FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE (PT 1)
Seeing how individual difference dances with the environment makes us better health detectives.
ou’ve got a brown and wilting houseplant. You notice it’s got mites all over the underside of the leaves.
Do you simply cut off all the brown leaves and spray the plant with insecticide? Or figure out how to improve the soil nourishing the plant?
In a nutshell … that’s the difference between most of conventional medicine and functional medicine.
Pharmaceuticals, the mainstays of convention medicine’s armamentum and the subject of its best-funded research, are typically designed to suppress the symptoms of disease.
Functional Medicine likes to look upstream of the symptoms to find root causes and solutions for them.
One classic example: weight issues.1 For decades we’ve been trained to think, “calories in, calories out.”
If you’re overweight, you should eat less and exercise more. Burn those calories, baby, burn ’em. Insulin resistance does nobody any favors.2
The Functional Medicine Lens
- tuning up metabolic function,7
- assessing and improving our natural detox pathways,8
- fine-tuning immune system targeting,
- better support for other crucial internal organs like the microbiome.9,10,11,12
Functional Medicine interprets the latest medical research through it’s own, systems-savvy lens. Instead of weight loss, Functional Medicine focuses on metabolic syndrome: an unholy triad of obesity, insulin resistance and hypertension.
We recognize that it’s not just the quantity of food we eat, but the quality.13,14,15 We understand that tuning up the mitochondria (the energy-generating “motors” in each and every one of our bodys’ cells) is the best way to help the body make the best use of the food it consumes and get rid of its metabolic waste or any excess.16,17,18
We also recognize that dieting can lower the body’s metabolic rate, a situation that’s much easier to create than to reverse, although it can be reversed given the right approach. All of these factors help explain why some folks with weight issues eat so very little yet can’t keep the weight off … and other people can eat like horses and never put on an extra pound.
How 21st Century Medicine Overturns the 20th’s
Here’s another difference: when it comes to chronic disease, conventional medicine’s toolkit can boomerang on us. One sign is the way new “miracle” pharmaceuticals are introduced … only to be withdrawn or come under suspicion once enough of us have had real world experience of them.
The classic example of this is Vioxx, the anti-inflammatory suddenly pulled from pharmacies in 2004 after an estimated 60,000 premature deaths.19 By comparison, the US lost about 60,000 American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
As early as its first year reports began appearing ringing alarms about increased numbers of heart attacks in patients taking Vioxx. But with a page right out of the same playbook the one oil barons and their minions use now to confuse the public debate about climate change, pharmaceutical giants brought their financial and political power to bear on two goals: maintain plausible deniable and keep Vioxx on the market. Their scheme worked for another four years, until mounting deaths and research the drug companies couldn’t deny forced Merck to pull it from the market.20
From a Functional Medicine point of view this is entirely predictable. Pharmaceuticals most often work to suppress symptoms by blocking the metabolic pathways that create symptoms.
These pathways are chains of critical reactions inside our cells that help different parts of body communicate, regulate and power their activities. The symptoms are signs the body’s working to respond to something knocking it off its preferred way of doing things.
But when this self-correcting system works right it produces the experience we call living with all its ups and downs, good days and bad days.
The Pharmaceutical Fine Print
It’s true that when pharmaceuticals block these pathways it can bring powerful relief to those suffering from disease and save lives.
At the same time, blocking these pathways indefinitely … when a disease is chronic … can be a different story. Then the effect of the systemic poisoning that’s goes on when critical pathways are blocked begins to manifest over time. Blocking metabolic pathways poisons the body, creating the signs we call side effects.
So Functional Medicine takes a different approach.
We focus largely on nourishing those same pathways in very specific ways, informed by the latest genetic data and lab analysis. The goal is to gently nudge our network of metabolic relationships in a more functional direction.
Functional Medicine heals the body like a weaver mends a blanket. As opposed to hitting it with a chemical hammer.
Just one reason this happens is that conventional medicine is medicine tested and designed for an “average” person. Functional Medicine recognizes we get the best results when we guide our interventions with an up-to-date take on our individuality. Our metabolic pathways are as unique as our faces. As our fingerprints.
That’s what good Functional Medicine leverages. The quirks.
Because when good medical detective work finally recognizes them, it’s making sure they’re well cared-for, well-tuned … that brings the closest thing to permanent healing humanly possible.
But it wasn’t just Vioxx.
- Cylert, for ADHD, withdrawn in 2010, on market for 30 years. Liver Damage.
- Darvocet, a pain reliever. Withdrawn in 2010, on market for 55 years. Heart Toxicity.
- Meridian, appetite suppressant. Withdrawn in 2010, on market for 13 years. Stroke and Heart Attack Risk.
And that’s just 2010. At least 35 drugs have been withdrawn from the market since the 1970s. Some have been around since the 1930s.21
Today the focus is on antibiotics like Cipro, known as fluroquinolones.22 Reports of severe ligament and nervous system damage, occurring sometimes years after use, are surging23,24 even though the first early reports appeared almost twenty years ago.25
If an individual professional had a track record like this, they’d likely have lost their license to practice long ago.
Put tens of millions of times that power in the hands of a modern corporation: business as usual.
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17. Fu T, Xu Z., et al. “Mitophagy Directs Muscle-Adipose Crosstalk to Alleviate Dietary Obesity.” Cell Rep. 2018 May 1;23(5):1357-1372.
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19. Harper, M. “David Graham On The Vioxx Verdict.” Forbes. August 19, 2005.
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25. van der Linden PD, et al. “Achilles tendinitis associated with fluoroquinolones.” Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1999 Sep; 48(3): 433–437.