When you’re not well & nothing seems to help
“Functional medicine focuses on creating individualised therapies tailored to treat root causes of illness”
Are you unable to lose belly fat? Have you been on thyroid medications but are still tired and overweight? Do you have continuous pains and aches from fibromyalgia? Many of us suffer from a variety of health concerns which even after trying conventional medical treatments, remain unchanged or have worsened.
According to recent statistics, chronic diseases affect half of the US population (and almost 30% are kids) making these kids the first generation that is predicted to live shorter than their parents. These diseases are most commonly type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease or autoimmune disorders. We see a similar trend globally, and South Africa is not exempt. We have to ask ourselves whether 21 century diseases have changed or is conventional medicine no longer sufficient to address modern diseases.
Why is conventional medicine failing to treat chronic diseases of the 21st Century?
Our society is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of people who suffer from chronic diseases. Studies suggest that 85% of the risk associated with chronic disease comes down to the choices we make every day about what we eat and how we live, and that is seldom addressed by conventional medicine.
Interestingly it is estimated that eliminating three risk factors – poor diet, inactivity, and smoking would prevent 80% of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancer (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention -US). Conventional medicine is symptom orientated, it strives on disease management rather than prevention by identifying the root cause and minimising its effect.
Let’s look at the example of Insulin resistance syndrome. Insulin resistance (prevalent in all ages), is hallmarked by high insulin levels which in turn has knock on metabolic effects. Conventional medicine is designed to treat the individual symptoms that arise as a result. For example, insulin can increase LDL cholesterol and triglycerides for which anti-cholesterol medications are normally prescribed.
Additionally, insulin resistance is responsible for 50% of all cases of high blood pressure for which antihypertensives are prescribed. Insulin resistance is a progressive syndrome and it does not stop there: it can increase your appetite for which some take appetite suppressants. It causes anxiety and depression which are managed with antidepressants. It also causes sex hormone problems and can lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which is controlled with the contraceptive pill.
Not to mention acne, hair loss inability to lose weight, erectile dysfunction, sleep apnoea which are all managed by their respective medical specialties with a variety of different medications. Clearly we need a new direction in addressing progressive chronic disorders, especially if they are 100 % preventable and curable! Simply diagnosing an illness and trying to suppress the symptoms with prescription drugs, is not an acceptable modality in a modern society and functional medicine is paving the way for change.
What is functional medicine ?
According to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM, USA), which is considered the gold standard of training in the field, functional medicine is defined as “a personalised, patient-cantered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the root causes of disease. The more technical definition describing it as “the science of creating individualized protocols for each individual to ensure that body functions are operating at an optimal level.” What does this really mean?
How and why does Functional Medicine work?
Functional Medicine (FM) focuses on the root cause of health problems, instead of just treating the symptoms. For example, say you have stubborn belly fat, tiredness, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, similar symptoms of what we described above, pointing towards insulin resistance syndrome. Functional Medicine will look at the symptoms from a system perspective, viewing the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Using cutting-edge diagnostic tools FM will find all health issues linked to insulin resistance that may appear to be initially unrelated to stubborn belly fat: type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS),infertility ,non-alcoholic fatty liver disease(NFLD),osteoporosis, adult onset acne, depression, fatigue, cognitive decline, erectile dysfunction, sleep apnea, android body shape, hair loss etc.
In addition to cutting-edge diagnostic tools FM doctors will use extensive questionnaire tools to deduce the modifiable lifestyle factors that contribute to the health issues: stress, diet and nutrition, exercise and movements, sleep, relationships, toxic environments etc. We understand the importance of predisposing factors such as family history, genetic predisposition, different life triggering events, as well as the influence of spiritual, mental, and emotional factors. We have more time to dedicate to each patient and listening to a patient’s story is an important tool in finding the root cause of illness.
Let’s now re-examine our Insulin resistance case. After we used all the above FM tools we can identify the root causes of Insulin resistance: hypercaloric, high GL and Inflammatory diet, high cortisol levels, gut endotoxemia, genetic predispositions, persistent organic pollutants and mercury intoxication, sleep deprivation, low chromium levels, vitamin D and low magnesium, for example. And it could be one or many of them simultaneously contributing to the Insulin resistance. And we can further narrow these down using blood tests and other medical investigations. But it is clear that if we don’t address them as root causes, we will never be able to reverse insulin resistance and belly fat! Unfortunately, according to statistics only about 6% individuals (USA) consistently engage in the top five health behaviours: not smoking, not drinking excessively, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough exercise, and sleeping seven to eight hours a night. If these root causes are present we cannot expect anything but epidemics of Insulin resistance and belly fat.
Treating the root cause with a thorough understanding of patient’s genetic make-up, biochemical individuality and environmental circumstances, we develop a completely individualised scientific approach that may include: 1.Dietary & Lifestyle Changes 2.Supplements and Botanicals 3.Stress Management 4. Medical detoxification 5. Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics 6.Inflammation Reduction.
There’s no short -cut approach to achieving optimal health, and Functional Medicine focuses towards reversing the illness and supporting patients reach their goals.
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