A question I am often asked is, "Where can I find a doctor like you -- someone who practices functional medicine?”
One in every two people in America has a chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, arthritis, depression, ADD, memory loss, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, migraines, allergies, asthma, or skin problems such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Millions more have FLC (feel like crap) and suffer from fatigue, sluggishness, insomnia, or a general lack of vitality.
Despite the advances in conventional medical care over the last 50 years, this suffering continues without relief because of our symptom-focused, organ-focused, and disease-focused medical model.
Yes, the single biggest medical advance of our lifetimes is something most people have never heard of before, and it is the future of medicine.
We don’t want band-aids for our symptoms. We want to get to the root cause. We don’t want to be treated as a body part -- we want to be understood as a whole person.
What many people are looking for is functional medicine... they just don’t know it. Functional medicine is, put simply, the science of creating health.
Many people are searching for functional medicine doctors because they’re unsatisfied with what conventional medicine offers. They’re unhappy with the way conventional doctors think about their health. They’re discouraged by the focus conventional medicine places on just suppressing symptoms.
Functional medicine creates an entirely different paradigm: medicine grounded in finding causes, not by treating symptoms. It’s medicine that addresses more than just where the issue is in your body (I call this medicine by geography) but how the issue manifests across core mechanisms throughout your body. We begin by asking: What is the underlying mechanism... and how can we address the root cause?
The name it, blame it, and tame it game
Let’s say you go to your conventional doctor complaining of joint pain, a rash, headache, reflux, a runny nose, and congestion, your doctor will say, “Wait! I can only deal with one problem today, let me just take care of your reflux. He or she may then refer you to an allergist for your runny nose, a neurologist for your headache, and a dermatologist for your rash. Before long, you may find that you have a different doctor for every inch of your body.
This way of thinking about disease is completely wrong: it’s based on a diagnostic system that focuses on where the issue is located in your body -- the geography -- and the symptoms. We classify all of these discreet diseases and then we try to treat each one separately with a drug. We call this the name it, blame it, and tame it game in medicine.
For example, someone goes to see a doctor complaining of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, low mood, no energy, poor appetite and poor sleep. Their doctor tells them they have depression, and prescribes an antidepressant. Guess what? Depression is not the cause of those symptoms; it’s the name we give to that collection of symptoms, and the antidepressant will do nothing to address the underlying cause. Depression is not a Prozac deficiency.
This way of treating patients is completely wrong. It’s the past. The future of medicine is understanding how your body functions, how it becomes imbalanced, and how to correct that balance. The future of medicine is looking at patterns and connecting everything together.
Connecting the dots
If the person we just discussed came in to see me, I would first ask, “What could be causing all of these symptoms?” The possibilities are many, but a cause can very often be found. It could be that you’re eating gluten, you have autoimmune antibodies against your thyroid and therefore have low thyroid function. It could be that you’ve been taking an acid blocker for 10 years and you have low B12 levels because your stomach can’t absorb the B12 when you don’t have stomach acid. That could be the cause of your depression.
It could be caused by the fact that you live in a northern climate and have a vitamin D deficiency. It may be because you’ve taken antibiotics that have disturbed the normal gut bacteria -- the microbiome -- which affect your neurotransmitters. It could be because you love sushi and eat it all the time that your eating habits have given you mercury poisoning. It might be because you hate fish and have an omega-3 deficiency, which also causes depression. Or, it could be because you love sugar and eat Cinnabons all day, that habit has led to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, and this is the cause of your depression.
The diagnosis and treatment of each of those is quite different, even though they produce exactly the same symptoms. One disease can have many causes and one cause can create many diseases.
For example, one cause -- let’s say gluten sensitivity -- it can trigger all sorts of problems like osteoporosis, anemia, depression, irritable bowel, autoimmune diseases, cancer, or diabetes. You have to think about root causes. You have to think about underlying interconnected systems in your body to find the right solution: That’s the beauty of functional medicine. Once you’ve discovered the underlying causes, you take out the bad stuff and you put in the good stuff. When provided the right kind of medicine -- your body has an amazing capacity to heal.
The future starts now
Many of you want to find a doctor who can think this way. Where do you look? The best way is to go to the website for the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) at www.functionalmedicine.org. Once there, enter your zip code and you’ll be shown a list of physicians in your area who have been trained to guide you according to the functional medicine approach.
The IFM trains physicians all over the world and offers a certification in Functional Medicine for graduating physicians. We are also now working with one of the top medical institutions in the world to create a Functional Medicine institute that will bring this to the world in a very big way, through education, research, and clinical care. Stay tuned: This is the future of medicine.
I encourage you to find a functional medicine practitioner who can help you address the root cause of your problems. You will fix the things that really bother you and, in the process, create good health. That’s the beauty of functional medicine.
I want everybody to know about functional medicine, so I encourage you to share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, sign up for our newsletter, and submit your questions, so next week, I may make a House Call to you.
Mark Hyman, MD is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a six-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.
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