It’s All Connected: Functional Medicine Edition
Welcome to this talk, “It’s All Connected: Functional Medicine Edition.” I’m so glad all of you are joining me today. It’s fantastic that you’re taking your health seriously and are actively working to educate yourself about ways to better yourself and make improvements where necessary. Our goal for today’s event is to explain how functional medicine differs from conventional medicine and how it can play a role in your overall health.
To begin, let’s consider first of all our definition of health. I’m actually going to ask you to be active here. If you could take out a piece of paper and a pen, and what I’d like you to do is write down your answer to the following few questions. I’m going to want you to consider your answers as I go through the talk tonight. First of all, the very first question is what is your definition of health? That could be maybe one word, it might be a sentence or two, but think about it for a moment and write down your answer to – what is your definition of health?
Question number two, would you consider yourself to be healthy? That might be just a yes or a no. Do you consider yourself healthy?
Number three, whether you considered yourself healthy or not, many of us do have health concerns. Please list your present health concerns. Might be just one, might be one or two or three, but take a moment and list your top health concerns.
The fourth and final question before we get into the heart and soul of all this talk…I’d like you to write down your answers because you can go back and consider them…what would you like to work on or what would you like to optimize about your health? Again, please write it down. What would you like to optimize or work on about your health?
Keep these four questions and the answers you just wrote down in your mind as we provide an overview of functional medicine today. As we go along, ask yourself if functional medicine might be right for you based on the answers you just put down to these questions.
Defining health might seem simple, but what it means to have health has changed over the years. When asked to define health, some refer to the way a person looks or acts yet others take into account someone’s state of wellbeing. In the past, health was defined as someone simply free from disease or illness. Presently, of course, in the midst of the present coronavirus pandemic, this may be a clear definition. You either have the illness or you don’t. This does not take into account a person’s overall wellbeing and ability to optimally function or their ability to optimally fight an infection.
Health today is closely linked to how we live as the leading causes of death are related to lifestyle factors. This distinction had led to wellness being the primary factor of health. Wellness can be defined as “a positive, whole health approach that includes physical, social, intellectual, and emotion wellbeing.” This distinction becomes crucial as we delve into the difference between conventional and functional medicine.
When it comes to determining the status of your health, four different factors have been identified for consideration. They include personal health behavior, physical environment, hereditary influences, and the quality of health services available to you.When it c omes to determining the status of your health, four different factors have been identified for consideration. They include personal health behavior, physical environment, hereditary influences, and the quality of health services available to you.”] I’m going to discuss each of these a little bit.
Our health habits contribute at least 50% of all the major causes of death today. While hereditary certainly does play a role in certain disease factors, in many cases behavior and lifestyle choices can reduce or possibly increase the risk of disease. While hereditary certainly does play a role in certain disease factors, in many cases behavior and lifestyle choices can reduce or possibly increase the risk of disease. The concept of what’s called “epigenetics” has been around for many years now. More and more people are starting to understand this concept. It’s been proven that a person’s daily environment of diet It’s been proven that a person’s daily environment of diet exercise, stress level, supplements, and toxicity level all affect the genetic signaling in the body and determine which genes get turned on and which remain quiet daily environment of diet, exercise, stress level, supplements, and toxicity level all affect the genetic signaling in the body and determine which genes get turned on and which remain quiet daily environment of diet, exercise, stress level, supplements, and toxicity level all affect the genetic signaling in the body and determine which genes get turned on and which remain quiet.
Also, I will comment that during this pandemic of the coronavirus, all of those aspects of health and a person’s daily environment will affect the ability of your immune system to function optimally and be able to defend you against the virus if and when you ever contract it.
The fourth concept here about determinants of health or the health services…this aspect refers to one’s ability to access healthcare. This includes the ability to reach a healthcare facility as well as their financial ability to access it. For example, lack of health insurance most likely results in lower access to healthcare.
Noncommunicable diseases (those not transmitted by infection) have been the leading cause of death globally with notable exceptions only on the continent of Africa for many, many years now. Now we all know that the present coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our typical daily lives and is an unusual situation for all of us. Chronic, noninfectious disease have been, for many decades now, the major problem of our time. The main factors for chronic disease include smoking, physical inactivity, high levels of alcohol consumption, poor diet, and obesity. [click_to_tweet tweet=”The main factors for chronic disease include smoking, physical inactivity, high levels of alcohol consumption, poor diet, and obesity.” quote=”The main factors for chronic disease include smoking, physical inactivity, high levels of alcohol consumption, poor diet, and obesity.”] Although tobacco remains the leading cause of chronic conditions, sedentary lifestyles aren’t far behind. The main types of chronic diseases that have been the main killers include:
- cardiovascular disease (which relates to heart attack or stroke)
- certain forms of cancer
- chronic respiratory diseases
All of these are heavily linked to underlying inflammation that is caused by our lifestyle choices. Lifestyle-related diseases often also have a very long latency period, which means they make them difficult to detect until the condition has already been around for a long time. Until it’s in an advanced stage, you don’t detect it. However, annoying nonspecific conditions or symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, joint pain, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation…if all of these annoying, daily symptoms are all going on for you on a daily basis, they can all be a sign that there is disfunction, leading over time slowly toward covert disease.
Now that we’re all on the same page discussing the definition of health, we can explain functional medicine and talk about the similarities and differences between functional medicine and conventional medicine. In many ways, functional medicine is similar to conventional medicine. They are both practiced by licensed medical professionals, and both are evidence researched based. They both employ advanced diagnostic tests and they may use prescription medications.
Where the two styles of medicines differ is in the guiding philosophy. Conventional medicine is well equipped to correlate present, immediate symptoms with a specific illness. I’m not arguing anything about this! This is ideal for addressing acute and urgent medical conditions like infectious diseases such as the coronavirus, broken bones, and physical trauma. However, we just shared that the leading causes of death today are chronic conditions that develop over a long period of time and have many nonspecific symptoms for a long time prior to causing definitive disease. This is where functional medicine comes into play. While conventional medicine is so focused on the symptoms and treatment with medications solely to quiet those specific symptoms, [click_to_tweet tweet=”functional medicine address illnesses by searching for, identifying, and addressing the underlying root cause of the problem” quote=”functional medicine address illnesses by searching for, identifying, and addressing the underlying root cause of the problem”] and trying to stop the symptoms, stop the underlying cause of disease, stop the progression, and prevent the essential disease process from developing any further. Some of the key differences are as follows:
It’s important to note that functional medicine does not reject conventional medicine at all but uses conventional medicine foundations on which to add new dimensions in the evaluation, management, and prevention of chronic disease. Using myself as an example, I was originally trained in internal medicine and was a primary care provider for adults for a number of years. I used, and continue to use, that training every day in my evaluation and work-up with my patients, but I got tired of the “pill for every ill” mentality of the conventional medical model and realized it was not helping my patients to truly transform their lives and take control of their health. This is why I went searching for more answers and I found the Institute of Functional Medicine. Functional medicine offers a personalized and integrative approach to healthcare. The process involves prevention, management, and understanding the root causes of complex chronic disease. Functional medicine offers a personalized and integrative approach to healthcare. The process involves prevention, management, and understanding the root causes of complex chronic disease. Because of the dramatic shift from infectious to noncommunicable disease, functional medicine is needed to address the chronic lifestyle-related illnesses of our time. In functional medicine, healing the patient replaces treating the patient. During this time of the coronavirus global pandemic it becomes even more clear that if you are not living a healthy lifestyle and keeping your immune system and all of your systems functioning optimally, you are putting yourself at more risk of not being able to handle this virus.
Let’s talk about the pillars of functional medicine. It’s basically based on three main pillars of healthcare. Number one is patient-centered care. What does that mean? Patient-centered care is the practice of caring for patients and their families but in ways that are meaningful and valuable to the individual patient. Patient-centered care is the practice of caring for patients and their families but in ways that are meaningful and valuable to the individual patient. This involves creating a client-doctor partnership for creating an individualized care plan and utilizing also a health coach in many instances to educate patients so that you are given the tools you need, and you can keep yourself accountable to the plan in order to optimize your success in transforming your life and optimizing your health.
The second pillar is integrative science-based methodologies. Functional medicine uses the latest evidence in medical research and clinical experience. The complex web of genetics, medical history, physiology, and lifestyle create an inside-out approach to identify and physiologic imbalances. This is why in the functional medical model we use a timeline of a patient’s life and their specific lifestyle habits as an extensive amount of history. It is imperative to be able to connect all the dots and identify the complex web of dysfunction that might be happening and how to heal it and optimize function again. It is imperative to be able to connect all the dots and identify the complex web of dysfunction that might be happening and how to heal it and optimize function again.
The third pillar is integrating the best medical practices from multiple disciplines. In this case, functional medicine often combines western medical practices with other types of therapeutic approaches from all over the world! Functional medicine often combines western medical practices with other types of therapeutic approaches from all over the world! The integration of multiple disciplines emphasizes:
- prevention of disease through nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle
- the use of the latest laboratory testing and diagnostic techniques
- accesses the combination of medications, botanicals, supplements, therapeutic diets, exercise plans, rehabilitation plans, detoxification programs, and stress-management techniques
You’ll see it takes in all different aspects of different tools to try and help you optimize your health.
We record the history of someone’s life from all the way back prior to your birth when your mom was carrying you and then goes through the birth itself and then even goes through every single decade of your life of physical illnesses, physical traumas or emotional traumas. All of these events or issues that occurred during your life have led each one of us to where we are today and provides the clues to the root causes of your present conditions. In my office (there’s Dr. Trish and there’s Health Coach Trish) Health Coach Trish collects this information and fills in this timeline with you and prepares the record for me.
Then I read through it all and use it to fill out the next form called the functional medicine matrix. Our health coach also asks about each person’s lifestyle habits including your sleep and relaxation, your exercise what you do specifically for exercise and movement, your nutrition and your diet what do you eat each day, your stress level, and your relationships. Do you have a good support system or not? You’ll notice that’s across the bottom of the matrix form. This information gets filled in along the bottom of the form and from all of the collective data I read through it. I take what I call the “30,000-foot view” and I try and identify numerous things.
First of all, I try and identify antecedents. Antecedents are looking at your genetic risks that yes, you inherited and do not have any definitive control over. But then we also look for triggering events. These could be events or habits in one’s life that have initiated a problem and may be the underlying cause of how you’re feeling now. Many times, someone might say in their timeline, “I haven’t felt well since…” a certain time. “I was in that motor vehicle accident” or “I took those antibiotics for that infection I had five years ago.” Whatever that might be, when we’re listening those are the triggering events we’re listening for.
Another thing I’m looking for are what are called the mediators and the perpetrators. These are the habits in your lives that may be fueling the dysfunctions in your systems. We can have control over these and we can make changes in these to improve the function of our system and affect the underlying problem that’s causing our chronic disease. I also plug the different events that are listed in the timeline of one’s life into the different systems of the body. You’ll notice on this matrix, assimilation is your GI tract essential, defense and repair are your immune system, and then your energy system, and then your biotransformation and elimination system are your detox system, transport system is your cardiovascular system, your communication system is your hormone system, and your structure is your structural integrity.
Once all the data has been plugged into the matrix, patterns typically present themselves and certain systems are found to be the most affected by the events and illnesses throughout your life. The clinical imbalances become clearer and once I can see the patterns and show you the patterns, then you and I can create a treatment plan of attack in order to reverse these patterns and improve these patterns and optimize the function of your different systems to optimize your health!
The most important element of the functional medicine approach is the prevention of disease. As the adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The goal is to help the body to function optimally with the intent to support self-healing. Rebalancing the body once a disease has progressed is more involved and may require medical intervention which is why prevention is preferred.” quote=”The goal is to help the body to function optimally with the intent to support self-healing. Rebalancing the body once a disease has progressed is more involved and may require medical intervention which is why prevention is preferred. The tools utilized by functional medicine reach far beyond pharmaceutical prescription and surgery. Detoxification programs and stress management techniques are often used and tailored to what the individual patient needs. The partnership created between physician and patient, as well as the health coach, allows the patient to become an active participant in the healing process. The partnership created between physician and patient, as well as the health coach, allows the patient to become an active participant in the healing process. Providing the patient with the education and the tools necessary…again this is our motto – to take control of your health and transform your life!
Systemic disease is a term used to describe conditions that affect the entire body rather than a single organ or body part. Many diseases can be systemic. Let’s list off some common systemic illnesses. They include:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- high cholesterol
- autoimmune diseases such as lupus, Sjogren’s, or rheumatoid arthritis
A vital aspect of addressing disease and illness is to first identify the root cause. A vital aspect of addressing disease and illness is to first identify the root cause. Not just giving the uniform and saying you have one of those systemic diseases but trying to identify what is the root cause for you of that condition. There can any number of factors causing an illness. A few common root causes include this list:
- improper sleep
- poor diet
- leaky gut
- immune imbalances
- trauma (physical or emotional)
- negative thought patterns
- lack of regular exercise
- digestive problems
- toxin exposure
Functional medicine is especially equipped to address many different diseases and health issues and some of them include these systemic conditions like allergies, depression, cancer, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. Now, look back on your paper. Where these on your list of health concerns? Think back to your list. Are your answers to the questions in the beginning sounding like conventional medicine and identifying symptoms as the answer for you? Or are the things I’m talking about with functional medicine a better fit?
When you visit a functional medicine practitioner, you can expect to spend a lot more time than you would a conventional provider. You can also expect to do most of the talking. A functional practitioner is trained to listen to patients while gathering a detailed personal and family history. The circumstances around your first symptoms and your lifestyle habits and health behaviors with the timeline, lifestyle habits, and matrix are recommended to be collected in depth. The reason for such a detailed account of your health is to uncover the underlying causes of your health problems and determine which types of laboratory testing are best suited for your individual needs if they are needed. Topics your practitioner may discuss with you include:
- assessing someone’s family medical history and using functional medicine of a means of prevention to decrease genetic risks
- strengthening the body’s normal healing abilities rather than merely attacking symptoms or disease
- eating whole foods full of color instead of unhealth, processed foods that are mostly white and brown and devoid of nutrients
When addressing specific conditions, functional medicine taps into a number of core body systems to encourage natural healing. The body wants to come to health! It’s an amazing machine, and if you give it the right fuel, the right chemicals, and the right information the body is going to come to health. The body wants to come to health! It’s an amazing machine, and if you give it the right fuel, the right chemicals, and the right information the body is going to come to health.
The very first step is often to optimize nutrition. The right balance and quality of macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can kickstart the body’s natural healing process. It’s true, we are what we eat! A diet high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods will cause the immune system to be overactive and inflamed, whereas a diet rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients from all the colorful pigments in plant foods support our wellbeing. A diet high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods will cause the immune system to be overactive and inflamed, whereas a diet rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients from all the colorful pigments in plant foods support our wellbeing.”] Through functional medicine, you will work with your practitioner to create a diet that works for your lifestyle and provides your body with the fuel and protection it needs.
Hormonal balance is another core body system addressed through functional medicine. Imbalances can occur for any number of reasons including medication side effects, diabetes, stress, thyroid disorders, and more. Hormonal imbalances can occur in both men and women and are responsible for a number of adverse health conditions. Symptoms of hormonal imbalance can range from mild to severe and can include weight gain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, cognitive problems, brain fog, and physical pain – just to name a few. Depending on the type of hormonal imbalances in question, functional medicine uses a number of tests to confirm if there is an imbalance or not.
Inflammation throughout the body often accompanies any chronic disease. While inflammation plays a vital role in protecting the body from foreign invaders or abnormal cells, an overactive chronic inflammatory response is typically an underlying cause of chronic illness. I explain this in detail in my book, Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease, which you can purchase through the Discover Health Shop. In this book, I explain the immune system and how it functions and how it dysfunctions in ways that everyone can understand. I was actually a high school teacher for ten years prior to ever entering medical school at the age of 35. I’m used to taking complex information and explaining things in a way that everyone can understand. If you want to understand how to boost your immune system in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I strongly recommend you get my book and read it because it gives you the tools you need to optimize your immune system against this virus.
Functional medicine addresses inflammation by correcting nutrient deficiencies, identifying food sensitivities, and the hormonal imbalances we were just talking about. Our bodies are fueled by the foods we eat which is why addressing issues of the digestive system is something that functional medicine takes very, very seriously. One of the major root causes of inflammation is leaky gut. The digestion, the absorption, and the assimilation of all the foods and nutrients we eat is critical to our overall health. A breakdown anywhere in the different phases of the digestive tract is the process that can create illness. Many conditions stem from what is known as the leaky gut syndrome. The balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut plays a tremendous role in our health. Our microbiome. By properly balancing the gut bacteria and optimizing gut function, many symptoms can be lessened, and most conditions absolutely resolved.
For example, I had a patient this week that I was talking to on telemedicine and all she did was implement my Detox Plus Program, a three-week comprehensive elimination diet. Her heartburn is completely gone. This person was having nausea on a daily basis and when she bent over she’d get nauseous so badly that many times she would vomit. She just did the elimination diet for three weeks and all of those symptoms are completely resolved at this point! If you don’t understand the connection between food and your health, you may need to consider functional medicine. The conventional medical model does not look at this. This same person I just described has seen many specialists – gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, neurologists – and no one suggested that she do an elimination diet and consider the food that she was eating may be connected to her illnesses.
Detoxification. The body is intelligently designed to eliminate toxins, however today’s highly processed diet and chemical filled environment can overwhelm the detox organs. Functional medicine addresses issues with toxin burden and enhances the body’s natural ability to detoxify. A straight-forward technique for adding detoxification may be to drink more pure water! Everyone should be drinking at least an ounce of water for every pound of lean body mass. You could take about half your body weight and an ounce of water for that amount would be optimal for you. You could go by that old adage of eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Many herbal remedies can also be utilized to promote the optimal functioning of the liver and the other detoxifying organs.
Because functional medicine addresses more than just physical wellbeing, reducing stress is also an essential aspect of disease prevention.”] Any number of stress reduction techniques can be utilized depending on what will fit into your personal lifestyle. Your practitioner may suggest incorporating a daily meditation practice, but not all of us can do that well. You can use breathing techniques, yoga, or other kinds of movement-type exercise like walking in the woods. Between the pressures of work, social, and home life, stress is an inevitable aspect of our lives. Finding natural outlets for reducing stress are recognized by functional health practitioners as an essential aspect of wellness.
One program that we have initiated just this month during the coronavirus is called the Discover Movement Membership. This program includes numerous online movement classes per week including movement for longevity, self-myofascial release, and yoga. These classes are focused on helping anyone over the age of forty or fifty learn to move more fluidly, manage stress, and become more mindful of movement techniques. To learn more about this membership and get access to the three classes per week and also the recordings, you can visit our Discover Health Calendar.
The future has arrived! While conventional medicine has been the methodology for treatment for decades, it may not be enough to address systemic conditions. Because chronic disease diagnosis has been on the rise, many people are looking to functional medicine to treat conditions systematically. Functional medicine has been referred to as “medical care for the future” because it takes conventional medicine to the next level by incorporating holistic ideas and methods that actually work! There was a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) about four or five months ago. That article was a research article comparing a functional medicine primary care office to a conventional medicine primary care office. Guess what it showed? It showed statistically significant data that a functional medicine based primary care office improved people’s quality of life better than the conventional primary care office.
Here’s a quick review of the topics we’ve covered.
- Functional medicine considers the whole body both in the diagnosis stage and the treatment stage.
- Functional medicine treats the root cause of an illness, not just the symptoms.
- Functional medicine uses natural treatments, therefore fewer side effects happen.
- Functional medicine combines scientifically proven treatments with alternative medicine to produce an integrated medical solution.
- Functional medicine looks back at a person’s entire life history and their lifestyle habits to identify antecedents, triggers, and mediators to the present disfunctions.
- Functional medicine focuses on disease prevention and more adequately addresses chronic conditions.
When it’s all said and done, functional medicine recognizes the need for a life in balance with connection, community, love, support, and a sense of empowerment as essential elements for achieving optimal health.”] Again, look back to what you wrote down as your definition of health. See if what I listed as the bottom line better resonates with you or not for functional medicine versus conventional medicine.
As usual, I always post on my Discover Health Facebook Group. Tomorrow my staff will post for you the resource list that we used to create this webinar. If you’re not already a member, ask to join our closed group. Once you’re in you can ask questions and you can get access to this resource list. Also, Health Coach Trish has a different theme every day and she does live video chats including “Coach’s Corner.” Don’t miss the opportunity of that resource, to join the Discover Health Facebook Group.
Thank you all for joining me. We know a lot of information was covered so if you have questions, please reach out! You also may find it easier to allow the information to sink in, and you may come up with a question later. If you do have a question later, you can join the Discover Health FMC Facebook Group and ask there. Also, if you go to my website there is a way that you can set up a free 30-minute consult to speak with me or Health Coach Trish about your concerns, questions, or issues and we’re happy to try and answer them. Many times, the whole point of that 30-minutes consult is to hear your concerns, talk with you about our services, and see if it’s a fit for you to become a patient with us. We’re here to provide you with the answers and the help you need to take control of your health and transform your life!
I hope everyone has a fantastic rest of your day. Stay safe everybody!
- Discover Health Calendar for more about the new Discover Movement Membership
- Discover Health Online Shop
- Trish Murray’s book: Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease
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