The doctor of the future will give no medicine
but will interest his patient in the care of the human body,
in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.
– Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison was a gifted inventor, innovator, and entrepreneur who is best remembered for his work with electricity. He was also an astute thinker and prophetic visionary. Contemplating the future of technology and science, he foresaw such extraordinary possibilities as nuclear power and atomic weapons. But when he looked at the practice of medicine, he saw that it was discovery and understanding, far more than technology, which would truly advance the betterment of humankind.
Technology, with its medical miracles, serves us well in an emergency. But most Americans will not die of an emergency. Typically, they will die after suffering for ten or more years with chronic, debilitating, degenerative diseases which can, for the most part, be reversed or prevented. The organizations that control medical care and keep it beholden to special political and economic interests are not truly interested in changing this. They are making too much money on conventional drugs and procedures to be bothered with an intelligent and compassionate response to our poor public health. But that doesn’t mean an intelligent response isn’t available.
In the past few decades, as medicine has become big business and drug and insurance companies have dominated our standard of care, science and human experience have validated Edison’s insight that most illness and disease is rooted in mankind’s ignorance of nature and natural processes. That ignorance has allowed unprecedented nutritional and environmental changes, which have dramatic effects on our health, to go largely unchallenged. Fortunately, there are many practitioners working to change this.
There is a grassroots movement today which promotes health as vigor and wholesomeness, and not merely as the absence of disease. We see it practiced under such names as functional, preventative, integrated, complementary, alternative, natural and environmental medicine. The important distinction between this medicine and what we are used to is that the former embodies a model of health, rather than illness. Functional practitioners ask “What is health? How do we define it? How do we help people create it?”
According to Jeffrey Bland, PhD, functional medicine is “patient-centered, science-based health care that identifies and addresses underlying biochemical, physiological, environmental, and psychological factors to reverse disease progression and enhance vitality.” Or to put it more simply, functional practitioners strive to put out the fire and not to just blow away the smoke.
For many decades, the principal goal of conventional (or allopathic) medicine has been to diagnose an ailment and then treat it with a synthetic substance which is foreign to our bodies. Conventional medicine is fragmented into specialties that care for parts or linear systems without the context of the whole system.
By contrast, the functional practitioner seeks to identify the breakdown which resulted in symptoms and disease, drawing on an understanding of vital as well as linear body systems, and critical healing factors such as causality and individuality. He or she comes to an understanding of the problem and its causes over time, after thorough history-taking, detailed inquiry into symptoms and constitution, various methods of physical examination, and traditional and specialty testing. A treatment is then prescribed, consisting of any combination of education, lifestyle changes, diet, herbs, nutrients, homeopathy, energy work, or bodywork. The goal is to move the client towards prevention, independence, and informed decision-making regarding health, and not to create a lifetime dependency on treatment.
Across America, functionally oriented medical practice is on the rise. Consumers of health care are demanding it, and many practitioners have risen to the challenge of bringing this orientation to their work. This practice requires time and patience on the part of the practitioner, and responsibility and willingness to learn and change on the part of the client. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing four practitioners on Cape Cod who, like myself, strive to put out the fires of distress in their clients.
Peter Glidden, ND is a naturopathic physician who has been in practice in Hyannis for ten years. He calls himself the platypus of medicine because the variety of healing modalities used in his practice distinguishes him from his peers. It is clear, however, that his passion and gift is classical homeopathy, which constitutes about 50% of his practice. While his use of functional tests is discretionary, since the application of homeopathy does not depend on lab results, Dr. Glidden did point out that he is doing relatively more testing for heavy metal poisoning and is seeing it as a growing cause of many chronic health problems.
Bruce Gordon, MD, FACS is an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist in Hyannis who has been in practice for over twenty years. Dr. Gordon utilizes a solid understanding of nutrition and environmental toxicity in his practice to help patients solve their health problems. His interest in nutrition predates medical school, while his interest in environmental medicine grew out of his brother’s experience with chronic fatigue syndrome and the serious limitations of conventional allopathic medicine in the context of that crisis. As a result of becoming more causation-oriented, Dr. Gordon does far less surgery than he used to.
Ralph Tomasian, DMD is a dentist in Harwich who has been practicing for over 30 years. In his work, Dr. Tomasian applies an understanding of bio-meridians, cavitations (occult oral infections), and bio-toxicity. He acknowledges that just as systemic problems can degrade oral health, poor oral health can be the source of systemic problems. Dr. Tomasian helps his clients appreciate biological function beyond the context of the mouth, and supports them in making informed choices about health care. He also acknowledges the prevalence of metal (especially mercury) toxicity, and has not used amalgam for many years.
Janet Doucette, MA LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist in Orleans who specializes in mind-body medicine and utilizes biofeedback, breath work, meditation, and creative visualization to bring the unconscious into consciousness. Traditional therapy is limited by the belief that the mind is a function of the brain alone. A mind-body orientation, or minded-body as Ms. Doucette likes to say, takes physiological measurements of psychological events and feeds them back to the client in a meaningful way. Mood and stress disorders are particularly responsive to this kind of help.
As for me, I am conventionally trained, but left that way of practice three years ago to embrace Edison’s vision of today’s doctor. The number of people with serious problems who could not be helped by allopathic means drove me to seek a more rational and effective approach. I specialize in bio-detoxification and health optimization, and am developing a series of health seminars to educate those with an interest in preventative and restorative medicine and enable them to take charge of their health.
We are an eclectic bunch to say the least. What we have in common is our ability to work intelligently with our clients towards solutions to the many serious and complex health challenges we encounter today.
Functional Medicine Matrix of Vital Functions
Examples of Functional Testing Available
• Nutritional status
• Genetic testing
• Detoxification abilities
• Metal toxicity
• Hormone sufficiency and profiling
• Comprehensive gastrointestinal function
• Oxidative Stress
• Immune system function
• Food allergies
US Health Statistics
• Among the world’s nations, the US ranks 27th in life expectancy.
• Out of 13 industrialized nations, the US ranks 12th in 16 measures of health.
• The US spends $5,000 per person per year on health care.
Gazella, Karolyn Mark Hyman, MD Practicing Medicine for the Future In: Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2004;10: 89.
The 5 Top Physical Roots of Illness
By Lorraine Hurley, MD, Spring 2004
Lorraine Hurley, MD graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 1997. She completed her family medicine residency at the University of MA in 2000. Lorraine is board certified in family medicine and has been practicing functional medicine for three years in Brewster. Her present clinical focus is bio-detoxification, restoration and preventative medicine.