I finally had help, and could actually believe that recovery was possible. This was ten years post-thyroidectomy, eight months after a hysterectomy to remove endometrial cancer, and four months since the internist had advised me that the only answer for my struggling body was to exercise more and eat less—nothing about quality of food, just to count calories. What a relief to have just spent 90 minutes with a doctor who was on my wavelength!
So what is “my wavelength”? As I mentioned last time, I’m a systems thinker. In 1994, I was drawn to a course in Living Systems Theory offered at Schumacher College in Devon, England. The instructor was physicist Fritjof Capra, who was working on his book The Web of Life at the time. This book describes how psychological, biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena are interrelated into a “web of life.” In retrospect, I realize his course had a more profound effect on me than I was aware of at the time. It consolidated my developing ideas by putting them in a scientific framework that made sense to me.
An important part of that framework is the understanding that nothing happens in isolation. There are systems, and systems within systems. The functioning of one affects others through built-in feedback loops. The system does its best to survive under the prevailing conditions, and the quality of those conditions makes the difference between thriving or merely surviving.
Functional medicine is based on a similar paradigm—human bodies are made up of interlinked systems, and dysfunction in one can cause symptoms in another.
See the Functional Medicine Matrix
One of my favourite functional medicine sayings is that anything can cause anything. “Cause” is an important word here. Functional medicine concerns itself with resolution of the root cause. This is in contrast to the conventional medical approach of treating the symptoms. Symptom-relief solves the problem of immediate discomfort but does not prevent the dysfunction from continuing.
Think of it this way: Suppose your car has a buzzer that warns you when there’s an engine problem. You’re on a road trip when this highly annoying sound starts up. You drive for a while trying to ignore it, but that is impossible. So you pull over and disconnect the buzzer wire. The silence is wonderful and you carry on with your trip, happy that you solved the problem.
Ridiculous? You bet. And depending on what the buzzer was trying to alert you to, sooner or later you will experience the consequences of not finding the underlying cause that triggered the alarm.
In the human body, symptoms are our alarm system. They notify us when something is not working normally and needs attention. The functional approach views symptoms as clues to uncovering the fundamental dysfunction so it can be addressed.
Why is this not the way all medicine is practised? The answer lies in the economic basis of the healthcare system. Doctors are allocated very little time to see each patient and drug companies have a huge financial interest in keeping the symptom-relief paradigm going. Of course it’s much more complex and convoluted than that, but I wanted to introduce the idea that there are fundamental systemic issues in healthcare. This awareness helps us navigate the healthcare culture without being broken by it.
Too much of conventional wisdom is outdated and yet taken for granted as truth. Education is one means of “self-protection” as one navigates the healthcare culture.
In 1987, when my thyroid enlargement was discovered, there was very little accessible information. I remember going to the medical library at the university where I found overwhelming detail, and not much that was helpful in the bigger picture of addressing a person’s thyroid issue.
It is totally different today. If you haven’t yet viewed any online health summits, let me introduce you. Typically these summits offer a series of expert interviews on a particular theme. Usually there are 30-40 interviews, each 45-60 minutes long. About five are offered each day, typically available online for 24 hours so you can watch at your convenience. All this is free, and you can purchase the complete set of interviews at a very low cost if you want to build up your personal library of resources. How does it get better than that?
By now I’ve watched at least 500 hours of interviews of medical doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, nutritionists, fitness experts, health coaches and other professionals. These are professionals who work with clients, conduct research, and are dedicated to educating people about new and effective ways of thinking about health issues. Often they came to be doing what they are as a result of having to solve their own health problems when the usual approaches didn’t work. They are on the leading edge and care about making life better.
How do you tap into this incredible resource? Below are a few links to some of my favourite summits. At the time of writing, the free showings are over and most are available for just under $100. If you prefer not to purchase them and would like to know when next year’s summits are offered, check out the event calendar at Health Talks Online.
Another strategy is to look through the summit for speakers that particularly interest you. Go to their websites and sign up for newsletters, free e-books, and video series. You’ll learn a lot from these materials, and they’ll send you the registration link the next time they are interviewed for a summit. Eventually the trick is to not get an overwhelming volume of information…but unsubscribing is easy whenever you’ve had enough.
We are so fortunate to have access to the viewpoint of functional medicine. How can we make best use of it? That’s where we’ll go next time. In the meantime, questions and conversation are welcome.