How to Heal From Chronic Disease With Functional Medicine
We currently face a global disease epidemic unlike the world has ever seen.
More and more of us are getting sicker and sicker every year, and our doctors are at a loss to help us.
How did a medical system evolve that is unable to meet the needs of the modern population?
It wasn’t always so…
The Problem with Healthcare Today
The medical system that most of us grew up with was designed to treat infectious diseases and heal acute trauma.
The model has been so successful that we no longer live in fear of our children dying from a common infection or our entire community being devastated by a plague. Even when we suffer horrific injuries, we trust that we’ll be put back together by talented professionals using state of the art technology.
The truth is, the conventional model of medicine excels in these scenarios.
But what about when we don’t have a contagious infection, and we’re not suffering from acute trauma, but we’re also just not… well?
What about when we don’t have the energy to take care of our responsibilities, pursue our passions and enjoy our families?
What about when our doctors insist that the tests say we’re fine, but we know something is wrong?
Even devoted and well meaning doctors often lack the resources to give their patients the help that they desperately need.
The problem is that acute trauma and infectious diseases are no longer the top threats to our wellbeing.
Today, it is chronic and preventable diseases that cause 70% of all deaths worldwide.
Chronic diseases are defined as conditions that last at least a year, require ongoing medical attention and limit daily activities.
According to the CDC, 6 out of 10 Americans suffer from a chronic illness and 4 out of 10 have two or more.
The causes of these preventable conditions are: poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyles and exposure to toxins.
These conditions cannot be remedied by drugs and surgery. In order to restore health, we must learn to nurture ourselves with an appropriate diet, adopt healthier lifestyles and reduce our exposure to harmful toxins.
Conventional doctors are simply not trained to guide us through these critical changes.
Over the next twenty years, chronic illnesses will kill twice as many people as all infectious diseases combined.
It is time for a new age in medicine, time for a medical paradigm that can help with the diseases that impact us most today…
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a highly individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach to wellness. Patients are empowered and supported by their practitioners as together they collaborate to identify and address the underlying causes of disease.
According to the principles of functional medicine, diseases are the result of imbalance in one or more of the seven core physiological processes.
The seven core processes are assimilation and elimination, detoxification, defense, cellular communication, cellular transport, energy and structure.
Imbalances are caused by…
- Environmental factors, like toxins and pesticides
- Nutritional imbalances caused by poor diet and food allergies
- Hormone imbalances that weaken the thyroid, adrenals and reproductive organs
- Systemic inflammation which contributes to autoimmune conditions
- Hidden infections like parasites, yeast and mold
- Oxidative stress that damages cells
- Impaired liver detoxification and gut function adds to total burden of toxins
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction due to loss of probiotic bacteria and poor absorption compromises the immune system
Instead of using drugs to mask symptoms, functional doctors tireless seek to find the underlying cause so that balance can be restored.
When we seek conventional care for chronic diseases, we are given prescriptions to mitigate each of our symptoms, but the cause of the imbalance is not addressed.
This means that the disease progresses, symptoms get worse and more meds are needed to keep symptoms under control. Many patients end up with lifelong prescriptions of drugs that were only approved for short term use. As a result, the risk for adverse drug reactions and undesirable side effects increases.
Imbalances develop as a result of our unique individual genes interacting with our environment, diet and lifestyle.
Risk of chronic illness does not increase as we get older.
Although many people think it is natural to get sicker as we age, this could not be further from the truth.
Genes alone do not make us more susceptible to chronic disease.
It is the interaction of our genes, behavior and environment that determines the health that we enjoy in our senior years.
This is really exciting news!
It means that not only can we influence our gene expression to prevent or reverse illness, but we can also systematically maximize our individual genetic potential!
Our health outcomes are very much under our control.
By modifying our environment, diet and lifestyle, we can change the expression of our genes.
Our environment includes the personal care products we use, the fabrics we wear, our homes, where we get our food and how we prepare it. Diet is the kind, amounts and diversity of foods that we eat. Lifestyle factors are our habits, behavior and way of life.
How to Heal From Chronic Diseases With Functional Medicine
In the conventional model, specialists are trained to focus on one organ or group of organs. Their chief goal is to define the condition with a diagnosis and remedy the symptoms with drugs or surgery. This does not help people whose organs are compromised but not yet at the level of disease diagnosis.
Perhaps it will help with their symptoms, but meanwhile their real problems will only get worse.
Meanwhile, healthcare expenses are astronomical, yet little improvement is gained in quality of life.
Busy doctors, pressured by HMOs and Big Pharma to see and treat as many people as they can, typically spend just 6 minutes with each patient.
Functional doctors appreciate the uniqueness of each patient and diligently explore the individual interaction of their genes with their environment and behavior.
The first visit with a functional doctor may last several hours as they probe the patient’s personal, family, social and medical history to discover what caused the undesirable gene expression. It also gives the patient insights into their previous life events and motivates them to take responsibility for their future health.
Although many people are diagnosed with the same disease, each person’s path to healing will be unique, depending on the individual factors that led to the sickness.
The functional doctor takes into account the entire complex web of history, physiology and lifestyle to identify the factors that lead to disease and works with the patient to craft a plan to prevent or reverse illness.
The doctor will not stop looking if they find that none of the organs or systems is in an acute state and in need of immediate care. They will persist with the investigation to find out where the genetic expression has been altered by environmental factors.
How, exactly, do functional doctors solve these personal health mysteries?
In addition to the important clues revealed in the patient’s history, extensive testing is used to get an accurate picture of what is currently happening in the patient’s body.
Some helpful tests that functional doctors often recommend are:
- 24-hour adrenal stress index: Did you know that dysfunction in your adrenals can cause fatigue, anxiety, depression, blood sugar imbalances, brain fog, weight gain, irritability, decreased sex drive and poor sleep? The adrenals produce cortisol in response to stress. This lab will reveal if your cortisol is low when it should be high, high when it should be low, always too low or always too high.
- A complete thyroid panel: The thyroid influences even more systems than the adrenals and produces hormones that every single cell in the body requires. Conventional doctors typically only measure 2 out of the 8 thyroid hormones and antibodies that functional doctors use to discover if thyroid dysfunction is contributing to symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss and depression.
- Gut permeability labs: All health truly begins in the gut. Our guts are damaged by triggers like stress, poor diet and medications. If the gut lining is compromised, undigested food particles and bacterial endotoxins can leak into the bloodstream. This leads to chronic inflammation and a wide range of symptoms, including autoimmune conditions.
- Sex hormone labs: Both men and women must maintain balanced levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone to support health. If any one of them gets too high or too low, or even too high or too low relative to each other, we become susceptible to weigh gain, anxiety, depression, erectile dysfunction, mood problems, low sex drive, infertility and acne.
- Inflammation labs: Chronic, bodywide inflammation is a cause or symptom of many of today’s health problems: autoimmune conditions, cancer, heart disease, brain fog, fatigue and weight gain. Inflammation helps us to heal from injuries and fight off infections. It becomes a problem when it persists after the injury or infection has passed.
- Genetic testing: As we know, genetics are not the only factor in our health, but they’re still an important one! Tests can reveal genetic mutations that make us more susceptible to particular nutrient imbalances, drug interactions and health problems. By knowing what’s in our DNA, we can modify our environment, diet and lifestyles to balance our inherited risk factors.
Although each patient’s route back to health is highly individual, the basic road map will follow these essential 7 steps:
- Identify Leaky Gut and compromised gastrointestinal function
- Identify food sensitivities and intolerances
- Identify immune system response to environmental toxin exposure
- Identify and eradicate bacterial, parasite, Lyme, Candida and chronic viral infections
- Optimize and balance hormones
- Calm the inflammatory response
- Identify individual nutrient deficiencies.
Can Functional Medicine Help Me?
Functional medicine is a systematic, holistic paradigm for treating the person with the disease, not the disease of the person. It’s methods can be used to alleviate and reverse a broad range of chronic conditions, like…
- Chronic pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleeping disorders
- Peripheral Neuropathy and Diabetic Neuropathy
- Type II Diabetes
- Restless Leg syndrome
- Autoimmune Conditions
- Thyroid problems (Hashimoto’s disease and Graves)
- Gastrointestinal problems (IBS, SIBO, Leaky Gut, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis)
- Cognitive problems (Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s Diseases)
- Psychiatric problems (anxiety, depression, bipolar)
- Cardiovascular problems
- Hormonal imbalances (PCOS, endometriosis, menopause, infertility fibroids)
- Childhood developmental disorders
If you suffer from any of these conditions…or you don’t feel as well as you know you could, even though your doctor says everything is ok, you may find that a doctor of functional medicine can give you the help you need.
You can begin your search by visiting the Institute for Functional Medicine’s directory. You can also do a simple online search to find a practitioner in your area, though you’ll be glad to know that many functional doctors offer long distance care via Skype and phone.
By finding the root cause of what’s making you sick, you can prevent chronic health problems, restore balance to your system and realize your optimum genetic potential.
After all, health, as defined by the World Health Organization, “is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease.”
Are you as healthy as you deserve to be?
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Drop a comment and let me know about your experiences with chronic illness. Are you satisfied with the care you’re receiving? Is your doctor helping you get better, or just managing your symptoms?
Don’t let your loved ones become a statistic. Share this article with the people in your life who deserve better healthcare.