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 and head of the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Mark Hyman, is a Functional Medicine doctor. 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?
While “a pill for every ill” has been the norm for treating diseases, some forward-thinking MDs are realizing this is not necessarily the best solution for every “body” or every dis-ease. There are currently over 14,000 different diagnosable “diseases”, or conditions that cause dis-ease in the body. That seems like a crazy-huge number, right? How could humans have survived 300,000 years with so much potential for dis-ease? What is going on?
There’s no doubt that some pharmaceuticals, like antibiotics for a serious infection, can be lifesavers. And allopathic medicine can be great at diagnostics. However, when it comes to treating chronic illnesses and inflammatory diseases that now comprise 80-90% of all diagnosed diseases, lifestyle modifications may 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? Let’s find out more…
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) This huge project brought with it the realization that 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. I find this so incredibly fascinating! How about you?
We have microbes living on our skin, in our eyelashes, in our mouths, ears, and let’s not forget the very important gut microbiome. Upwards of 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 bio-individuality. “Every BODY is different.” No two bodies have the same genes or the same expression of those genes. With modern scientific research, we now know that we (the human body) are in control of turning our genes on or off. With 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 you are not automatically predisposed to get sick, even if a disease is “in your genes.”
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 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 the same 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 into 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 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 questions and 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, then 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, med students are taught “a pill for every ill” in school. Though the requirements to graduate med school include a minimum of 16-hours of nutrition courses (not much!), shockingly, as of 2013, over 70% of med schools are 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 a dis-ease. 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, we all know big pharma these days is more about making money than making people 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 everything interconnected. As the old song Dem Bones goes, “the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” And when medicine tries to pigeon-hole body parts and disconnects 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 put on blood pressure medication by her doctor. I asked her if she knew what her high blood pressure was caused by? 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 like blood counts, enzyme levels, hormone levels, gut microbiome diversity, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies among other things. And with these lab results, the whole big picture of what’s going on in your body can be looked at in more detail.
For example, if you’re not getting enough minerals in your diet—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 intestinal permeability, (leaky gut)—this mineral deficiency can cause symptoms ranging from poor concentration and fatigue to nausea, or muscle cramps, all seemingly unrelated dis-ease in the body.(7)
A traditionally trained MD, who didn’t get any education in nutrition, might not even think to test for mineral deficiencies for a patient who had fatigue and poor concentration. More likely, the patient would get a pill to help with the fatigue and/or concentration. 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 just one example of how 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, over 30% of the US population currently has at least one vitamin or mineral deficiency right now, today!(8)
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 often has to do with leaky gut.
Your Body Wants to Keep You Healthy
Given half a chance, your body will always strive for homeostasis. “The tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.” Your body would rather be well balanced and healthy than sick and inflamed.
However, in this fast-paced, high-tech, high-stress, workaholic world we live in, trying to keep up with the Jonses, 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, the plastics we use in our homes. Humans have created a world where we can’t get away from environmental toxins. And these toxins greatly 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. But we now have the tools, the knowledge to make healthier choices and help our bodies return to wellness.
Our Biggest Health Threat Today is Totally Preventable
While our ancestors had to worry more about infectious diseases, thanks to better sanitation practices these days that’s not so much an issue for us. Today poor diet and lifestyle choices leading to chronic inflammation are at the root of 80-90% of dis-ease in the body. These chronic conditions range from obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease to cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.(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 and exercise.
How Functional Medicine Can Help You
So I’m super excited to be starting my Functional Medicine training at The School of Applied Functional Medicine, and adding a Functional Medicine component to my Health Coaching offerings. To celebrate, I currently have space available for 3 more clients at a special reduced rate of 50% OFF my Kickstart Your Health program.
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, or other digestion issues? Do you have chronic aches and pains? Did you know these are NOT “normal signs of aging”? I can help you with all of these things and more…
Kickstart Your Optimal Health Today!
If you’d love to feel better, sleep well, wake up refreshed and have more energy every day of your life, please contact me. I’d love for you to save 50% on my Kickstart Your Health program to achieve optimal wellness! 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.
As I continue my Applied Functional Medicine training, I’ll be sharing more articles with you, helping you to get to the root cause of what’s ailing you! Please share this article with your friends and family who may benefit from working with a Holistic Health Coach too. And please leave a comment to let us know your biggest takeaway?