"The way we think about medicine is all wrong," Mark Hyman told participants at a half day seminar he offered last week at the Urban Zen Center in downtown New York -- where Donna Karan's Urban Zen Foundation hosts a series of health seminars.
"We used to have acute diseases and infectious diseases, but now we have long-latency deficiency diseases. If you don't have adequate minerals for 30 years, ultimately you get osteoporosis," he said. "Why wait that long? Shouldn't we do something now?"
Hyman questions why conventional doctors fail to offer immediate nutritional interventions that could stem a full blown disease before it happens. Instead "They tell patients, let's wait and watch. Why wait until you're sick, and then place you on a costly medication--often with side effects--for life? It doesn't make sense."
Hyman calls this school of medicine the "name it, blame it and tame it" approach because "first, you name the disease, you blame the name of the problem, then you tame it with a medication. Meanwhile you haven't identified and corrected the imbalance producing the symptoms in the first place. We should provide the nutrients first and if necessary, the drugs second."
Hyman, a former emergency care physician, readily acknowledges the need for acute care medicine. The problem is that when using an acute care model to treat chronic disease, the illness "gets worse over time and we take it for granted we have to feel bad."
But that isn't so, he says. By following the basic principles of naturopathy: taking out the "bad stuff" and putting in the "good stuff," in his clinical practice, Hyman has seen over and over that people can recover from many chronic illnesses.
On a global level, 90 percent of health care resources are spent addressing infectious diseases, rather than chronic diseases. Yet according to the World Health Organization (WHO) "Chronic conditions ... account for 59 percent of the 57 million deaths annually and 46 percent of the global burden of disease."
In the absence of a medical model able to address these prevalent diseases at an early stage, the bottom line, according to Hyman is that "You have to be the CEO of your own health."
"We're in the middle of a scientific transformation as great as in Galileo's day when science held that the earth was the center of the universe," Hyman told the group. "It's that big a shift in medicine, but it hasn't seeped in."
Doctors talk about evidence-based medicine--but Hyman differentiates between laboratory findings, which can reveal targeted information, and the significant outcomes coming from the practice of clinical medicine--the true art of medicine.
While conventional medical science shuns empirical clinical evidence while favoring double-blind studies, characterized as "evidence-based," Hyman counters that, despite its claims, conventional practice is selective in its willingness to look at the real evidence.
For example, he points out that many drug companies do research but "only publish studies that support the outcomes they want to find. If three studies show their product worked, while seven studies show it didn't, they will file away in a drawer those seven studies and only publish the three favorable ones." Hyman calls this practice "publication bias."
Citing a huge clinical trial showed that angioplasties don't work, Hyman notes that despite this research, the number of procedures performed hasn't dropped, "because doctors do what they are paid to do." He comments, "We don't have evidence based medicine, we have reimbursement based medicine."
Since people frequently have more than one condition, doctors routinely prescribe multiple drugs, all of which are taken together without any study of how those drugs interact. "Evidence-based?" Hyman remarks, "That research has never been done."
In dialogue recently with health care insurers, Hyman was asked "Where do we find the physicians that can deliver this new health care model?"
Too few existing programs train physicians to practice this way. There are more barriers than incentives to this form of practice. For example, in New York State, legislative policy forbids residents from getting many of the functional assessments that help to diagnose imbalances before they develop into active disease.
"We need to change legislative policy to match the new science," Hyman noted. "And we need to develop a scalable medical training model in Functional Medicine," the systemic approach Hyman practices.
Finally, Hyman called on medicine to face up to the challenge of autism. As autism rates have risen from three diagnosed children per 10,000 to one child out of ninety-nine, Hyman argues that the time has come for medicine to face up this health problem.
Though some claim that the increase is due to more children being identified as autistic, Hyman wearily shakes his head and says that, "If I see a child flapping their hands, and unable to speak or make eye contact, that's not an easy thing to ignore. We're seeing it more now because it's happening more now."
Some medical studies have misguidedly looked for--and failed to find--mercury in the blood of children with autism. But unless the exposure is recent, the toxins aren't stored in the blood, said Hyman, who has treated autism in his practice. "They're stored in the tissues, and are best diagnosed with a challenge test. Moreover, while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focuses on a search for a single cure. The interventions that help kids the most are those that release heavy metals."
"We haven't invested in the kind of research we need to help children recover from autism. Instead of admitting there's a problem, we've consigned autism to a medical diaspora" Hyman says. "I don't think all the questions have been answered. We need a national campaign to look into this."
For health insight, science, and action alerts, and radio programs with health experts, please sign up at: www.healthjournalist.com