125 million Americans are suffering from chronic disease. That is 45% of the population of the United States that is dealing with a persistent concern, and 61 million are experiencing multiple chronic concerns.
The vast majority of these chronic diseases started as dysfunction. One or two complaints that didn’t go away and then morphed into a laundry list of symptoms for the individual.
It started out by these people being told they were “normal” or “okay” because blood work came back “within normal limits” or exams turned up nothing abnormal.
So they trusted the expertise and tests until more signs and symptoms showed up, or the intensity of the symptoms became discerning. Or they were told that everyone is normal now but come back in 1 year or 3 years or 5 years, and we will check everything out again. This is just waiting for something to develop.
See, none of these chronic diseases start as a bump in the night. Cancer does not just show up one day. Hormones don't just wreck havoc for no reason. Organs and systems don’t just go kaput.
Therefore, there are even more Americans than the 45% mentioned above that are dealing with chronic dysfunction. Knowing that something is not right in his or her body, but being told it is “all in their head.”
Some of these problems arise because we are not approaching disease and wellness correctly. We should be focusing on disease prevention and treating dysfunction before it becomes a disease.
In the United States, our current medical model is focused on disease diagnosis so that we can prescribe specific drugs and surgeries depending on the diagnosis. However, to get that treatment, you have to fit into the medical definition of the disease. Even if there is apparent dysfunction, intervention is not needed until disease occurs.
Medical specialist focus and our trained on top of the line intervention once a disease has started. Our money is going towards finding the latest and greatest in prescription drugs and surgical interventions to treat people once a disease has occurred.
This model has led to staggering medical costs for our country and personal frustrations for health care consumers. We are currently spending more money on healthcare than any other industrialized country, and we are ranked 39th in outcomes. And despite spending more than any other nation on healthcare in 2013, the United States achieved worse outcomes than the other ten leading countries it was compared to in chronic conditions, obesity, and infant mortality.
In a nutshell, we are spending more and more money, and people are getting more and more sick.
Could it be that the way we solve health problems in this country is severely jeopardizing some people’s health?
One of the best analogies I ever read about the current way we approach health was by John Robbins in his book Reclaiming Our Health.
He portrays the current healthcare model as a fable. With the analogy that diseases occur once we fall off a cliff. That there are signs we could monitor to see if they are going towards the cliff, but we only focus on helping those that fall off the cliff.
In the analogy, he states that we have people falling off a cliff and when they do fall off the cliff then, and only then, do we bandage their arms. If we know they are going towards the cliff, then we don’t stop them because we view them as only needing help after they have fallen off the cliff. And once they have fallen off the cliff, and we bandage the problem then we send them back without any education or insight into how not to fall off the cliff again. Even though it is possible to see who is going to fall off the cliff, nothing is done to prevent catastrophes. And if they are going towards the cliff, and even if we see that they are going towards the cliff, we just sit and wait until they fall off the cliff. After all, they only need our help once they are off the cliff.
Wouldn’t it be better and less expensive to educate and prevent cliff falls than just to treat them after significant damage has been done?
And the 125 million sick people are like this too. We don’t have to wait for them to develop the end spectrum of health and be diagnosed with diseases. We can intervene when systems start to go array. And this is where Functional Medicine fills a huge void in our current medical model.
Functional Medicine is based on finding and addressing the underlying cause of illnesses and dysfunction. It relies on systems biology that corrects the cause of dysfunction. This type of medical practice focuses on the optimal functioning of the body and indeed incorporates a holistic approach to not only disease and dysfunction but also wellness.
Many naysayers will say that functional medicine is not based on research or science. Quite the opposite is true. It relies on research, science, physiology, and evidence-based medicine. A matter of fact the reason that more practitioners don’t implement functional medicine is that it takes more understanding of physiology.
Functional medicine was established out of necessity. Functional medicine is a science-based medicine that is focused on a fundamental change. It is also based on individualized medicine. We are all genetically and biochemically unique and should be treated accordingly. People are treated as individual patients and not treated on disease diagnosis. It differs from traditional medicine that focuses on one pill for one ill design. To know what medication is needed, a diagnosis must be made.
I am a firm believer in research and science and education. But the more that I educate myself, the more I realize that we need to continue to strive to find the latest and greatest in science and medicine. But this should not be at the expense of what we already know because of physiology and how the body works. We are conditioned to believe that pharmaceutical based medicine is the only form of healing possible, but that is due to big pharmaceutical and insurance companies. But remember that there are numerous healing arts that have been around for centuries. Traditional medicine has not withstood the test of time, and no other healing art has as many side effects as Western medicine practices.
This does not mean that there is not a time and place for Traditional Medicine. However, I feel that there is a time and place for all types of healing arts and medicine, and we need to start respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
I honestly feel that we can work together to help people not fall off the cliff, but we have to put our differences aside, respect what everyone brings to the table, and start to put people’s health and wellness needs first.
At One Agora Integrative Health, it is our goal to build a comprehensive healthcare team that works with each patient to help him or her achieve optimal health. As we get sicker and sicker as a country, more people are looking for answers outside of the traditional medical model, many of these answers come from integrative medicine. We find that by utilizing functional medicine and looking at each patient as a whole that we are able to achieve optimal results and give answers where other providers are not able.