The Essence of Functional Medicine

Because I am a nurse, I know a lot of people in the medical community and as they learn my story and I get healthier, I’ve often been asked what functional medicine is. This image below sums up completely what a patient’s experience with functional medicine is like:

Patients have evolved since the 1950s and they’re much more informed and want to participate in their care compared to decades ago. They often want to know why they have whatever illness it is they have. Unfortunately  during those same decades, conventional medicine became more specialized, and, at least where primary care is concerned, it took a turn away from what was important: seeing the entire person and trying to figure out how the symptoms come together and solve a puzzle. Don’t misunderstand me — patients are being treated more efficiently and quicker than ever before, the problem is that chronic illness is exploding in a way that we’ve never seen in history.  So, despite having better drugs and more efficient technology, we are getting sicker faster and younger than previously.

Western medicine and pharmaceuticals have saved millions of lives. This has insidiously led us to the false conclusion that there can be a drug to cure every single problem that we have. And so we go to the doctor thinking that he can fix our problem with a pharmaceutical. In America we really have illness care — we don’t have wellness care. We need a paradigm shift, and that’s what functional medicine does, it focuses on keeping you healthy — not waiting until you get sick and then dealing with it.

The pharmaceutical industry is big business. When they come up with a pill that alleviates suffering, it’s welcomed as a positive medical advancement, and sometimes it is. But while drugs alleviate the symptoms, they often do not fix the underlying root of what’s really happening. It’s like putting a finger in the leaking dike. The water may stop pouring out, but the wall keeps crumbling, and eventually collapses. Often, these same meds cause side effects that bring even more pills — pills to alleviate the side effects of the pills that were first prescribed — a cascading snowball down the mountain that becomes an avalanche. An avalanche of chronic illness.

Personally, conventional medicine failed me. No one could figure out what was the matter with me, and it wasn’t until I saw a functional medicine practitioner that they started asking the questions that I was already asking myself:

  • Why was I unable to lose weight?
  • Why did I get breast cancer?
  • Why was my body attacking my own platelets?
  • Why was I exhausted most days?
  • Why did I have a rash that wouldn’t go away?
  • Have Rosacea?

And most importantly, could they possibly be connected?

And the answer to all those questions was one thing:  MERCURY TOXICITY. Mercury caused a disruption of my immune system, exhaustion, my rash, it destroyed my thyroid, and it probably caused the environment for my breast cancer to grow. I can say all that with a fair amount of certainty because I know that how I feel today is light years better than how I felt in 2008.

It took an hour-long appointment which included a lot of talking, going over all my symptoms, and some non-traditional lab work by Dr. Mark Hyman (a functional medicine physician) to determine that I had mercury toxicity. Within two months I was on the road to recovery from all of it.

What’s your trigger? Do you have an autoimmune condition? Can’t lose weight? Have heart disease? Have digestive or chronic pain? It all may point back to an undiagnosed food allergy, toxin, or inflammation, but they all can lead to chronic illness.

I have a lot of empathy for today’s physicians. I see how hard they work and how many patients they have and often how little time they can spend with a single patient. And often it’s not their choice, this is dictated to by the healthcare administrators that  are often their employers. A few have stepped away from this and created their own independent functional medicine practices. And for the clinics that are run more independently, I hope they have the foresight and the long-range planning to start putting some functional medicine pieces in place.

And so what can you do, as a patient, in the meantime? You can read as much as you can about wellness and nutrition, you can ask your physician “why do I have this symptom” instead of “fix my symptom”. In other words, WHAT is causing this?  How can I change my lifestyle to alleviate this symptom?  Is there a non-pharmaceutical way to treat the symptoms I have?

This paradigm shift in how we DIAGNOSE illness and head it off before it damages us is the wave of the future, and our medical community needs to figure out ways to care more holistically for the patients that are coming in because often their multi system problems are related to a few single entities.

The bottom line is never give up. Be your own healthcare advocate.  And to those physicians reading this blog, run towards Functional Medicine.  It IS the wave of the future of healthcare.

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