Why Functional Medicine Is More Important Than Ever
April 7th, 2020
Chronic health conditions affect about 50% of all American adults.1 To find out if you are one of them take this quiz. It’s important to find out because chronic disease is on the rise throughout the world. In fact, it’s our nation’s leading cause of death and disability.2
Many people with chronic disease are on the autoimmune spectrum. This spectrum stretches from the low end with symptoms like acne or constipation, to the middle with inflammatory conditions, fatigue, or joint pain, to the far end with full-blown autoimmune conditions such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Sadly, our current healthcare system is offering us very little to combat chronic illness including autoimmune conditions.
Instead, doctors give prescriptions that can come with a wide array of side effects. Sometimes these are even worse than the problems we have in the first place. It’s time to seek real solutions that can improve and influence our long-term health. Fortunately, functional medicine offers many!
I am both a medical doctor and a functional medicine practitioner. My own health crisis — the thyroid disease known as Grave’s disease — led me on a path of discovery to find a better way to treat autoimmune and chronic disease. That path ultimately led me to my mission: Empowering the world to achieve optimal health℠.
Let’s look more closely at what functional medicine is and how it can help with the global chronic illness crisis.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is a biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. It views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole person, not just the symptoms of disease. This is because each symptom may be just one aspect of an individual’s illness.
In functional medicine, we begin with a detailed history from preconception to the present. Functional medicine also looks at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. It takes into account the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.3
Conventional medicine, on the other hand, looks at each organ or body system separately. It generally treats illness by masking symptoms with prescriptions, rather than getting to the root cause and healing the body as a whole. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what’s gone wrong with conventional medicine.
The Shortcomings of Conventional Medicine
Conventional medicine focuses on acute care. Think of the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that needs urgent attention, such as appendicitis or a broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom.
Believe me, as a former emergency room physician, I’m not knocking conventional medicine’s role in acute and urgent care. It’s absolutely necessary in certain situations, yet it’s not appropriate for chronic illness.
In the last century in the US, advances in nutrition, public hygiene, and medical care have increased life expectancy by approximately 30 years. Thus, rather than focusing on communicable diseases such as polio or smallpox, public health researchers have been able to turn their attention to chronic illness.
In 1988, the CDC established the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.4 Yet even with the investment of time and funds, conventional medicine has not come close to understanding the factors that can influence complex chronic disease. Conventional medicine is no longer improving our overall health.
In fact, clinical research can take as long as 50 years to make its way into conventional medical practice. This is a long time to wait for a solution.
Why is Functional Medicine so Important Now?
Aside from the shortcomings inherent in conventional medicine’s approach, several trends are creating a “perfect storm” of crisis in the healthcare industry. The prevalence of chronic illness is rising, as are the costs to treat chronic conditions. This predicament is highly profitable for many big industries, so it’s not in their best interest to find a solution to these problems. Let’s take a closer look at these factors.
Increasing Prevalence of Chronic Illness
More than half of older adults actually have three or more chronic conditions. This is concerning, because about 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day from now through 2029 and are facing reduced quality of life.
Although there is a genetic component to many chronic illnesses including autoimmune disease environment, diet, and lifestyle are 75% of the cause of autoimmune disease. And if you have one, you are three times more likely to develop another. A magic pill isn’t going to do the trick.5
Experts estimate that chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide in 2020. The number of people in the developing world with diabetes will increase more than 2.5-fold, from 84 million in 1995 to 228 million in 2025. In 2000, the World Health Assembly requested that countries work together to prevent and control noncommunicable diseases, yet little progress has been made.6
Rising Healthcare Costs
In 2015 healthcare spending in the US reached $3.2 trillion, accounting for 17.8% of GDP. More than 86% of that is due to chronic conditions. This exceeded the federal expenditures for national defense, homeland security, education, and social programs combined. Spending on healthcare is projected to outpace economic growth, rising at least 5% in 2020 over 2019.7,8
In fact, the U.S. spends twice the median per-capita cost on healthcare that other industrialized countries spend.9 This is despite having minimal impact on the problem of chronic illness. Chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis lead to hospitalization and long-term disability, both of which are costly.
Profits Before Patients
Medical doctors take the hippocratic oath upon receiving their medical license. This is an oath motivated by genuine care for humanity and builds trust in doctors.
Yet in many cases, their hands are tied. Pressure is placed on physicians, for example, to cut down office visit time. This impacts the quality of your care.
However, increasing profit now drives many of the new players — big business — in healthcare. As the stakes increase, healthcare is increasingly attractive to less altruistic groups. These stand to profit from illness and to push more expensive treatments rather than looking to natural and alternative therapies. In fact, two of the world’s largest companies — Amazon and Google — are now entering the healthcare market.
Less Customization and Choice
Due to consolidation in the industry, our current healthcare system also offers less customization and fewer choices than ever. Very large merged groups of physicians, pharmacies, and insurance companies manage our healthcare. This consolidation gives you, the consumer/patient, less choice for high quality care. It also bolsters healthcare costs by preventing a competitive market.
Three firms now account for two-thirds of pharmacy benefit management — the third-party administrators for prescription drug programs. Additionally, the insurer Aetna and CVS Health, whose business includes retail, health clinics, and pharmacy services, recently merged in a $69- billion deal.
As we’ve seen, conventional medicine relies heavily on prescription medications. Choices in what medications you can access is reduced because insurance companies such as Aetna, not your doctor, decide what to cover. Even in where to get the prescription filled (goodbye corner pharmacy, hello CVS) is becoming more and more limited.
More recently, Google announced it is teaming up with insurer Oscar. Amazon joined with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase with the intent to enter the healthcare industry. These are just a few examples of large companies entering the healthcare marketplace.10 I’ll get back to Google and Amazon in just a minute.
Lack of Privacy
We are accustomed to the medical records in doctor’s offices and hospitals being highly secure. This is because of HIPPA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996. This act requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information.11
Yet, despite HIPPA laws which have long protected our personal health information, there is a whole new realm left unprotected. Our electronic devices such as our laptops and our apps are not protected!
Let’s take Project Nightingale as an example. In this initiative Google is collecting and analyzing the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states. The initiative appears to be the biggest effort yet by Google to gain a place in the healthcare industry through the handling of patients’ medical data.12 This places our healthcare information in the hands of big business, instead of physicians.
Amazon has also built a team to see how their Alexa product can be used for healthcare. They want to collect information about how we live through smart devices. Alexa is being developed to take blood pressure, detect when we are sick, and to advise on medications.13 As I’ve said many time, you know your body best — and certainly better than an artificial intelligence device does.
This lack of privacy is cause for concern. Improper access to Individual health information may lead to discriminatory restrictions on access to healthcare or life insurance. “The information that consumers reveal to health apps can be especially personal and can also find their way into users’ health scores, which are used in insurance underwriting, and in other ways a consumer would not expect,” says Dena Mendelsohn, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports.
Because of this, you should read the privacy policies for all medical related apps so you can be sure your information is protected. Set your privacy on your wireless devices to secure.14 We all deserve the freedom to seek medical care without limitation or discrimination based on data mined from our electronic devices.
Why is Functional Medicinethe Best Approach to Treating Chronic Illness?
So, why is functional medicine the answer to chronic illness? Let’s compare the key differences in conventional medicine and functional medicine. You’ll quickly see why functional medicine offers a better answer to treating and reversing chronic disease.
- Seeks to treat symptoms of chronic illness, not resolve the underlying cause
- Treats the disease or particular organ as isolated
- Offers prescriptions, often with negative side effects, to mask symptoms of underlying disease
- Relies on large practice groups
- Beholden to insurance company policies and prices
- Focuses on illness, not wellness
- Less control over information
- Data-driven approach to decision making
- Seeks to address the root cause of illness
- Views and treats the body as a whole
- Offers a customized diet and lifestyle strategy, in addition to other natural therapies, to treat the entire body
- Patient-centered Individual or small practices
- In-depth consultations not driven by insurance company policies
- Focuses on overall wellbeing
- Simplified information control
- Focus on what works for your specific body averaged data
When I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, conventional medicine advised me to surgically remove my thyroid gland or kill it with radiation. I opted for the second choice and it is the biggest regret of my life. Functional medicine would have addressed the fact that my immune system was attacking my thyroid. The reality is I would still have my thyroid if I had sought the care of a functional medicine practitioner.
Make no mistake — access to conventional medicine for urgent care and surgical procedures is critical. As a medical doctor, I would not treat injuries from a car wreck with a change in diet. I would never forgo treating a life-threatening infection with antibiotics!
However, as a functional medicine physician, I’ve seen another side to chronic illness. I’ve helped tens of thousands of people take back control of their health through The Myers Way® programs, educational tools, and physician-formulated supplements. I have written two New York Times best-selling books as well: The Autoimmune Solution, The Thyroid Connection and the national bestseller The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook.
My programs provide step-by-step protocols to address the root cause of your symptoms with diet and lifestyle changes. They harness the power that’s already in your hands. Conventional medicine failed me, and it is my mission not to have it fail you too℠!