Clearing up the Confusion about Functional Medicine

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

September 14, 2020

Years ago, I became seriously ill and ended up in the hospital.  Fearing cancer, my doctors did test after test looking for an answer.  I even went through several rounds of radiation via injectable dyes and scanners. It was terrible.

Thankfully, I left the hospital before any real harm was done to my body.  All of my “treatments” had left me with a serious case of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue – leaving me unable to work and sleeping on the couch 20 hours a day.

One day, my daughter came down the steps and said, “So you’re a victim now? I thought you were the guy, Daddy.  Aren’t you smart enough to figure this out?”

That’s all I needed to hear.  I dove into my research and five months later I had no chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.

I tell you this story, because this was a huge turning point in my life. It marks the time when I turned the corner from conventional treatments and started down the path towards functional medicine.

Conventional vs. Functional Medicine

To understand the difference between conventional and functional medicine, I want you to imagine a warning light blinking on your car’s dashboard.

A really poor mechanic might look at your car and say, “Oh, the light is a problem? Let’s just stick on some black tape so it doesn’t bother you anymore, or better yet we’ll cut the connection and light won’t go on.”

He’ll whip out a roll of tape, slap it on, or open the hood and cut the connection and hand you a bill for $300.

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Then, you happily drive home without the blinking.  Just ten days later, your car starts spewing black smoke and your engine dies completely.  The car is totaled.

That’s conventional medicine.

It’s a pretty ridiculous example, but it illustrates the important difference between these two types of medical approaches.

Wouldn’t it have been so much better if your mechanic had popped the hood, inspected the engine, and replaced the part that was causing the problem?

Then, you would have left with a healthier car.

This focus on treating the root cause of a problem rather than just the symptom is what sets functional medicine apart.

Conventional doctors often treat your symptoms with drugs that mask the pain, relieve the symptoms and hide the true cause of your disease.

In contrast, functional medicine doctors look for the upstream cause of your downstream problem.  They work to determine why an illness occurs using information about the patient’s genetics, biochemistry, environment, mind body issues and lifestyle factors.[1]

Oftentimes, this comes down to the foods you eat.  I’ve said before that the most important tools to change someone’s health – mental and physical – is at the end of their fork and not at the bottom of a pill bottle.

This begs the question… Why don’t conventional doctors pay more attention to lifestyle and nutrition?

In reality, mainstream physicians receive very little to no training on nutrition. At last count, only 26 out of 105 U.S. medical schools require students to take a dedicated nutrition course.  This adds up to only 19.5 hours of nutrition training throughout their entire medical school career.[2]

It’s ridiculous!

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No More In-and-Out 15-Minute Exams

I became a functional medicine doctor in part because the entire philosophy makes more sense.  I also enjoy the closer relationship with my patients.

Do you ever feel like you get a “drive by” exam – one where your doctor zooms into the room and out again within just fifteen minutes?

During that time, he might be sitting at a laptop with his back to you asking questions.  With each answer, he ticks off a box or fills in a form on his computer.

This type of exam is the result of a system where insurance codes govern treatment.  The doctor is just doing what they’ve been trained to do, what they’re directed to do by the insurance carrier in order to be paid for their time.  He’ll listen to your concerns, do a quick physical exam, and then hand you a prescription slip to take to your pharmacist.

An exam with a functional medicine doctor will be much different…

He’ll likely sit down with you and have a very in-depth conversation about your lifestyle and diet.  There will be a very thorough physical exam which covers everything from your head to your toes.

For instance, when I’m seeing patients, I might hyperflex their fingers to check for collagen deficiency.  If the fingers bend all the way back, I’ll know they are likely low on levels of lysine, proline, or Vitamin C that make collagen.[3]

If I notice bumps on the back of their arms – a condition known as hyperkeratosis pilaris[4] – I’ll know they are deficient on an essential fatty acid or Vitamins A or D.

I’ll even take a look at their fingernails.  Often with men, cloudy white patches are an indication that they need more zinc or selenium.[5]

Reasons to Consider Seeing a Functional Medicine Doctor

If you’re thinking of seeing a functional medicine doctor, there are a few things you should consider…

If you’ve been dealing with some sort of chronic degenerative disease for years on end, you have two options.  You could continue down the same road with your same conventional medicine doctor.

Or, if you want to try something different and have a chance at kicking this disease to the curb using a different approach, you can try a functional medicine doctor.

Look for one that is a certified functional medicine physician from The Institute for Functional Medicine.[6]

The last thing you need to consider is money.  Chances are, your insurance will not pay for a trip to see a functional medicine doctor.  Instead, you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

But think of it this way… if you’re willing to pay your lawyer or accountant hundreds of dollars an hour, why wouldn’t you do the same for the person in charge of your health?

This will just take a bit of a mindset shift if you are used to insurance covering your medical expenses.

But, I promise you, the change is well worth it.

Remember, when it comes to chronic medical issues, it’s never just one thing, and a pill or pills will never fix the problem. That’s why you need a functional medical physician to practice the art and science of medicine the way it was meant to be and that will never fit into a fifteen minute visit with a prescription at visits’ end.

Sources:

[1] The Institute for Functional Medicine, “Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.” https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/

[2] Adams KM, et al. Nutrition education in U.S. medical schools: latest update of a national survey. Acad Med. 2010 Sep;85(9):1537-42.

[3] Deshmukh, Shrutal Narendra et al. “Enigmatic insight into collagen.” Journal of oral and maxillofacial pathology : JOMFP vol. 20,2 (2016): 276-83. doi:10.4103/0973-029X.185932

[4] Thomas, Mary, and Uday Sharadchandra Khopkar. “Keratosis pilaris revisited: is it more than just a follicular keratosis?.” International journal of trichology vol. 4,4 (2012): 255-8. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.111215

[5] Kim, Seo Wan et al. “Idiopathic acquired true leukonychia totalis and partialis.” Annals of dermatology vol. 26,2 (2014): 262-3. doi:10.5021/ad.2014.26.2.262

[6] The Institute for Functional Medicine, https://www.ifm.org

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