Chronic health conditions affect about 50% of all American adults.1 While genetics play a part (about 25%) in the development of chronic illness, new research proves what functional medicine practitioners have known for years – environment, diet, and lifestyle is 75% of the root cause. Sadly, our current healthcare system offers little to combat chronic illnesses, including autoimmune conditions. This has more people turning to the functional medicine approach to chronic disease. 

When you have an autoimmune disease (one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses), your immune system mistakes your joints, skin, and organs for foreign invaders. Regardless of what type of autoimmune disease you have, functional medicine understands that the actual problem lies with your immune system. Conventional medicine does not recognize autoimmune diseases as diseases of the immune system; instead, they get treated as diseases of the particular organs being affected. 

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 to improve and influence our long-term health. Fortunately, functional medicine offers many! I will tell you about the functional medicine approach, why it’s becoming more popular, and how conventional medicine gets chronic illness wrong. First, let me tell you about functional medicine. 

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What is Functional Medicine?

In today’s world of managed healthcare and doctors spending only minutes with a patient, it would seem difficult to imagine a physician that is compassionate and empathetic, talks with you for an hour or two and listens attentively to every detail about your health so that you can get to the root cause of your symptoms. If you are like many of us, this is genuinely whom you want for your doctor and what you want out of your healthcare.

The great news is that there are physicians like the one I just described. We are called functional medicine doctors. In addition to graduating from medical school and completing a residency program, we are physicians who finish the Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) training program with the Institute of Functional Medicine.

Functional medicine is often described as 21st-century medicine. It is a science-based approach that looks at the function of the body’s systems and how they interact with one another rather than naming a disease and giving a pill. 

As a functional medicine doctor, I looked at everything when I worked with patients. I begin by getting a detailed medical history from preconception to the present. I would also look at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors to determine if you’re experiencing sy mold exposure, food sensitivities, or family history are causing your symptoms.

As I mentioned, genetics is about 25% of the reason you develop chronic illness. However, factors such as environmental toxins that can get in your skin through body products or at-home cleaning supplies, the clothing you wear, the food you eat, and lifestyle choices such as smoking are 75% of the root cause of chronic illness. The empowering part is that you have control over those factors. 

We look at the person as a whole in functional medicine, with a unique biological makeup. This is why the functional medicine approach to your health is becoming more popular. Here’s what I mean. 

Functional Medicine Looks At The Individual As Unique 

The basic tenet of functional medicine is that each person is biochemically unique and, therefore, no one treatment is suitable for everyone. Functional medicine does not look at each individual named disease in a silo. Instead, functional medicine digs deeper to find the common link between them. 

Conversely, conventional medicine views people in terms of their disease – a “one-size-fits-all” model. It focuses on naming a disease, sending you to a specialist, and giving a pill for that disease rather than trying to help you prevent chronic illness in the first place. The truth is everyone is different, and that “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work.

As both a medical doctor and an autoimmune patient, I know there is a better way, and you can find relief from your symptoms and reverse your chronic illness by getting to the root cause of what’s causing them.

What Conventional Medicine Gets Wrong

I developed an autoimmune condition while in medical school. As with most autoimmune disorders, I had no idea what was happening. My concerns about my harsh symptoms were brushed aside by my doctor. I trusted my instincts and demanded a full workup and lab testing. It turned out that my instincts were right on the money. I had an actual, diagnosable condition: Graves disease

Conventional medicine gave me three options: harsh medications with awful side effects, having my thyroid surgically removed, or having my thyroid abated with a radioactive pill. I knew there had to be a better way. This experience led me to discover functional medicine. Conventional medicine failed me, and I’ve made it my mission not to have it fail you, too! Let’s talk about how conventional medicine gets chronic illness wrong. 

functional medicine approach – infographic – Amy Myers MD®functional medicine approach - infographic - Amy Myers MD® medicine approach – infographic – Amy Myers MD®

It’s All in Your Genes

Conventional medicine would have you believe that autoimmunity is all in your genes, and you are essentially a victim of the genetic lottery. It is true there is a genetic component that accounts for part of your risk of developing an autoimmune condition. However, the greater risk comes from your environment, whether due to leaky gut, food sensitivities, toxins, infections, stress, or a combination of these factors. I find that incredibly empowering! It means you can address the external triggers of your autoimmunity and reverse your condition. 

You Cannot Get Better

Joint pain, weakness, gastrointestinal distress, skin rashes, and fatigue – are all symptoms of autoimmunity that your conventional medicine doctor may tell you will be with for the rest of your life, or you can only expect them to worsen over time. You might also get prescribed larger doses of medications that may or may not help and only treat your symptoms, not your condition. 

The fact is, the above symptoms are signs of autoimmunity, and it is not a black-and-white issue. Instead, there is what I call the Autoimmune Spectrum®, and depending on how much inflammation your body has at any given time, you can move up or down on that spectrum. 

On one end, you have a full-blown autoimmune disease and all its accompanying symptoms. On the other end, you have zero inflammation and no symptoms – although this is rare even in the healthiest of people because of our toxic modern world. 

Functional medicine believes that as you reduce your inflammation, you can reverse your symptoms and even have them disappear!

Autoimmune Disease is a Disease of a Single Organ

The conventional medicine approach to autoimmune disease is one of specialization. If you have a thyroid condition, you see an endocrinologist; if you have IBS, you visit your gastroenterologist, and so on. These specialists treat autoimmune disease as if it only affects the symptomatic organ. This type of treatment is fundamentally flawed.

Functional medicine approaches autoimmunity as a disease of the immune system. You are just circling the wagon without addressing what caused your immune system to go awry in the first place. Functional medicine’s approach of viewing the body as a complex, interconnected system makes it possible to reverse autoimmune conditions so we can adequately address the autoimmune epidemic we are facing today.

Medications are the Only Way 

The first line of defense in conventional medicine is not prevention; it’s medication. Not all medications are bad. Medications are sometimes necessary for treating acute conditions and infections. 

The problem with conventional treatment is that you get told there is no other option. These medications often come with a long list of side effects that can make you feel worse than you did before, including weight gain, depression, or increased infection rates. What’s more, the type of medications given to patients with autoimmunity typically work by suppressing the immune system, which is the opposite of what functional medicine aims to do — support it! 

You should specifically avoid two types of medications when possible: NAISDs and antibiotics.  

NSAIDs such as Advil and Motrin damage your gut, and overuse can lead to leaky gut, bacteria imbalance, and autoimmune disease. The functional medicine approach is to support a healthy inflammatory response by supplementing with Liposomal Curcumin and Complete Omega-3s

Antibiotics are like a blanket smothering the good and bad bacteria in your gut. 

Antibiotics disrupt your gut’s delicate ecosystem because they cannot distinguish between good and bad bacteria. Their job is to kill any and all bacteria in their path. If you must take antibiotics, I recommend using a high-quality probiotic to maintain a healthy gut. 

Diet Plays No Role in Autoimmune Disorders

If you think about it, it shouldn’t shock you that food plays a role in your immune health. Your immune system cannot function without the right fuel. Nearly 80% of your immune system lives in your gut where your body digests food and absorbs nutrients for energy. The primary food culprit of autoimmunity is gluten, which causes leaky gut

Many other foods contribute to inflammation, including dairy, corn, soy, grains, and legumes, not to mention the toxic substances we invite into our bodies daily, such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, pesticides, GMOs, and artificial ingredients in packaged goods.

Diet plays a massive role in autoimmunity, so it makes sense that it’s one of the easiest ways you can take control of your health by making smart choices about what you put on your plate.

Autoimmune Disease Can’t Be Reversed

This is one of the biggest myths of conventional medicine and why I went into functional medicine after battling an autoimmune disease. By uncovering the root cause of your condition, you can address the factors contributing to your autoimmunity and work your way down the Autoimmune Spectrum®. You can watch your symptoms vanish with some simple changes and start feeling your best again. 

I will tell you about my proven method that I’ve used with thousands of patients and seen amazing results in just a bit. 

Why is the Functional Medicine Approach so Important?

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. This predicament is highly profitable for many big industries, so it’s not in their best interest to find a solution to these problems. 

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, and I would never forgo treating a life-threatening infection with antibiotics!  

So, why is the functional medicine approach the answer to chronic illness? Let’s compare the key differences between conventional medicine and functional medicine. You’ll quickly see why functional medicine offers a better solution to treating and reversing chronic disease.

Conventional Medicine

  • Seeks to treat symptoms of chronic illness, not resolve the underlying cause 
  • Treats the disease or particular organ as isolated
  • Offers prescriptions, often with adverse side effects, to mask symptoms of underlying disease 
  • It relies on large practice groups
  • Beholden to insurance company policies and prices
  • Focuses on illness, not wellness
  • Less control over information
  • A data-driven approach to decision making

Functional Medicine

  • Seeks to address the root cause of illness
  • Views and treats the body as a whole
  • It 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 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 that my immune system was attacking my thyroid, not attacking it as a source of my issues. The reality is I would still have my thyroid if I had sought the care of a functional medicine practitioner. 

However, I’ve seen another side to chronic illness as a functional medicine physician. I’ve helped tens of thousands of people take back control of their health using a functional medicine approach. It’s why I developed The Myers Way®. 

Reverse Your Symptoms with The Myers Way® 

The Myers Way® is a proven approach to chronic illness that gets to the root of symptoms. This lifestyle rests on four pillars to get to the root cause of your autoimmunity so you can reverse your condition and get off harsh medications. Let me tell you about it: 

Pillar I: Heal Your Gut 

You begin by healing the gut. In functional medicine, we use the proven 4R approach: 

  1. Remove the bad – Get rid of things that negatively impact the environment of your gastrointestinal tracts, such as toxins and inflammatory foods, as well as intestinal infections such as SIBO and yeast overgrowth.  
  2. Restore what’s missing — Add HCL and digestive enzymes to your daily regimen to help support digestion and nutrient absorption.
  3. Reinoculate with healthy bacteria — Restore beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria to heal your gut. 
  4. Repair the gut — Provide the necessary nutrients to help the gut repair itself. Leaky Gut Revive® Max supports your immune system and gut lining. It now comes in three different flavors to satisfy different taste buds. Adding collagen protein or drinking bone broth will also help to heal your gut.

Pillar II: Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes

Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to make diet changes. Start by eliminating foods such as gluten, grains, and legumes that cause damage to your intestinal tract and inflammation. I also recommend that those with autoimmune diseases avoid vegetables in the nightshade family, which includes peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. These plants are very high in lectins that damage the gut lining, quickly enter the bloodstream, and do not break down in cooking.

Pillar III: Tame the Toxins 

Many patients notice improvement after addressing the first two pillars. If you do not see progress, you may expose yourself to too many toxins. We are exposed to thousands of toxins every day. They are in the water you drink, the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the cookware, cleaning products, and cosmetics you use.

Unfortunately, we cannot avoid toxins altogether. As such, the solution is to reduce your body’s toxic burden by: 

  • Buying clean skincare and body products 
  • Cleaning your air by getting a HEPA filter for your home. I use AIRDoctor® air filters in my home.
  • Buy clean food and eat organic whenever possible. It can be expensive, so if anything, buy free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught seafood.
  • Clean your water by installing water filters on your shower taps and sinks. I have a complete filtration system from Aquasana

Pillar IV: Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress 

If your symptoms haven’t cleared up after addressing the first three pillars, it’s time to dig deeper. The fourth pillar of The Myers Way® focuses on healing your infections and relieving your stress. 

To relieve stress, I suggest adopting daily stress-relieving strategies. A few of my favorites include breathing exercises, listening to music, dancing, taking a long walk, or practicing yoga.

To support optimal adrenal gland health and healthy energy levels, I recommend adding Adrenal Support. Adrenal Support promotes a more balanced physical and emotional stress response using a cutting-edge blend of adaptogenic herbs. 

For total support, The Myers Way® Autoimmune Kit combines four of the most important nutritional supplements for anyone concerned with autoimmunity. Your immune system is a complex puzzle influenced by multiple aspects of health. The integrity of your gut barrier, oxidative damage done by free radicals, inflammation, toxic load and detoxification, and much more all play a role in how your immune system functions. 

The Final Word

The functional medicine approach to optimal health prioritizes getting to the root cause of disease. It shifts from a profit-first agenda to a patient-first perspective and offers hope for total healing and recovery for most chronic diseases. Functional medicine can change your life and restore your health. The future of medicine is now. Will you join me?  

Functional Medicine FAQS

What is functional medicine?

Functional Medicine is a medical approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.

Is functional medicine science based?

Yes. Functional medicine is biology-based the same as conventional medicines. Functional medicine doctors go to medical school and complete a residency program, along with finishing the Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) training program with the Institute of Functional Medicine.

What does a functional medicine doctor do?

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 to get to the root cause of your symptoms.

Article Sources

  1. Multiple chronic conditions among US adults: a 2012 update. Brian W Ward, Jeannine S Schiller, and Richard A Goodman. Preventing Chronic Disease . 2014.