A New Approach to Health
I had a transformative health experience. Transformative experiences are rare and I was fortunate enough to be at the right time and place to have one. My transformation began with my training at the Institute for Functional Medicine. Prior to that point in time, I was practicing in the most traditional ways to give the best I could to help my clients live full and healthy lives. I practiced psychotherapy and prescribed medication by diagnosing the illness and prescribing the required medication and dosage according to the illness (not the person).
I had a good fortune as well to know a client whom I shall call, Jane. Jane is not her real name. She sought treatment for a number of ailments. She wasn’t sleeping well. She had terrible mood swings to the point of disrupting all of her relationships including her marriage. She was depressed, anxious, angry, irritable, and prone to explosive and impulsive behavioral outbursts. Her symptoms were not that hard to diagnose according to the traditional methods. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on a mood stabilizer. With therapy, her behavior and mood improved. She wasn’t fully recovered but traditional medicine rarely provides a cure. Traditional medicine is like trying to protect the china after the bull has been let loose. It happens late in the game and pharmaceutical companies are tasked with reversing an abnormal process after it has done its damage.
Over time, she reported that the initial positive effects of the medication had worn off. She was given a second medication to achieve the previously acquired results. As most patients are aware, it is very common to have been prescribed multiple medications for any type of illness over time. Patients rarely feel well and hope that the magic combination of different drugs will bring about the outcomes for which they hope and pray.
During the treatment of Jane, I participated in an intensive study program at the Institute for Functional Medicine. I was taught by leading physicians in the fields of psychiatry, immunology, gastroenterology, molecular biology, neurology, etc…I was immersed in every detail of the functioning of the body as a whole system. No one part was taught in isolation of the entire system of the body and health was even defined within the entire social system, history, and genetics of the person.
The training was indeed transformative. My eyes were opened to a more profound and intricate understanding of how we function as biological beings within an environment that affects our genes and therefore genetic expression that leads to health or illness (the science of epigenetics). We are all in varying states of wellness or un-wellness.
Jane was in an extreme state of illness. Her mental illness was the way in which her sick biological systems primarily expressed itself, but the illness was not rooted in the brain. It was rooted in other systems affecting the brain. This is a profoundly different way of seeing her illness.
With an in-depth assessment, I was able to identify the biological systems that were not working well. Her methylation was not working well. Her diet was poor. Her inability to sleep well exacerbated her mood disorder. She had gastrointestinal symptoms. She was constantly dieting and seeking out junk food for a treat. Her mindset was focused on the negative and she was constantly fearful of being abandoned.
Psychotherapy assisted with changing her mindset. A change in her diet and prescribing specific supplements supplying the necessary nutrients to improve her methylation were essential to making a change. Her gut health was improved with the right diet and probiotics. Her highly inflammatory state was normalized. Her lab results confirmed the changes we made. She was gladly taken off all medications. She was able to function well and her mood was stable. She said: “This is the first time in my life I feel like me. I feel energized, healthy, and happy.”
Jane’s changes would not have happened had I not evaluated all aspects of her health which affected her brain functioning. She wasn’t able to sleep well because she was not producing the melatonin and other brain neurotransmitters necessary for a sound sleep. Once she acquired the necessary nutrients to produce the neurotransmitters and the support for methylation, she was able to sleep well and her mood improved. Jane’s interventions were specifically designed for her.
Unlike traditional medicine which prescribes the same regimen for all, the functional medicine model is personalized and designed to benefit the person’s specific needs. When you apply one treatment for all you get varying results. When you prescribe one supplement for all, you get varying results because that patient or client may or may not need that supplement. Natural or Integrative medicine interventions that are modeled after traditional practices by prescribing according to the diagnosis lead to the same poor outcomes. Prescribing every depressed person 5HTP as an example is not the practice of Functional Medicine. The results will be poor because you are treating a diagnosis and not the person. When interventions are personalized you will see positive outcomes on a regular basis.
The transition from a more myopic and rote way of practicing to one that is individualized and specific has resulted in significant and positive outcomes. Most patients come to me who have been in traditional treatments for many years, sometimes decades. They want to get off medication and have ridden the traditional medicine train to the last stop of all medications. I have seen lists of 10, 20, or more different medications that have been tried and tested on these patients. I have seen patients who are taking 20 different medications and are still not well. Patients come to me to try something new. I am happy to help but at the same time, I wish that patients would seek the care of a functional medicine practitioner sooner and not later.
If I had the power to change the way medicine or, more specifically, the practice of healing is performed, I would want the healthcare industry to begin with being able to assess and define the varying degrees of wellness and un-wellness. Presently our healthcare system goes into action when you are sick. In other words, you have to become ill in order for you to receive attention to your state of health. The system is way too late in the call to action. I would want our healthcare system to become active from the day you are conceived. At birth, your genetics would be evaluated and a nutrition plan specific to your needs would be put into place.
Health is an action that you take which moves you towards or away from optimal health every day. It begins with how you slept the night before and what you will eat. It continues through the day with what you are exposed to either in the form of toxins, stress, and a social system or environment in which you live. You need education about how to take care of yourself, (meaning you specifically). You don’t know what these requirements are until you come to know your body, your “self”, your genetics, and your specific nutrient needs.
We are at the precipice of a major transformation that can cause a profound change in the way healing practices are performed or we can stay stagnant and continue to wait for everyone to become ill for healing to begin. My preference is to let it begin before you become ill and stay well throughout your lifetime. By so doing, the cost of medical care would decrease substantially and people would live longer and enjoy their lives in a state of healthy vigor.
Learn more about how the transformative nature of functional medicine will help you progress towards your personal goals for health, vigor, and happiness.
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