Functional Medicine


By Nancy Smorch

I know I’ve posted video from Mark Hyman, M.D., about overall health and Functional Medicine.  And I have posted video from Dr. Terry Wahls about turning her health around using Functional Medicine.  So, I wanted to experience Functional Medicine first hand.

So, what exactly is Functional Medicine?  It’s a patient-centered approach to medicine (rather than disease-centered) that addresses the whole person and the underlying cause of disease, rather than just addressing the isolated symptoms.

Functional Medicine uses the example of a tree to explain how the overall health of the tree relies heavily on the health of the roots and the soil, or the foundation of the tree.  If you see that the leaves or fruit aren’t doing so well, you know something is off at the level of the roots, soil, or even the trunk of the tree.

Likewise, in humans, the foundational elements of health are:  sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress levels, relationships, and genetics.

Functional Medicine also takes into account the biochemical individuality of each human being, based on environmental and genetic uniqueness.

One of its core principles that I found most interesting is how it promotes organ reserve as a means to enhance the “health span,” not just the “life span” of each patient.  And, I also love how it tends to empower the patient to take ownership of their own health, rather than simply handing it over to the doctor.

In my own experience with family members and loved ones, it’s been frustrating to watch them go through the traditional health care system.  They are shuffled from one “expert” to the next.  They have one treating skin issues, another treating neurological issues, and another treating cardiac issues.

And then there’s the general practitioner.

If they have the unfortunate experience of landing in the hospital, there are even more “experts” called in to try to figure out what’s going on.  While I appreciate the expertise of each discipline and I value the skill set they posses, it’s got to be extremely difficult to develop a protocol for any patient when, first of all, there are so many people involved, and, second of all, when none of them typically evaluate the “foundation” of the patient, or take into consideration their lifestyle, environment, stress, nutrition, relationships, exercise, etc.

I think they are trying to find a “quick fix” to get the patient back on their feet and functioning, but they only end up putting band aids on them rather than healing them (in their defense, I have to say, that most patients tend to put pressure on them and demand that they tell them what is wrong with them.  They want a label and a quick fix, which is usually in the form of a drug or surgery.  There is no way that a doctor should feel that kind of pressure).

Because of biochemical individuality and environmental and genetic differences between individuals, a certain set of symptoms in one person may be a sign of something totally different in another person.  It’s really not something we can neatly categorize - nor can we neatly categorize the same protocol for all individuals experiencing similar symptoms.

While Functional Medicine is much more than I am explaining here, hopefully you now understand the basics.  If you want further information, check out the Functional Medicine website.  They also have a section where you can search for a Functional Medicine Practitioner in your area.

So, back to my experience.  This morning I went to DBC Natural Holistic Health Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as they practice Functional Medicine.  I loved how they focused on food as medicine.  In fact, Dr. DenBoer recently traveled to San Francisco to a Food as Medicine conference, which I thought was pretty cool.  I also loved how they didn’t automatically run a bunch of tests that may or may not be necessary.

First, I had a brief phone call with one of their Health Coaches, and had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire online.

Then on my visit today, they did a Bioelectric Impedance Analysis, which helped them assess my intercellular health and muscle mass, body fat, and BMR (rate my body metabolism burns calories at rest).  It measured my cell size and the speed at which cell regeneration occurs.  It also measured intracellular water - the water inside my cells (the higher the number the better and it is influenced by hormonal balance), and extracellular water (a smaller number is better - too much here is an indicator of toxicity, liver and kidney function as well as cardiac output).  It also looked at total body water.

They tested me for zinc deficiency (I was deficient), and did the usual height and weight stuff.

Since I went in to help improve my digestion, the doctor went over some things she thought might help her with putting the pieces together for me in this area.  She checked my alignment and felt around on my abdomen for intestinal clues.  She tested for adrenal health and went over a number of lifestyle questions.

She gave me a food log to fill out for the next 7 days to hand in on my next visit, which is in 1 week.  Between now and then she will meet with the other two doctors and go over everything and, together, they will discuss a protocol and/or further steps to help me optimize my health.

Overall, it was a great experience.  Everyone was very friendly - no rushing me in and out.  It didn’t feel too clinical, which I liked.  Although they didn’t say this, I felt it was an overall energy of “whatever we find, we can work with it and we can help you get yourself back into balance.”  There was no energy of fear, which is often typical of doctors’ offices.

I will let you know what I find out on my next visit (next Wednesday).  I’m looking forward to it  - I love learning and if I can learn how to help heal my digestion even more, then I can share that with others and maybe provide some insight to what may help them as well... or at least possibly lead them to investigate a whole systems approach to putting the pieces of the puzzle together for their own health.