What is the Functional Medicine approach? Reflections on my journey to health
I am often questioned about my enthusiasm for Functional Medicine. There is not a wide spread awareness yet of this new branch of medicine.
To put it bluntly, this new approach to medicine saved my life. So, its worth me explaining.
This is my understanding of this new field of medicine that has been the cornerstone to my journey to wellness.
What lead me in the functional approach direction?
I was sick, and everything in my body hurt. I tried to research and give myself a diagnosis, and although I thought it was autoimmune related, I didn’t seem to have all of the symptoms of any of the well-known branded diseases. It wasn’t MS, or Lupus, or Fibromyalgia. It wasn’t Rheumatoid Arthritis.
When I talked to my doctor about it, at first she thought it was in my head, but to humor me, I was sent to the leading expert in autoimmune diseases at USC. He kind of snickered…..and offered me steroids. He pointed out that I didn’t have all of the symptoms of any of the known autoimmune diseases, and when I turned down the steroids, wanted me to take Aleve twice a day.
Ok, so the pain got worse. I discovered I had diabetes, and was given pills for that. And my hands started shaking, so I saw experts for that. I was diagnosed with Essential Tremor. No drug, no cure.
I went to an DC (Doctor of Chiropractic). He made a significant change to my diet, and some of the pain subsided, but many symptoms continued. I couldn’t lose weight. He finally told me I was very sick and he didn’t know how to help me.
So now I decided to do my own research and be in charge of my own health.
I watched the first Autoimmune Summit by Dr. Amy Myers, a conventional doctor who had been trained in Functional Medicine. Almost all of the presenters had been sick and had gone on their own journey to find something other than their initial training in conventional medicine, in order to heal themselves. They found Functional Medicine, got certified and became Functional doctors. Each presentation seemed to conclude that it all started in the gut.
The gut? Could my road to health really be as simple as healing my gut?
So I found my own Functional Doctor. She was trained conventionally. She too wanted a different approach to help her patients find wellness. She too had gotten sick and was looking for a better way.
It ends up it was not as simple as healing my gut, but it is absolutely the place to start. This is what I have learned along the way.
Conventional Medicine is broken when it comes to disease.
As a nation, we have one of the worst infant mortality rates, one of the worst rates of diabetes, one of the worst rates for obesity; for the first time in history, our lifespan is decreasing, allergies, autism, chronic disease, inflammatory diseases are all on the rise at frightening rates.
.The old paradigm of seeing a doctor, getting a diagnosis, and then taking pills, not only does not treat the disease, but often offers little relief and sometimes causes additional problems.
Functional medicine was described to us in school (IIN, the institute for Integrative Nutrition) as a conventionally trained doctor, who has gotten additional training in a new approach, the functional approach. They can still offer conventional approaches as they are conventionally trained. But Functional Medicine is root cause medicine. A functional doctor doesn’t just want to identify the symptoms, give it a name and then a pill. They want to find the dysfunction, and then find the root cause of the dysfunction and they generally start with the gut.
This doesn’t mean that they avoid using conventional pharmaceuticals. But drugs are only one tool in their tool box.
As Dr. Susan Blum explained, if you are sitting on a tack, a conventional doctor says wow, you are sitting on a tack, and gives you a pill that camouflages the tack and brings some comfort. But the tack remains. And sometimes the pill causes additional problems down the line.
A functional doctor becomes an investigator to find where the tack is and remove it. The first step in the process is to heal the gut.
Ends up I do have an auto immune disease. There are at least 80 of them, many without names yet. In my case, I caught it early so it didn’t become full blown autoimmune. And we didn’t need to give it a name in order to find a treatment.
I will write more about the healing process in my next chapter, but for now, it suffices to say that by healing the gut, finding the food and drug sensitivities that are destroying the gut and removing them, and then rebuilding healthy bacteria in the gut, sometimes the whole battle is won. In my case, I got immediate pain reduction, but still had problems, so my functional doctor started investigating further to find the other tacks that were destroying my health.
One thing for certain, healing my gut was the key to healing 70% of my pain. Healing the gut involves:
- Feeding your body real live food, preferably organic so that there are no herbicides or insecticides going into your gut,
- Eating all of the colors of the rainbow for their different nutrients,
- Eating clean meat (grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free). Eating local as much as possible to get the most nutrients available from a freshly picked item.
- Testing for and eliminating food sensitivities. This was a biggie for me. I have a long list of irritants and removing them created instant relief. Even today, if I accidentally eat something on my sensitivity list, I can blow up overnight, gain 5 pounds in 12 hours, and the pain returns to my muscles and bones. I get brain fog. My ankles swell. My face gets puffy. They are obviously a big part of my issue.
- Rebuilding the lining of the gut (more on this under auto-immunity)
Ends up, the body is resilient, if given proper nutrients to help it heal, it can start to heal itself. All of the toxins need to be removed. All of the chemicals that are going into our processed and fast foods need to be avoided. Real live food is the biggest key to healing and to sustained health.
Other differences Conventional VS Functional
- My conventional doctor tested for allergies. The test was a strip down my back. The only thing I was allergic to was the adhesive tape. Allergies are things like an allergy to peanuts, or to shell fish. The reaction is immediate, and can be life threatening.
My functional doctor tested for sensitivities. Bingo. I had a huge slew of sensitivities. Now we had a place to start to heal my gut. Sensitivities are reactions to foods or chemicals that happen more slowly and subside slowly. They impact the gut lining (leaky gut) and can create an autoimmune reaction in the body.
- My cortisol levels were low. Since I wasn’t at “disease” level, Addison’s Disease, then there was nothing to do, according to my conventional MD.
My functional MD, ran a test for my DHEA level, which was completely depleted (DHEA is what creates new Cortisol), she added a DHEA spray to my daily routine, increased my selenium, also good for my thyroid, had me work on my stress with exercise and breathing. The result?: my cortisol is now creeping back into normal range.
- My health history made my functional md question my level of toxic metals in my body. We tested. I was loaded with lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, arsenic, and more. Before we attempted to detox the heavy metals we looked at my ability to Methylate. From testing, we discovered I have two genetic anomalies to methylation, so knowing that my body doesn’t detox easily, we worked on improving the methylation process, detoxed my liver, increased my vitamin B 12 , had me remove my amalgam fillings at an environmental dentist, and now we are detoxing the metals out of my body.
This was never even noticed or questioned by my conventional MD.
- We ran the 23 and me genetic test. Most people do it to find genealogy; we did it for DNA information. Knowing that you have weirdness’s in your DNA, doesn’t mean that you are going to get all that stuff. It does however raise markers to be aware of. So, the first new thing that was obvious is that I still have high elevated estrogen in my body even though I am well into menopause.
I had had a fibroid in my early 50s which my conventional doctor thought would shrink with menopause. My functional doctor took a look at 67 to see if that was true. Yikes, it has grown to 11 cm, I have 2 more and they have been causing a lot of discomfort that I have been ignoring since I thought they had shrunk.
I am now looking into my options to have the fibroids removed.
My journey continues, and I am sure that we will make other fascinating discoveries about my body as I follow my path. Without my functional MD, I would still be miserable in my body, my health would be deteriorating, and I would have little or no hope. Instead now, I want to help others make lifestyle changes that will help them either avoid disease, and increase their wellness in the course of their lives.
My blood pressure has come under control, but my diabetes and weight are still challenging. I do understand now though, that until my entire body works in tandem, it will be difficult to fix these issues. One system at a time, we are moving towards solutions.
Functional medicine literally saved my life.
As your Health Muse, I am not a functional MD nor am I certified as a functional practitioner. But I have been through so much and have learned that by coaching others to make lifestyle changes, suggested by the functional protocol, and which have significantly healed me, it can also start to heal you. I can help you clean up your gut, and make other lifestyle changes that will impact the quality of your life, like helping you to reduce your stress. I know from firsthand experience how important these lifestyle changes are. I want to help you navigate to a healthier you.