Most of us have some idea about how to construct a house. Even if you did not get the Home Depot gene, you know the roof goes on after the house is framed; the walls are painted after the house is wired and the plumbing installed, and most importantly, a house is only as good as its foundation.
Like building wealth, building health requires a good plan and sound execution. Unfortunately, most people have no idea how to construct “health”. We are bombarded with information, the “truths” constantly changing. Americans now spend almost 20 % of our gross national product on health care. Is this making us healthier?
A recent study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted:
- Americans are less healthy than their peers in England despite spending double what England spends per resident
- Americans had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, stroke
- Adjusting for education and income, and removing minorities did not affect the outcome.
A previous study comparing health care in the US with other industrialized countries determined we had significantly higher rates of medical mistakes and higher rates of deaths due to medical errors. The bottom line is that even though we spend more we are not healthier. While the experts debate what to do, we are expected to become “experts” in managing our own health care.
Using Functional Medicine as a Model
Functional Medicine is an integrative, science based healthcare approach that promotes wellness. The goal is to restore physiological, psychological and structural balance to the individual. All assessment and treatment is tailored to the individual.
The traditional western model treats diseases, defined as an infection or pathological change to the body. The focus is on treating the disease, not the person. The primary tools are pharmaceuticals and surgery. Symptoms are often “managed” which means a person taking a statin drug for high cholesterol can expect to take it for the rest of his/her life. Where pathology exists, whether from trauma, infection or diseased tissue, the traditional western model is often superior. Seeing an M.D. is usually the first care sought. Unfortunately, it is estimated as high as 90% of all visits to a primary care physician are for functional problems, not pathological or infectious problems. A functional problem can be described as some physiological process that is not working well, but has not progressed to a disease state. Most chronic illnesses have their origin in functional problems.
Functional medicine treats individuals as the unique expression of their life experiences.
From a functional perspective, all health and illness is the result of:
- Environmental inputs including diet, life style, air and water, exercise, trauma, toxic exposure and mental/emotional influences, including stress
- Genetic predisposition
- Fundamental physiological processes
Lifestyle is an important factor; research estimates that 70-90% of the risk for chronic diseases is attributable to lifestyle. The good news is that the body is capable of healing itself if it is functioning! Of course, just like a leaky roof, the sooner one fixes a leak, the easier and less expensive the repair will be.
Fundamental processes are like the foundation in a house. These physiological processes ultimately determine health or disease. If your body is not functioning, imbalances occur. So let’s take a look at these core processes:
- Communication, both inside and outside of the cell
- Transformation of food, air and water into energy
- Structural integrity
- Elimination of waste
- Protection and defense
- Transport and circulation.
Core Clinical Imbalances
In reality, patients go to a doctor complaining of symptoms such as pain (not breakdowns in processes). Pain is just an expression of one’s body imbalance. So the practice of functional medicine is characterized by looking at core clinical imbalances. Imbalances such as these are the precursors to organ system disease.
- Immune Imbalances
- Inflammatory Imbalances
- Digestive and absorptive Imbalances
- Oxidation Imbalances
- Detoxification Imbalances
- Structural Imbalances
- Hormones Imbalances
- Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Focusing on core clinical imbalances is the best way to restore health. The best way to maintain health is to diminish negative impacts from the environmental inputs listed, in other words, modify lifestyle choices.
Our amazing bodies give us messages continually. Learning to recognize and respond to these messages, and not shoot out the “idiot” lights can provide us with the greatest gift of all – our health.