Functional Medicine is the Basis of 21st-Century Healthcare
Jan 01, 2016 09:06AM
● By Linda Sechrist
Dr. Zorayda Torres
According to a 2008 survey of 12,000 physicians, The Physicians’ Perspective: Medical Practice, reported in The Wall Street Journal, there is little meaning or satisfaction for doctors in the present managed healthcare model, with fixed fees and the 15-minute office visit meant strictly to zero in on a patient’s “chief complaint”. In our dysfunctional healthcare delivery system, now run on an invisible time clock, one thing is clear—primary care physicians are as frustrated as their patients. Doctors are struggling with their professional ideals and feel that they cannot give the level of care that their noble profession called them to give and medical school trained them for.
Growing disenchantment with a medical system indifferent to the needs of patients and doctors is leading physicians to turn to a new model that can compel the individual that has given 11 to 14 years of their life to higher education for training in conventional Western medicine and spent an average of $420,000 to pay off a medical school debt over 30 years to invest even more time and money in learning to practice functional and integrative medicine. This personal decision marks a moment of conversion and a desire to return to their highest value—to practice real medicine and heal—the calling that led them to the hallowed halls of medical school in the first place.
Despite following “evidence-based” diagnostics and treatment recommendations by esteemed bodies of clinicians, Dr. Jiji Torres, founder of Upstream MD, in Bonita Springs, witnessed growing numbers of patients being diagnosed with mood disorders, inflammatory arthritis, cancers, hypothyroidism, neurologic and autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease and many others.
As a board-certified internal medicine physician with 17 years of clinical experience, Torres gave her best to caring for and treating patients by applying what she learned from her education and training in conventional medicine. “Eventually, I became frustrated that conventional mainstream medicine alone was not serving my patients well. In 2011, after watching documentaries such as Food Matters and Food, Inc., as well as reading many books on health and nutrition, my husband and I made improvements in our diet for a few months and saw some positive physical and mental changes,” she says. This new and revived interest in creating health through nutrition led Torres to join the Institute For Functional Medicine (IFM) and become a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM), a relatively new art and science of healing that addresses care of the whole person: body, mind and spirit.Board certified in family medicine and fellowship trained in functional medicine by the Metabolic Medical Institute (MMI), Dr. Pamela Hughes, owner of Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, in Naples, had her conversion moments in 2008. Her husband, David, suffered severe injuries when his vehicle was thrown by a blast from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. David’s pain management and treatment for nerve issues and spinal cord rehabilitation provided the catalytic moments that turned Pamela in the direction of functional medicine.
“At Walter Reed and Tampa PolyTrauma Center ,we quickly learned that David did not like the way pain medication made him feel. He also couldn’t fully participate in his recovery as he was so sedated. He chose pain over medication,” she relates. “David’s father, who had been using alternative therapies on himself for years, suggested some treatment options. This sent me on a search for literature supporting these treatments and supplements that took away David’s pain. I found so much information that I began to suspect that there had to be more to alternative therapies. This made me question all the traditional methods I had been practicing for so long.”
David’s physical therapist corrected his foot drop [a type of abnormal gait] with a Bioness neuromuscular electro-stimulation system, a Tempur-Pedic bed and an Ekornes stressless chair. He also used supplements, including the Rhodiola rosea herb and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). “I love functional medicine because it’s proactive; it allows me to use protocols that complement traditional medicine and focus on health and wellness,” says Hughes.In 1987, Dee Harris, owner of D-Signed Nutrition, in Bonita Springs, was shocked when her husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma and given a life expectancy of two years. Harris was then the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7, and working as consulting conventional dietician in Connecticut’s skilled nursing facilities.
Although Harris, a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist and certified IFM practitioner, initially looked at alternative solutions for her husband, she eventually needed them for herself after being diagnosed with autoimmune disease that developed as a result of stress. The Harrises implemented lifestyle changes, aromatherapy, vitamin therapy, stress management techniques and spiritual exercises that accompanied her husband’s experimental immunotherapy.
Reactions from over-the-counter and prescription medications were catalysts for Harris’ search to find more alternative ways of healing, as well as the root cause of illnesses. “When I discovered IFM, I signed up for the five-day course Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice. It recharged my love of nutrition and dietetics and re-taught me nutrition and medicine in a way that I could actually make a difference in my patient’s lives,” advises Harris.
Locally, it’s obvious that new models of functional and integrative medicine are reawakening the medical professional’s passion for healing. They are also igniting hope for future change that will likely be driven by a grassroots movement of patients demanding that insurance providers cover some of the costs.Ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition, led Dr. Robert Gilliland, DC, owner of Southwest Florida Natural Health Center, in Bonita Springs, to choose a career in health care. Lacking answers from his medical specialists, Gilliland set out to find his own in traditional medicine studies. He quit two years later after learning that Western medicine wasn’t looking for a viable solution to his condition. “My doctors kept giving me more and more drugs, so I looked to alternative medicine, which I saw was on the right track. Even that didn’t provide all the answers I was looking for,” explains Gilliand.
A final switch to functional and integrative medicine provided Gilliand with the best of both worlds, allowing him to become symptom-free and eliminate all medications. “I embraced the testing from traditional medicine with a few tweaks. Instead of running minimal tests to diagnose a disease or condition, functional testing looks for the underlying cause of the condition or disease. This means running tests that aren’t considered ‘medically necessary’ and using functional ranges rather than traditional ranges to gain a better understanding of a person’s health. After identifying the underlying causes, I can use natural therapies, including diet, supplements and others to address underlying issues,” he says.At age 26, while working in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, Deborah Post first noticed her joint aches and pains. The advanced registered nurse practitioner and owner of WellBridges, in Bonita Springs, watched her condition progress and waited, knowing that all women on her mother’s side of the family suffered from idiopathic joint disease. “I grew up looking at the swollen, distorted hands of my mom and grandmother,” says Post, whose laboratory tests eventually indicated rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, two autoimmune diseases.
Prescribed drugs for a lifetime, Post rebelled and changed her lifestyle of swing shifts, 10 to 12 cups of coffee a day, incredible stress (open heart ICU unit) and gobs of cheese and dairy. She stopped eating dairy products and cut back on coffee. “Three weeks later, the swelling in my hands went down and I could walk to the bathroom at night without severe pain. I never looked back or looked at health and healing in the same way,” she says.
When Post first heard about functional medicine 20 years later, she enrolled in the learning modules. “I was jazzed up to hear validation for what I had seen and felt for years. I was also happy to learn that I wasn’t the only weirdo that felt our current pathology management style of medicine is more dysfunctional than the sick patients we treat,” she quips.At Balanced Health, in Marco Island, the team of Dr. Ken Kochler, DO, and Brad Ferringo, a Canadian licensed homeopath also trained in naturopathy, practice integrative medicine together with eight colleagues. Kochler is also trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. The two have completed numerous IFM certificate programs, including some with Dr. Jeffrey Bland, and have studied numerous integrative modalities. For 10 years, they worked together using the first form of video telemedicine (iChat).
“I worked in the emergency room in internal medicine and emergency medicine for nearly 15 years. Finally, a strong intuition started nagging me. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the suppressive and narrow selection of options and tools. I knew there had to be more I could learn to help people in transforming their health,” says Kochler.
“Ken and I created Balanced Health because we both wanted to disrupt the status quo and move toward a person-centered integrative model. Our full team of health professionals works collaboratively with each person, addressing their needs first. Then the appropriate tools, modalities or methods are selected for their specific needs,” remarks Ferringo.
Ferringo comments on a health field which he believes has become a tools-centered model where from a diagnosis, doctors decide what people need without knowing anything about their lifestyle or eating habits. “I observed that practitioners were subjecting patients to the same processes and tools without first understanding them deeply and meaningfully,” he says. “People who weren’t getting better did the familiar, desperate ‘clinic hop’ while they looked for answers.”A holistic approach to pain management won out over Western medicine’s prescription pad in the search to deal with sports-related injuries that Dr. Gary Gendron, DC, suffered during his college years. Gendron, the owner of Nutrition Specialists of Florida, in Bonita Springs, advises, “I was amazed at how quickly I felt better without downtime or side effects. As a result, I was motivated and inspired to help others using a natural approach. After a few years of practicing, I had the same clinical results that were documented by D. D. Palmer's early works. The body has an ongoing ‘circuitry’ that responds internally to external stimuli, whether chemical or electrical. There is a feedback loop that is often unaddressed by many practitioners.”
Gendron, a diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, treats nutrition from an Eastern approach (as opposed to a Western approach) using Nutrition Response Testing (NRT) and prescribes a customized plan of care. “Although I have used other methodologies such as blood testing and functional medicine, I prefer NRTbecause I trust the body’s innate intelligence. I believe if given the proper nutrients, the body can heal itself. I can attest I have never felt better in my life as I do now utilizing the same program I use for my patients,” he remarks.
Dr. Carol Roberts, who practices at Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, answers the question of how a doctor gets radicalized beyond what he or she learns in medical school: “However helpful and scientifically based that education is, it leaves out a lot. In my case, I was a board-certified ear, nose and throat surgeon, highly trained and credentialed, constantly telling my patients, ‘We don’t know what causes your problem.’ Apply that to the spectrum of chronic illness—thyroid malfunction, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and especially cancer—as well as everything else that can happen to people, and you have a system that is satisfied with a label we call a ‘diagnosis’ and a knee-jerk response of which drug or surgery to offer.”
Roberts says, “It became increasingly clear to me that no one was working on elucidating the underlying causes of these problems. Are our scientists stupid? Certainly not; it’s just that the funding sources for theirresearch are biased towards the status quo of drugs and surgery.”
Another realization that led Roberts to go guerilla was that medical school had not taught her how to get and stay healthy. “I did not know what to do to maintain my own functional body-mind. Nutrition was ignored; exercise at that time was not encouraged—‘Not enough evidence.’ Meditation and yoga were not yet legitimatized as ‘stress management’ techniques,” she remarks. Not surprising, the same practices that keep a person healthy can be used to get someone healthy when they have a problem. “The tools for healing were within the patient’s grasp, not just at the pharmacy or the hospital,” says Roberts, who notes that she could only maintain her integrity by following the leads of the nutritionists, the fitness buffs, the herbalists and the meditators. “This is why I’ve been ‘outside the black bag’ for more than two decades. I call it ‘good medicine’ that works,” she enthuses.
Locally, it’s obvious that new models of functional and integrative medicine are reawakening the medical professional’s passion for healing. They are also igniting hope for future change that will likely be driven by a grassroots movement of patients demanding that insurance providers cover some of the costs. It’s the next natural step after patients discover that this practice of medicine, which meets their doctor’s needs, is the same that meets theirs for health and well-being.
Balanced Health, 19 Bald Eagle Dr., Ste. B, Marco Island. 239-248-0455. BalancedHealthConcierge.com.
D-Signed Nutrition, 3531 Bonita Bay Blvd., Ste. 300, Bonita Springs. 239-676-5249. D-SignedNutrition.com.
Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, 800 Goodlette Rd., Ste. 270, Naples. 239-649-7400. HughesCenterNaples.com.
Nutrition Specialists of Florida, 28315 S. Tamiami Tr, Ste. 101, Bonita Springs. 239-947-1177. DoctorGendron.com.
Southwest Florida Natural Health Center, 27499 Riverview Center Blvd., Ste. 255, Bonita Springs. 239-444-3106. SWFThyroid.com.
UpstreamMD, 27499 Riverview Center Blvd, Ste. 255, Bonita Springs, 239-444-5636, UpstreamMD.com.
Wellbridges, 9200 Bonita Beach Rd., Ste. 113, Bonita Springs. 239-481-5600. DebPost.com.