Functional Medicine as a Guide to Better Health

Many people are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of functional medicine, but it may be the key to improving your health. What is functional medicine?

Your body has an innate intelligence designed to stave off diseases, to purge toxins from your system, to maintain homeostasis, and to keep you healthy through a variety of mechanisms. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that it is not running at its highest efficiency — your body is meant to alert you of health problems, not live with them. Simple acute inflammation can grow into chronic inflammation without proper attention. This chronic inflammation is a common source of autoimmune disease.

In traditional Western medicine, doctors will look to treat a patient’s symptoms at a surface level rather than getting to the root of the problem. They may do this by running tests to see how bad the symptoms are. In functional medicine, on the other hand, the doctor not only wants to provide assistance in easing symptom relief, but more so wants to find out why and how a patient’s problems began in the first place.

Do you work around disease?

I got a kick out of a story I heard from a friend of mine told me the other day. She and her husband were driving in their relatively older car, and it was squeaking and creaking with every twist and bump in the road. Her son called it “carthritis.” She asked her husband, “Does the car need oil? It sounds like it’s dying.” He replied, “Yeah, I know. I usually just try to avoid bumpy roads.”

Avoiding bumpy roads to prevent a car from getting weaker is like avoiding physical activities to prevent chronic inflammation — it doesn’t solve the problem, and it limits your experiences in the process. The goal of functional medicine is not to put more gas in the car and keep going; it’s to get under the hood and fix the source of the problem.

Traditional Western Medicine vs. Functional Medicine

This is where a lot of people begin to get defensive about traditional medicine. They say, “Well, my doctor wants to know what is wrong with me. They send me for tests and try to get rid of it.”

What they consider the problem, we generally consider the symptom. For instance, you have pain in your shoulder. After running some tests, they discover a tumor. They get rid of the tumor. Great! But what was going on in your body that allowed the development of a tumor in the first place?

You see, the tumor was not an isolated problem, but a symptom of a larger underlying issue. Until you acknowledge the tumor as an alert and make adjustments to your lifestyle, you may begin to see other symptoms pop up. Seemingly unrelated symptoms are in fact commonly related to the same underlying issue.

Treatment and Prevention in Functional Medicine

Another area of difference in functional medicine is how it is treated. As doctors of functional medicine, we believe the body is designed to heal itself … when it is provided with the right tools. These tools are things you would expect and have been told your whole life (for the most part).

It can be a challenge to establish good health habits with today’s hectic lifestyle. If you’re one of the millions of people living with a chronic condition, it can become even harder. Too often we neglect our health until a health crisis — such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity — forces us to examine how we live and make some serious changes. The practices we develop in this space require time and effort, but the rewards are tremendous. Positive lifestyle changes can propel you to a healthier, happier place than you have ever known.

Dr. Tom’s Top 3 Tips for Better Health

Recently, a friend of mine asked what my top three tips are for better health. Whether you’re just starting your wellness journey or have been on the path for some time, these three tips are some of the most simple yet powerful ways to positively impact your health.

1. Drink two big glasses of water first thing in the morning. If you’re like most people, the first thing you do after waking up is head to the bathroom; but the very next thing should be to drink two tall glasses of water. Why?

Your body is comprised of 50 to 75 percent water. This makes water vitally important to the functions your body carries out on a daily basis. Your cells need to stay hydrated in order for your body to perform these functions. Water also helps us flush out all of those nasty toxins and waste from your body through sweat and elimination.

Everything in your body works better when you’re well hydrated. Water improves bowel function, and you’ll feel better overall. Even if you’re not thirsty or feel too full, drink the water. The feeling of fullness will pass and your body will thank you for it. After a few days of doing this, your body will acclimate, and you will find you function better overall.

2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s simple. Every forkful of food that you put into your mouth is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. At the cellular level, all degenerative diseases involve inflammation inside the cell. Inflammation is the harmful process linked to diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, thyroid disorders, migraines, and more. Put out the fire! You can squelch inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats like omega-3s, etc. It is a good practice to limit or avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, grains, GMOs, food additives and preservatives, unhealthy fats like omega-6s and trans fats, etc. Every bite counts! Put out more fires than you start.

3. “Take it easy, but take it!” This quote comes from former Chicago-based radio show host Louis “Studs” Terkel. The path to health is a process. You’ll have victories as well as setbacks on the road to wellness. Don’t be discouraged by the setbacks. The important thing is to stay engaged in your journey to achieve better health. Never give up!

While your heart is still pumping and you are alive on this planet, you are still in the game. You don’t have to become Mr. Universe, but it is vitally important to stay active. Do not live a sedentary life, and avoid sitting for extended periods of time. (Don’t take it too easy!)

The road to wellness isn’t easy. Don’t stop making improvements just because you’ve suffered a setback. Working through those setbacks is the wisest decision you can make. Making simple, easy changes like avoiding toxins can help to take a lot of that load off — literally. Toxic load. Make choices that support your health even when it looks like your body has betrayed you. Let it know you may get kicked, but you will get right back up again … and again … and again — as long as your heart is still pumping.

Is it really as simple as all that?

Well, it isn’t simple at all. Your body has a very complex system designed to keep you at optimal health. We each have our own unique DNA and therefore experience our environment in different ways.

Although we all have different DNA, we all share the same systematic functions. As I’ve mentioned, the body is complex. Your body converts food into energy, but there are byproducts and chemical reactions as a result. Figuring out what and why something is happening in your body is like sleuthing. Extensive lab work is often needed to see how your body is throwing up signals that you may not be feeling.

For instance, you eat a piece of toast and unknowingly antibodies may be sent out. You can’t feel those antibodies being sent out. So unless you experience pain and discomfort when you have the toast, you have no association between the toast and the condition.

Functional medicine doctors look in-depth at how your body is functioning. Seventy percent of your immune system resides in your gut. Have you had antibiotics that have killed off a lot of good bacteria that help you fight sickness? Are you getting enough diversity in your diet to feed that flora? Nutrition and nutritional supplements are a key component in rebalancing and maintaining your health.

At theDr.com, our Clinical Services team has extensive training in functional medicine, nutrition, and the four pillars of health: structure, biochemistry, emotion and the electromagnetic field. Through consultations, we offer personalized wellness based on testing and analysis. We give the tools to our patients to take control of their health and share these protocols, methods, test results, and progress results with other people they have chosen to be a part of their healthcare team. We believe this holistic approach leads to true healing.

Functional medicine sifts through all of your symptoms; tests and retests; looks at whether you are improving, declining or if there is no change; and seeks to discover the root cause or causes of your sickness. It relies on the technology of tests and the wisdom of nature. It can at times seem like a long journey, but the functional medicine approach to wellness seeks to determine the root causes of disease and prevents sickness from growing. Western medicine is based on the foundation of treating symptoms — not finding the causes to those symptoms.

Without identifying the source of the problem, the problem lays unaddressed festering, creating more in its wake. Functional medicine truly acts as a guide to better health.

A Changing Environment

Our bodies were designed to heal, but they were designed long before plastics and wireless phones and cars. Think of yourself just like one more animal you find in nature. That’s our environment, too.

Just like man is killing itself, we are impacting our environment in similar ways. Pesticides and insecticides, micro plastics, mercury levels in our water, pollution in our air, and electromagnetic radiation all affects both us and the other creatures we share our environment with. By being more conscious of what we put in and near our bodies, we can minimize our impact on our environment and better support our health at the same time.

Remember, your genes aren’t your destiny. Even if you have genetic susceptibility to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or other disorders, you can arrest and reverse many chronic conditions by making the appropriate lifestyle changes and using a functional medicine approach that looks at your life through a holistic lens.