by Dr. Will Cole
It looks like we aren’t doing so well. The United States spends more than $3 trillion each year on health care (more than what the next 10 countries spend combined!) and yet, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, out of 13 industrialized nations, the United States is dead last when it comes to several critical health issues: premature death from chronic disease and infant mortality rates. Specifically, the World Health Organization and the National Research Council claim that out of 16 industrialized nations, the United States has the highest chance that a child will die before age 5, the highest rate of women dying due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and the second-highest rate of death by coronary heart disease and lung disease.
How can such a wealthy, educated, and technologically advanced country be doing so poorly in managing these very basic measures of good health? One prevalent theory is that mainstream medicine has gone down the wrong path, providing little in the way of effective care for the millions of Americans struggling with chronic diseases. The standard model of care for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, low thyroid, acid reflux, and autoimmune disease is inadequate, to say the least. Having coached people all over the world in reversing conditions such as these using a functional medicine model, I have seen firsthand that there are three primary reasons why mainstream medicine is failing us:
1. It does not prioritize or consider individualized care.
Mainstream medicine has become a colossal “one-size-fits-all” system of matching a diagnosis to a drug. The problem with this medicine matching game is that it doesn’t take into account bio-individuality. Every person is genetically and biochemically unique, so clusters of symptoms or even a diagnosed disease in one person will not necessarily respond to a given drug the same way they would respond in the next person. Unfortunately, there are no “magic pills.”
Without a consideration for individual genetics, lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, microbiome composition, age, gender, and many other factors, in designing a treatment plan, the chances that one particular approach will work for any given person is slim. To progress, modern medicine is going to have to take into account biological variability and tailor solutions for the individual.
2. It focuses on treating symptoms rather than discovering causes.
Pharmaceutical drugs are, for the most part, not designed to heal, but to manage symptoms. Because this is the case, patients with chronic conditions are often told to take a medication indefinitely, or symptoms will return. Other medications are frequently prescribed to deal with side effects of the first medications, and as the body becomes tolerant, dosages may gradually go up and up. How is this achieving health?
Instead, modern medicine must learn to see symptoms as the body’s “check engine light.” What would you think if I covered up the check engine light with a piece of tape and kept on driving as usual? This is equivalent to what most medications do. Instead, while symptom relief should be a component of care, the focus should be to find out why the symptoms are there in the first place. Clinical investigation of the underlying issues so those can be fixed is the only way this can be accomplished.
3. It results in too many side effects.
When deciding what kind of health care treatment to choose, a good question to ask is: “What can I do that will be most effective with the least number of side effects?” If a drug fits this criteria, then it might be the best option for you. However, in my experience, most medications do not fit this criteria.
Have you ever watched a drug television advertisement before, with that soothing voice quietly mentioning the many, often disturbing, side effects possible with that drug? The scary fact is that prescription drugs killed more people in 2009 than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Journal of American Medical Association, more than 100,000 people die each year from the proper use of prescription drugs – not from overdosing or taking the wrong drug, but from the side effects of taking the “right drug” exactly as prescribed. That sure doesn’t sound like the safest option! There are many, many ways to address and balance health issues and relieve symptoms. Pharmaceuticals are just one of those ways, and until modern medicine opens its eyes to the bigger possibilities, I fear the statistics revealing the poor state of health care in the U.S. will only get worse.
Obviously, we need to do something dramatically different to fix a dramatically failing model of care. Admittedly, it sounds daunting to try to change the trajectory of the entire system, but you can change your trajectory. Alternative care such as functional medicine is already attempting to address these issues and create a new standard that designs health programs for the individual through the clinical investigation of underlying dysfunctions and the application of more natural and safer solutions and therapies with fewer side effects. For many, these healing methods have finally provided hope for the millions falling through the cracks of conventional care.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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