The new kind of medicine that actually works

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Those of you that have been reading my tips for a while may have gotten the idea that I am not a huge fan of western conventional medicine.

I became disillusioned when allopathic medicine was never able to explain why I had stomach aches every day of my life for about 35 years, despite going to doctor after doctor searching for an answer, and having every diagnostic procedure in the book come back clean.

I didn’t think it was normal to get stomach aches every day, occasionally so bad that I had to lie down. Food-sensitivity testing just wasn’t on the radar of the physicians I saw, despite the fact that I told them that most of the time my stomach aches came on during or shortly after a meal.

Conventional medicine is absolutely fantastic at acute care and life-saving emergency care. If one has a heart attack, breaks bones, suffers from wounds or infections, or urgently needs a cancerous tumour removed for example, allopathic medicine is best, because it is excellent at diagnosis of the big stuff.

Imaging and diagnostic technology is amazing these days, and once the diagnosis is made, a life can be saved by quick, appropriate care.

Where conventional medicine falls down in my opinion, is dealing with sub-acute and chronic health problems.

People regularly see their doctor for help with fatigue, aches and pains, depression etc., and usually they leave with a prescription that treats the symptoms complained about, (pain killers, anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants etc.), which is a band-aid solution, but rarely is the actual cause of the problem addressed (what is causing the inflammation?).

People are given a diagnosis of heart disease or arthritis which then dictates a particular treatment protocol, but looking for the underlying causes of why the person developed heart disease or arthritis in the first place does not always happen.

I don’t think that allopathic medicine asks the question "why" enough. You go to the doctor for heartburn, you are given an antacid. But why did you develop heartburn? Is an antacid going to cure the cause of the problem? No.

There are many causes of heart burn, each requiring a different treatment. For some, the stomach is pulled up too high up against the diaphragm and is holding open the valve between the food pipe and the stomach itself, allowing acid to go into the food pipe. (There should be at least 2cm of esophagus (food pipe) below the diaphragm.)

For others, particular foods are a problem. Still others actually have too little stomach acid, and the acid they do have is floating on top of the other stomach juices, splashing up into the food pipe when the valve opens.

Each case above needs a different solution to resolve the heart burn. The first needs to see a visceral therapist that can draw the stomach down so the valve is no longer being held open. The second needs to avoid offending foods, and the third actually needs to supplement meals with betaine, to increase HCL. Antacids and GERD medications do not address the cause of the problem in any of these three cases.

You have toe fungus, you are usually given a topical fungus treatment. But clearly toe fungus is a manifestation of an internal fungal infection that needs to be treated also. The band-aid does not fix the problem, but merely controls the outer manifestations.

And pretty much all drugs have side effects that disrupt other physiological pathways in the body not related to the area being treated, leading to the body further away from homeostasis and to further potential problems.

Treating symptoms rather than causes is not always the fault of the doctors – many patients want quick symptom relief and are looking for a drug to solve their problems rather than exploring further for underlying causes.

There are some physicians however, that are becoming disillusioned with the “treat the symptom/disease rather than the cause” allopathic approach, and they are now practicing Functional Medicine, which is a whole new paradigm for medicine.

Functional Medicine is not considered "alternative" or "complementary", but is a different approach based on sound science to addressing sub-acute and chronic health conditions.  Functional medicine tests for and treats the imbalances in the autonomic control systems of the individual, so the treatment is personalized for the individual rather than based on a treatment protocol for a particular symptom or disease.

Functional Medicine believes that the root cause of all disease can be traced to problems in the digestive, hormone,  immune and/or detoxification systems, which causes chronic stress to our bodies.

Once there is an imbalance or problem in one of the physiological pathways, compensations occur in other physiological pathways in order to try and resolve the problem.

These compensations cause further adjustments in other pathways creating a cascading effect, and eventually over many years if balance is not restored, small aggravating symptoms turn into full blown diseases. Catching the imbalances in homeostasis early enough would therefore likely prevent disease.

For example, if an individual is highly stressed, adrenal fatigue and problems with cortisol may result. Cortisol affects the function of insulin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and thyroid among others, so if there is a problem with cortisol, widespread seemingly unrelated symptoms due to dysfunctions in all those other hormone pathways may result.

A simple example of how this can lead to disease is: high cortisol increases blood sugar, which increases insulin levels, which clogs arteries. So a root cause of atherosclerosis may be due to a problem with cortisol.

Another example would be someone that continues to eat a food that he/she is allergic to would cause a destruction of the microvilli in the gut, leading to an inability to absorb nutrition, which would weaken the individual.

Over time due to gut irritation, gaps would open up in the walls of the intestine allowing food particles and pretty much anything else full access to the blood supply and the entire body. This could cause a full-blown immune response and inflammation in the body, and also make the already weakened person very susceptible to illness.

Depending on the symptom presentation of the individual, circadian rhythm hormone tests, mucosal barrier or other GI tests, food-sensitivity tests, immune tests, metabolic tests, heavy metal, chemical toxicity, fungus or parasite tests are ordered, and treatment is based on the results of those tests with the aim of finding homeostasis in the basic physiological pathways that underlie the body’s autonomic control systems.

I am certain that over time once this style of medicine becomes known, more and more doctors will make the switch.  Functional Medicine is great at coaxing the body back to homeostasis, but it requires active participation of the patient in improving lifestyle factors so that homeostasis can be maintained.

Related Tips
How hormones, neurotransmitters and steroids work
Adrenal Fatigue
Dealing with health issues


What is Functional Medicine?

Online at The Institute for Functional Medicine Fundamentals of Functional Medicine

Online at Diagnose the root cause

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd

5 Comments »

  1. Tabitha said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

    This is a very interesting article and I have been learning and researching functional medicine. I also wanted to let you know I have been listening to podcasts from Dr. Mark Hayman, a Functional Doctor who talks about the benefits of functional medicine about interesting topics like allergies, asthma and so on.

    Let’s only hope that more and more people like me get fed up with the “solutions” conventional doctors have and investigate and learn about functional medicine.

  2. Crystal said,

    July 13, 2008 @ 8:18 am

    Hello! My name is Crystal and I have been on a journey with my health for the past 6 years. At age 19 I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, and was told I needed medication 3X a day for the rest of my life. I asked if there was anything natural I could do, and I was told no. This is where my journey of emotional, nutritional, and spiritual growth began. Over the past 6 years I have made complete lifestyle changes, eating all organic and recently experimenting with going vegetarian. I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables blended in liquid form for absorbtion purposes daily. I have been taking probiotics daily for 5 years. I’ve played with enzymes, done colon and yeast cleanses, and worked on old belief patterns and programming in exchange for ones that make my life more peaceful. I also eliminated dairy for 2 years and slowly reintroduced it here and there to increase my tolerance. I am very sensitive to processed foods and don’t know why. I am an esthetician, and began having skin trouble when the stomach issue came about, which was no surprise since I knew the two are closely related. I recently did a liver cleanse, and have a really adverse detox reaction. I’ve been off of it for 4 weeks now and still am experiencing grade 3 acne from it. Ive been to an endocrinologist and had all of my hormone levels tested, and was told that everything was “in range.” I also realize that their idea of in range and truly healthy differ. Any help or advise you could give me to help me restore my health would be MUCH APPRECIATED!!!

  3. Vreni said,

    July 13, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    Hi Crystal,

    Wow, quite a journey you are on! Here is my stab in the dark – as an esthetician, I imagine you are in contact with toxic chemicals on a daily basis, and that your body may be having difficulty keeping up with the toxic load. This would explain your difficulty with processed foods, as anything that increases your toxic load would be very hard on you, and it would explain the reaction to the liver cleanse, as suddenly a lot you released a lot of toxins from stores. Do you also have mercury amalgam fillings?

    I would get some kind of heavy metal/environmental panel done, see what the results are, and go from there. I would also try and avoid getting creams etc. on the skin, as they usually have a chemical ingredient list a mile long, that you might be extra sensitive to. I figure if you don’t want to eat it, you don’t want it on your skin either, since everything you put on your skin goes right into your blood stream. This is why progesterone/estrogen creams work, and why my moisturizer is coconut oil.

    Can you wear a mask to try and minimize fumes? Do you feel better if you take a few weeks away from work?

    Anyway, just an idea. A naturopath should be able to help you, or possibly even your physician. Or use Biohealth – they do tests long distance by mailing you the test kit, you do the test, you mail it back. I find them to be quite good.

    Good luck, Crystal.

  4. Shane Backsworthy said,

    May 25, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    Great article Vreni! This is the classic David vs Goliath story and we all know how that turns out.

    Functional Diagnostic Medicine is all about: Becoming the Ultimate Medical Detective. These practitioners are truly the new practitioners of the 21st century in medicine.

    Here are a few other resources for others interested in learning more about Functional Medicine.

    Where to get trained in FDM:
    http://www.FunctionalMedicineTraining.com

    Where to Find a FDM Practitioner:
    http://www.FunctionalMedicineDoctors.com

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