As people progress through life, events occur that impact them in a dramatic way. One may break a leg in an athletic event as a child, fall as a senior and break a hip or have chest pain resulting in bypass heart surgery. Clearly, when someone has these types of events they need to go to a physician skilled in what they need at the moment.
In cases listed above, one might end up in the emergency department and then be cared for by an orthopedic surgeon for the hip while the cardiovascular surgeon can do the cabg (coronary artery bypass graft procedure). Those type of physicians, and most physicians that practice in the United States are typically referred to as conventional physicians. They have received allopathic training at a medical school and have learned how to take care of conditions that arise either by immediate intervention with surgery or other lifesaving measures. Routinely prescription medications will be used to assist the interventional steps that the diagnosis dictates.
Medications are utilized to assist the condition that has developed over the years. They often affect the condition in a positive manner. What often goes unnoticed to most people is that oftentimes these medications have side effects as well. You may block or prevent a reaction from occurring while at the same time you may be depleting nutrients from the body that are critical to its function. An example of this would be cholesterol-lowering drugs or statin medications, which deplete the body of Co-enzyme Q10. If taken for a period of time, the depletion of Co-enzyme Q10 can lead to things such as congestive heart failure, muscle aching (myalgias) or elevated liver enzymes. We were trained to treat a certain condition with certain medication or group of medications.
One can quickly accumulate many prescription medications over the years, in fact having one prescription medication per decade of life is often thought to be the norm. However, what if there are ways to correct the underlying condition or improve it to where the body would heal itself? Would that be a good idea?
I have been trained as conventional physician and practiced that way almost 2-1/2 decades. I am well aware of the fact that conventional medicine clearly has its place, doing tremendous good for mankind. No one beats the USA in interventional trauma medicine in the world. Acute trauma that has been refined over the years on battlefields, the inner city and with the use of ATLS (Advanced Trauma Life Support Courses). This has greatly reduced the mortality of conditions that previously would have ended someone’s life. Having had the honor of receiving several years of training in general surgery and then having worked as a board-certified emergency physician for approximately 27 years, I am well aware of the importance of conventional medicine.
When we look at functional medicine or alternative medicine, what is that? Typically, someone who looks at medicine from a functional approach is looking at what is going on with the entire body. Why does someone have osteoporosis, as an example. What is causing the demineralization of the bones, why are they wearing out, why they are breaking down, and what can be done about this? An approach in functional medicine looks at the question of how can this condition be corrected. You are not looking at isolated diseases, but you are seeking to treat people based on their bodily symptoms, imbalances, as well as the abnormalities that are present. One typically looks at hormonal imbalances, inflammation, structural imbalances, toxic chemical exposure as well as toxic emotions. Immune imbalances can also adversely affect us.
By evaluating all of these factors one seeks to establish a treatment plan that will assist with these areas to hopefully put the body back into an arena where it can heal itself. It begins with nutrition, we really are what we eat. Are we eating foods that are bringing life to the cells or promoting adverse consequences with each bite?
Prescription medications certainly have their place, but nutritional intake, life style balance, supplements and proper environmental factors also are critically important. The mantra of one prescription for each decade of life is not the norm with functional medicine. These types of practitioners are seeking to correct the underlying conditions that can lead to correction and even reversal of problems such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, obesity, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.
Having practiced both types of medicine, I can tell you that the combination of the two is the way to go. I totally respect and appreciate all the things I have learned in conventional medicine. I have had the privilege of working with tens of thousands of patients over the years. It has been a huge blessing for me!
What I have learned in the past 5 to 6 years now allows me to approach a patient who is not in acute distress allows me to try to help them understand and correct the underlying etiology that led to their condition. I love both approaches to medicine, and they are both are extremely rewarding.
Here is an example for an approach to a patient that may give you insight into the functional medicine model verses the approach from a conventional model. If someone who has osteoporosis, the DEXA scan shows that they are losing bone mass or they have a urine NTX score that shows that you are losing bone mass. Typical diagnostic terms that are used are osteopenia or osteoporosis. So, in conventional medicine, a drug like Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax, or many others would be used to treat this condition along with vitamin D and calcium. These medications (bisphosphonates) actually poison the osteoclasts, which allow the bone to be remodeled. It results in hardening of the bone; however, the side effects include increased instance of femoral bone fractures, which is the long bone in your leg, as well as osteonecrosis, which is a disease of the jaw, and overall the instance of fractures are increased, not decreased. Why are these drugs prescribed?
The functional approach allows one to look at this condition and seek to rebuild the bones using bio identical hormones, vitamins, minerals. Exercise is recommended, nutritional intake is advised that would encourage a gluten free, lactose free diet; as these will not assist healthy outcomes.
You need to start with the diet that someone is consuming. By helping educated individuals on the importance of proper nutrition, often they then will make the correct choices regarding food groups. You would need to evaluate their hormones which most of the time are low. If they are low, they need to be replenished with bio-identical hormones in a safe manner. What type of exercise can they do to improve bone health and strength? Are there mineral imbalances, are crucial vitamins decreased? Do they have digestive issues where they can not absorb the minerals and vitamins they are eating?
Are they taking the right type of supplements that is consistent with correcting the deficient condition? One little known fact is that vitamin K2 helps drive the calcium into the bone where it can be used to actually strengthen the bone so that it is not deposited in places where you do not want it, like the arteries or kidneys causing renal stones. Vitamin D and magnesium are also important in this as can be boron and strontium. By using these tools you can actually rebuild the bones.
In 1936, Congress reported that you cannot eat your way to good health, you are going to have to supplement because the soil on which the crops are grown is depleted. Choosing the right type of diet and getting the essential supplements go hand in hand.
Have you have toxic exposure? Do you have heavy metals or persistent organic pollutants in your body that may be adversely affecting your body? Could these be causing the illness you have?
The approach that I strive to have with our patients is combining the best of both conventional and functional medicine. If we need to use a prescription drug, fantastic, we have that in our arsenal. However, by going back and trying to correct the underlying problem that led to the deficit, I find patients typically do much better and are able then to not need as many prescription medications. That means a decreased chance of complications, saves the patient money, making us both happy.
I love the practice of medicine. It has been such a delight to get all the training that I have received. IF this sounds appealing to you, please contact us so we can begin the process of trying to help you achieve your optimal Balanced Life & Health.
Philip L. Roberts, MD, MS, ABAARM