Have you been hearing about Functional Medicine recently? It’s been popping up in the news and in social feeds. The popular NY Times best-selling author Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. is the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Functional Medicine is the new path that many mainstream AMA medical doctors are taking. But what exactly IS Functional Medicine? And how can it benefit you?
“A pill for every ill” has been the norm for treating diseases for many years. However, some forward-thinking MDs are realizing this may not necessarily be the best solution for every “body” or every dis-ease. Did you know there are currently over 14,000 different diagnosable “diseases”, or conditions that cause dis-ease in the body? That’s a crazy-huge number, right? I mean, how could humans have survived 300,000+ years with so much potential for dis-ease? And what the heck is going on?
There’s no doubt that some pharmaceuticals—like antibiotics for serious infections—can be lifesavers. And allopathic medicine can be great at diagnostics. However, chronic illnesses and inflammatory diseases now comprise 80-90% of all diagnosed diseases. And when it comes to treating chronic illness and inflammatory diseases, research shows that lifestyle modifications can actually provide better results than pharmaceuticals. And so the science of functional medicine was born.
According to the Institute for Functional Medicine(1), “Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.” So how can functional medicine help you? Read on to find out…
We are only 10% human
We’re living in exciting times! In the past 20 years, scientists have finished mapping out the human genome.(2) And this huge project brought with it a huge realization. Genetically, we humans are made up of only 10% human genes and 90% microbial genes.(3) Wow!! As it turns out, humans are a symbiotic host that cannot live healthily, without the 90% microbial population on board. And this microbial population includes bacteria, viruses, and even parasites! I find this so incredibly fascinating. How about you?
We have microbes living on our skin, in our eyelashes, mouths, and ears. And let’s not forget the very important gut microbiome. In fact, 80-90% of our immune system resides in our gut microbiome. So a healthy gut makes us healthy. And conversely, an unhealthy or leaky gut can make us sick.
And with all these relatively recent discoveries emerged the new science of epigenetics and the concept of bio-individuality. “Every BODY is different.” No two bodies have the same genes or the same expression of those genes. And with modern scientific research, we now know that we humans are in the driver’s seat when it comes to turning our genes on or off. With a healthy diet and lifestyle choices, we can actually prevent “bad“ genes from turning on. Or even turn them off if they were previously turned on.(4) So the great news is you are not automatically predisposed to get sick—even if a disease is “in your genes”, or “runs in your family”.
The root of functional medicine
One condition can have many different causes, just as one cause can manifest in many different conditions. This concept is at the root of Functional Medicine, as illustrated in this infographic.(5) So what does this mean for you? It means if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, or dementia, for example, these diseases do not have to be your destiny. You are in control of your body! You can actually prevent your body from getting these diseases, or possibly reverse them if you already have them. Fantastic, right?!
Let’s look at one scenario. Commonly, most people who are diagnosed with high blood pressure are prescribed a similar type of medication to lower their blood pressure. However, there are at least two problems with that “solution.”
A bandaid or a cure?
Number one, while taking a blood pressure medication may help you reach your goal of lowering your blood pressure—it likely doesn’t get to the root of what caused your high blood pressure in the first place. So it’s essentially a Band-Aid fixing the symptoms but not getting to the root of the “WHY?” your blood pressure is too high.
This is akin to taking your car to the mechanic with the engine light on and having them put a piece of tape over the dash so you can no longer see the engine light… rather than getting to the root cause of why the engine light came on, to begin with, and then fixing it. Would you accept that solution from your mechanic? Probably not. Yet many people will accept a pill for their symptoms as a solution from their doctor—without asking any questions or finding out the WHY of their disease or condition. It’s astonishing to me that people take better care of their cars, homes, and other possessions than they do of their one and only body.
Big Pharma vs the Hypocritic Oath
This is not to bash the doctors that prescribe the pill for each ill. Many medical schools these days are funded by Big Pharma. And consequently, most med students are taught “a pill for every ill” in school. And the requirements to graduate med school include a minimum of 16 hours of nutrition courses (not much!) However, shockingly, as of 2013, over 70% of med schools in the US were not in compliance with even those minimal 16 hours.(6) And many doctors graduate having taken 8 or fewer hours of nutrition education. Some have had no nutrition courses at all.
For the most part, doctors are not taught about nutrition, nor how to be detectives to look for the root cause of dis-ease in the body. Because of course, Big Pharma doesn’t make any money if the cause can be found and reversed with diet and lifestyle modifications. And sadly, I think we all know Big Pharma these days is more about their bottom line than helping people get well and stay well.
Doctors are also encouraged to specialize, to be an expert in one part of the body. The problem with that is that the body is a holistic organism, with every part interconnected. As the old song Dem Bones goes, “the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” And when allopathic medicine tries to pigeonhole body parts and dissect the body into pieces rather than looking at the whole body, we can run into problems.
Bio-individuality—cause, and effect
Number two, there are many different causes for every different dis-ease. One person’s high blood pressure may be caused by stress. Another person’s high blood pressure could be from clogged arteries to the point that the volume of blood cannot get through, so it backs up creating more pressure. And someone else’s high blood pressure may be caused by undiagnosed kidney disease. Still another person’s high blood pressure may be the side-effect of a medication they are taking for something else.
So as you can see, just doling out blood pressure medication to lower everyone’s blood pressure does not address the underlying root cause for any one individual. And it could potentially cause more harm down the road if someone’s kidney disease, or heart disease, or stress levels were not dealt with. In fact, just this week I spoke with a client who had recently been prescribed blood pressure medication by her doctor. I asked her if she knew what caused her high blood pressure? She had no idea. She said her doctor didn’t ask her any questions, he just said: “You have high blood pressure, take this medication.”
How functional medicine is entirely different
In functional medicine, each individual person is looked at holistically, using science to get to the root cause of the dis-ease. Depending on the individual and their condition/s, saliva tests, blood tests, urinalysis, and stool tests may be run to check for things ranging from dehydration, blood counts, and enzyme levels, to hormone levels, gut microbiome diversity, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies among other things. And with these lab results—along with a comprehensive health intake and symptoms questionnaire—the big picture of what’s going on in your body can be looked at in more detail.
For example, let’s say you’re not getting enough minerals in your diet. This mineral deficiency can cause symptoms ranging from poor concentration and fatigue to nausea, and muscle cramps—all seemingly unrelated dis-ease in the body, right?(7) Or maybe you are eating plenty of mineral-rich foods, but you’re not actually absorbing the minerals from your diet into your body because you have undiagnosed, low stomach acid, or intestinal permeability, a.k.a. leaky gut—which is also leading to insomnia, and thyroid issues.
A traditionally trained MD, who didn’t get any education in nutrition, might not even think to test for mineral deficiencies in a patient who had fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, or an imbalanced thyroid. More likely, the patient would get a pill to help with those conditions. Or worse, be told it’s all in their head. Meanwhile, they continue to be mineral deficient, which can lead to a host of other things down the road like osteoporosis or irregular heart rate. No bueno! This is one of the many ways functional medicine can be super beneficial to patients.
Are you vitamin and mineral deficient?
And with the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) high in processed foods, more and more people are actually developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In fact, today over 90% of the US population currently has at least one vitamin or mineral deficiency!(8) YIKES!!
That may seem shocking, but about 18 months ago I myself, a holistic health coach who was ostensibly “doing everything right”, was diagnosed with vitamin and mineral deficiencies! Learn how I overcame them. Hint, the cause is often due to low stomach acid and leaky gut.
Your body wants to keep you healthy
Your body would rather be well-balanced and healthy than sick and inflamed. Given half a chance, your body will always strive for homeostasis.
Homeostasis: “The tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.”
However, in this fast-paced, high-tech, high-stress, workaholic world we live in, trying to keep up with the Joneses, with bigger, better, faster gadgets, the body is constantly bombarded with stress and environmental toxins. There are toxins in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the plastics we use in our homes. Humans have created a world where we can’t get away from environmental toxins. And these toxins significantly affect our gut microbiome. Remember, the gut is the home of our immune system.
More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates stated, “All Disease Begins in The Gut.”
Functional Medicine understands that Hippocrates was right—that dis-ease does begin in the gut. When the gut microbiome becomes unbalanced from stress and environmental toxins, the body is no longer in homeostasis. Today, we have the tools, and the knowledge to make healthier choices and help our bodies return to wellness. The conundrum is most people’s reluctance to actually make changes to feel better. In fact, only 30% of Americas polled would make necessary dietary or lifestyle changes even if they knew for sure it would help them feel better. That’s shocking to me.
Our most significant health threat today is totally preventable
While our ancestors had more worries about infectious diseases, thanks to better sanitation practices that’s not as much of an issue for us now. Poor diet and lifestyle choices leading to chronic inflammation are at the root of 80-90% of dis-ease in the body today. These chronic conditions range from obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease to cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer’s (now being called type 3 diabetes due to the direct link with high blood sugar).(9)
The great news is that functional medicine practitioners are getting to the root cause and helping patients and clients turn dis-ease in the body around. It’s so empowering to me to know that 80-90% of ALL diseases today are preventable or reversible with the right modifications to diet, lifestyle, and exercise.
How can functional medicine help you?
So I’m super excited to be furthering my education at the Academy of Functional Wellness as well as at The School of Applied Functional Medicine, (where I’m also on the staff). This enables me to now offer a Functional Wellness component to my Health Coaching services.
Are you tired of feeling tired? Do you have a lack of energy or fatigue? Maybe you have thyroid issues like Hashimoto’s? How about brain fog? Or maybe you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep? Are you experiencing bloating, gas, constipation, or other digestion issues? Do you have chronic aches and pains? Did you know NONE of these are “normal signs of aging”? I can help you get to the root of all of these wellness concerns and more…
Kickstart Your Health Today!
If you’d love to feel better, ditch your aches and pains, kiss your heartburn good buy without medication, sleep well, wake up refreshed, or have more energy every day of your life, please book a free call. I’d love to chat about your wellness concerns. When you work with me, I’ll give you the tools to get to the root causes of what’s ailing you while empowering you to change your body for the better based on the wellness goals you set.
Please share this article with your friends and family who may benefit from working with a Functional Wellness Coach too. And please leave a comment to let us know your biggest takeaway?