The way most doctors practice medicine right now isn't working. Medical students are trained to see the body as a collection of isolated parts instead of one whole system. The ensuing move toward medical specialization -- organizing medicine by organs and diseases, by location and symptoms -- is flawed and, as a result, modern medicine is at a breaking point. Not only does this hyper-focused approach to medicine dehumanize patients, it also ratchets up health care costs. We know, for instance, that medical specialists hospitalize more patients, write more prescriptions, and order more tests than primary care physicians. However, more spending rarely equates to better patient outcomes. I know because that was how I was trained.
In medical school, my classmates and I learned how to diagnose diseases and assign standardized treatments no matter who was suffering. I was taught to see the body as a set of symptoms, not one large system. Part of my training was learning how to refer patients to cardiologists for heart problems, gastroenterologists for stomach issues, and rheumatologists for joint pain. Given that most physicians were trained this way, it's no wonder that the average Medicare patient has six doctors and is on five different medications.
What I now know is that the key to good medicine is seeing the whole patient instead of just a collection of broken parts. My approach is called functional medicine. Functional medicine is not a new modality, specialty or technique. Practicing functional medicine means thinking about how the body's systems are interconnected. Functional medicine is about moving beyond a superficial diagnosis and discovering the root cause of illness. In functional medicine, we want to answer the question "Why?" not just "What is the right drug for this disease?"
This is what I did with Evelyn. Evelyn came to see me after suffering a decade of health problems. In 10 years, she'd seen 12 doctors and been diagnosed with 29 different diseases. Her list of ills included pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, food addiction, migraines, depression, PMS, infertility, irritable bowel, reflux, asthma, allergies and even psoriasis. By the time she saw me, Evelyn had a different specialist for every inch of her body. With that many doctors at her disposal, she should have been the healthiest person on the planet, but instead she was overweight, overwhelmed, and overmedicated.
My approach was different. As a functional medical practitioner, I look at the whole person, not the disease. I've spent the greater part of my career studying the root causes of chronic illness. There are more than 12,000 diseases known to medicine, but there is only one Evelyn. Instead of thinking about her as a hodgepodge of 29 different diagnoses, I shifted the paradigm. I looked at what might be throwing her body out of balance.
The body maintains balance in only a handful of ways. At the end of the day, disease occurs when these basic systems are out of whack. The human body is very resilient, yet its systems are derailed by VERY few things, namely TOO MUCH of things that detract from health -- bad food, bad bugs, toxins, allergens and stress -- and TOO FEW of those things that promote good health -- whole foods, water, air, light, rest, movement, sleep, rhythm, connection, love, meaning and purpose. (For more information on the seven fundamental systems in your body that can get out of balance, see The Blood Sugar Solution.)
If I could figure out how to help Evelyn get her body back in balance, her diseases would largely take care of themselves. The tests revealed three major systemic challenges. First, Evelyn was allergic to wheat, which was creating low-grade inflammation in her body as well as damaging her thyroid. Secondly, she had an unhealthy level of bad bacteria in her gut that were contributing to her fatigue and weight gain. Finally, she lived in Minnesota, and the lack of sunshine, especially in the winter months, led to a severe vitamin D deficiency. Between her gut, her hormones, and her immune system, Evelyn had roughly three basic systems we needed to address. In short order, I got her off wheat, treated her thyroid, and gave her high doses of vitamin D. Six weeks later Evelyn was symptom-free and had lost a whopping 21 pounds. The key was getting her body's basic systems back in working order.
A similar paradigm shift -- away from seeing patients as a collection of various diseases and toward recognizing the foundational systems that organize a person's health and well-being -- is what's needed to pull the health care system back from the brink. Placing too much emphasis on a yes/no diagnosis, meaning you either have a disease or you don't, can lead even the most well-meaning physicians to miss underlying causes and early warning signs of illness. And that's where the real skill lies -- in identifying red flags before they lead to disease. With this approach, you may never need to see a specialist again! We need doctors who can connect the dots and treat your whole system, not just the symptoms.
To learn more please see The Blood Sugar Solution. Get one book or get two and give one to someone you love -- you might be saving their life. When you purchase the book from this link you will automatically receive access to the following special bonuses:
Now I'd like to hear from you...
Does your doctor just treat your symptoms?
Are you seeing more than one physician for different ailments?
Do you see yourself as one interconnected system?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-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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