicine nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner, so I can see the whole life span. So I do see some children as well.
Linda Elsegood: And what's your experience with LDN in children?
FNP Laura Dankof: I have not used LDN on children yet. I'd say the youngest patient that I have used LDN on was around 17, and that was prior to starting my current practice. So I have not started any children on it in my practice as of yet, not I wouldn’t consider it.
Linda Elsegood: Exactly, that's what I was going to ask. If there was anybody there with a child, close to you, would you be able to do it for them? So that's very good. Okay. So what about pain? Have you noticed LDN has been a good source of helping with pain?
FNP Laura Dankof: Yes, it can be. I would probably say that my greatest experience using it for pain, would it be in helping people with fibromyalgia and their pain symptoms? But certainly, as we know, we must not use somebody on a narcotic. I've had some people come in and asked me to prescribe it, and they were on a narcotic, and I said, well, you've got to be weaned off that first before we can start that. I don't want him to have any kind of withdrawal symptoms, so you just have to be careful about that.
But otherwise, I'd say my primary experience with chronic pain symptoms, is in patients with fibromyalgia.
Linda Elsegood: And have you seen any people with skin conditions that you've used LDN on?
FNP Laura Dankof: No, not that I can recall right now. I think I maybe had one gal that had idiopathic urticaria, which is an itchy skin condition. And what I would say there is that a lot of times when somebody comes in with a skin condition, I'm looking at their gut microbiome, and they may have small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. I know LDN can potentially help in that way as well to help support the immune system, so I have prescribed it for that. So yes, if we're looking at skin conditions, a lot of times those conditions can relate back to a digestive condition so then we may use LDN in that way.
Linda Elsegood: Yes, I mean, there were a lot of people who use LDN for psoriasis, with very good results, but that isn't a quick fix either. I've had people tell me that their skin has stayed just as flaky and patchy for six months, and then they start to have fresh skin appearing, and all the scaly bits go, which is just totally amazing. But it is very hard if you've been taking LDN for months and you haven't seen any benefits. It must be hard to continue having faith that it's going to do something for you when you've been taking it long-term.
FNP Laura Dankof: Yes, and I would say that what I generally tell people is that I recommend they stick with it for six to nine months, to see if they begin to see some benefit if they aren't somebody that responds quickly. And I would say the majority of people; they do want to stick with it because they have kind of come up empty-handed from other directions.
And this is—an avenue of hope for them, to see if this is something that will help them.
Linda Elsegood: Hmm. And it must be very satisfying to be a nurse practitioner where people have been to so many other doctors, nurses, whoever can prescribe for them and have come up with nothing. You know, to actually be able to help these patients, you must get quite a buzz from it.
FNP Laura Dankof: It's very rewarding and humbling as well. You know, as a functional practitioner; you really care about helping people. And of course, trying to get them the answers that they deserve and that they're looking for, I don't take that mission lightly at all.
And I try to do my best to try to help them in any way that I can, and as naturally as possible, to support their bodies in a healthy way. Certainly, LDN is just one of the tools in my toolbox to do that, and I will forever be grateful to the first person that brought LDN to my awareness, who is no longer with us.
She was a woman with stage four breast cancer, who came to me asking me if I would prescribe it. At that time, this was many years ago, I didn't know anything about it. And I thought, well, I need to look more into this. And so, had it not been for her, I might not have ever known the benefits of LDN and what it can do, and to see how many people have benefited from it,
Linda Elsegood: It's really so rewarding to hear that you are able to listen to one of your patients. It’s “kudos to you” for listening to your patient. You know, there are so many doctors that are so busy. I'm sure patients always recommend different things they would like to try, but doctors don't always listen and act upon what the patient says, so that's really good.
FNP Laura Dankof: Oh, thanks. I think 90% of figuring out what's going on with the patient is listening. If there's something we don't know about, that doesn't mean it's not true and doesn't have value, and it's up to us to hear them, and for us to look into what they're saying, and see if there is merit and value in what they're bringing. This day and age, with the internet, people are searching everywhere, so it's up to us to try to figure out and decipher what is relevant or not.
Linda Elsegood: Yes. So here in England, the doctors have 10 minutes per patient, and that includes getting up from the waiting room, walking into the doctor's exam room, and coming out. So if you've got somebody who has an autoimmune disease which has a myriad of different symptoms, what can the doctor actually achieve in 10 minutes?
I mean, 10 minutes is nothing, is it?
FNP Laura Dankof: Very little. That's why quite frankly, many of us that have worked in the conventional medical setting, know that the healthcare system is broken, and you cannot begin to figure out anything and listen to a patient in that amount of time. So it's like, what are your top symptoms, and how are we going to either run a lab or give you a medication in that short amount of time and out the door?
I've never. I've never practiced that way. I've just kind of bucked the system a little bit, I guess, and kind of flew under the radar. And now, now that I have my own practice, as many functional practitioners do, I don't take insurance because it dictates too much of that. And it allows me to spend a lot more time with patients as well.
You know, my initial visit with a patient is going to be 90 minutes. And follow-ups, depending on the situation, could be 30 to 60 minutes or more. So, that's the beauty of having your own practice and don't take insurance. And that's why a lot of functional practitioners don't, because it dictates those very things about the volume of patients you need to be seen in a day.
Linda Elsegood: Well, that's pretty good. So you really work it out and give the patient the amount of time that you feel they need.
FNP Laura Dankof: Absolutely, because I always worry if I don't give them the time to tell their story, what am I missing, and are we going to go down the right path with their healthcare if I don't hear their journey there? You know, like what has happened to bring them to this point that they're sitting in front of me now. And so it is important that I hear that because there are so many clues that help put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Linda Elsegood: And how long of a waiting list do you have?
FNP Laura Dankof: Currently people can get into my practice pretty quickly because I just started my virtual practice in the last six months. I had been working in internal medicine, large corporate healthcare system for many years prior to that. So right now, it’s pretty easy for people to get in to see me for a consultation.
Linda Elsegood: Well, that's really exciting, isn't it? So, the telephone consultations that you give, if they need lab work done, how do you go about doing that?
FNP Laura Dankof: If they're in Iowa or Colorado where I'm licensed, we can either run it through Lab Corp with their insurance, or I use a discounted lab called Ulta Labs. The discounted lab charges a fraction of what patients would pay running their labs through LabCorp. So, if you have a high insurance deductible, or it's not covered, you're better off going through a discount lab. And if they are in another state other than Iowa or Colorado, we can use Alto labs where they can do some testing. They can even order it themselves. If they need a prescription for LDN, I have to see them face to face once a year, if they're in a state other than Iowa or Colorado where I'm currently licensed. They certainly could come to see me face to face, even if they live in a different state. Otherwise, I would be talking to them more in a consulting role, I could not diagnose them in another state.
Linda Elsegood: Well, that's really interesting. So would you like to give us all your details?
FNP Laura Dankof: Yes, of course. If people want more information, they can find me at wwwdotpathtohealthandhealing.com that's “path to health and healing.com” and there you'll find more information. I write a health blog there. You can kind of read my story, and why I'm so passionate about taking a functional or natural medicine approach to healthcare, along with the different kinds of conditions that I treat, and how to schedule an appointment or contact me directly.
Linda Elsegood: You've got me intrigued. Now tell us why did you go down the path of functional medicine?
Laura Dankof: Okay. So for many people who go into functional medicine, there was a health crisis in them or a family member, and that was certainly true in my case. I had a daughter born with a hereditary blood disorder.
And she was very sick when she was young. She ultimately had her spleen and gallbladder removed, and they put her on antibiotics for an extended period of time, which then led to skin conditions, eczema and so forth. So, I took her off the antibiotics, against medical advice, because of what it was doing to her.
And we healed her gut, and healed her body, through natural medicine, because the answer conventional medicine wise was to give her steroids and immunomodulating agents that would have increased her risk for cancer. And it was just going down a very deep, dark rabbit hole with her at a very young age.
And then on myself, I had thyroid and hormone-related issues when I was in graduate school and did not want to go down that pathway either. And so I started really diving deeper into functional medicine throughout that whole journey with her and with myself.
Linda Elsegood: Wow. I’m sure all your patients are really pleased, not that you had those obstacles, but that you chose to become a functional medicine nurse practitioner. It has been absolutely amazing speaking with you today Laura and I hope you continue with your practice and success, and we wish you all the best.
FNP Laura Dankof: Well, thank you very much, and I've enjoyed talking to you again Linda.
Linda Elsegood: Okay, thank you.
FNP Laura Dankof: Thank you.
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