Health: Disease doesn’t exist
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There is no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat. Darkness is the absence of light. A disease is the collection of signs and symptoms that arise when the body is not functioning properly. In this sense a disease is simply the absence of optimal health.
The reductionist approach to medicine teaches that for every disease there is a treatment, usually a medication. This furthers the ill-fated concept that each disease is an entity into itself when in fact a disease is a reflection of underlying systems going awry. The real defect is usually in one of the fundamental operations in the body.
Excluding infections and trauma, the bulk of “disease” today is preventable and even reversible. I would posit that for most disease there is a cause and if you remove or repair the cause the disease will go away. Furthermore, many diseases share the same underlying causes.
We have pill for everything, but those pills rarely if ever stop or reverse the course of disease, or really address the underlying cause of symptoms that we doctors hear patients complain of oh-so frequently. The emerging field of “functional medicine” is changing this paradigm.
Functional medicine analyzes the core systems that allow the body to function properly. This means looking closely at the foundation blocks for great health including hormones, digestive health, immune function, nutrient status and genetics. We may check for allergies, chronic infections or biotoxins, build up of environmental toxins or heavy metals, clogged detoxification or cellular energy pathways.
A functional medicine approach is a holistic model that places lifestyle factors at the forefront of therapies. Addressing diet, exercise, and sleep is absolutely critical. Consideration of stressors, social relationships and spirituality is often another step in the healing process.
Practicing functional medicine is more difficult than prescribing a pill, both for the doctor and the patient. It requires patients honestly address lifestyle factors that may be the major cause of their disease complex. And at least initially, it often involves advanced laboratory testing, which is sometimes expensive or not covered by insurance.
Getting to the “root cause” of disease is not for the faint of heart. It is a process that takes time and effort, but to get to the bottom of a problem leads to less costs in the long run, and most importantly a healthier, happier patient.
To illustrate how function medicine is often simply looking at root cause elements that explain a multitude of diagnoses, I’ll share a real patient story. John (not his real name) was a 63-year old gentleman referred to me by his wife, for evaluation of fatigue. She was thinking he might have low testosterone, which he did, but his functional medicine story proved much more interesting, involving six diseases, six medications and four doctors.
John had a long history of heartburn, along with frequent gas and bloating, for which he had undergone scopes, scans, and blood tests without any answers. His gastroenterologist diagnosed him with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Acid Reflux, and placed him on two medications.
He also had problems with intermittent racing heart and palpitations. A cardiology workup including sonograms and stress tests but did not reveal any problems. He was on a medication to slow the heart rate and diagnosed with tachycardia.
The neurologist saw John for the tingling and pins and needles sensation in his hands and feet. The usual blood tests, MRI and nerve conduction studies did not turn up a cause so he was diagnosed sensory neuropathy and put on a seizure drug to help manage the symptoms.
Now with all these concerning medical issues and medications John was a bit of a wreck. He was prone to anxiety and insomnia. For this, his family doctor had him taking a sleeping pill and a sedative as needed for panic attacks.
Functional medicine testing quickly found that John had “leaky gut”, delayed allergies to dairy and wheat, along with adrenal fatigue. With healing the gut, elimination of food allergens, and adrenal support all of his symptoms resolved. He now has two doctors including his family doc, and me, takes no medications and has no “diseases”.
Often there are single or multiple causes for a myriad of symptoms and finding the root cause is at the heart of functional medicine. If you are tired of the disease-centric world of medicine and would prefer to seek the underlying source of symptoms or even reverse the course of disease then consider taking the functional medicine approach.
Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.
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