by Dr. Will Cole
It’s hard to ignore or deny just how divided our world has become. And we all need to get together to heal not just our hearts, but our health. Functional medicine is all about celebrating the individual and the differences that make us all special and unique. We are concerned with what improves lives and labs, what increases your energy levels and allows you to truly thrive.
And this is what health care should be all about, because the bottom line is that we’re in this together. We need to dump dieting and focus on getting healthy and nourishing our bodies with delicious food medicine. So in honor of health, unity, and progress, here are five ways functional medicine really kicks ass:
1. We aren’t OK with the trajectory of society’s health.
Whether you’re a staunch vegan, love eating a paleo diet, or eat whatever you want, you can’t look around and be OK with the decline of our collective health. Here’s a rundown of the problems we are facing:
Horribly, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. And every 60 seconds, someone in the United States dies from a heart attack or stroke.
It’s hard to believe, but 50 percent of us are now prediabetic or have full-blown diabetes.
A staggering one in two men and one in three women will get cancer. Autoimmune diseases are now the third leading cause of death and disease in the world – affecting over 50 million Americans and millions more struggling with autoimmune-inflammation spectrum problems.
Nearly 20 percent of adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide. Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million Americans and Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, a 2013 report found that since 1979, deaths due to brain disease have increased by 66 percent in men and a whopping 92 percent in women. Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have skyrocketed over a short period of time. In 1970, an estimated one in 10,000 children were found to be autistic, in 1995 it was one in 500, and in 2001 it became one in 250. Today, one in 68 children are diagnosed as autistic.
2. We see the holes in mainstream medicine.
The United States spends more on health care than the next 10 top-spending countries combined! And even though we spend trillions of dollars we rank last among all industrialized nations when it comes to living long, healthy lives. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) out of 13 industrialized nations the United States is the worst when it comes to years of life lost for adults and infant mortality rates.
3. We realize no one is sick from a medication deficiency.
A shocking 81 percent of Americans take at least one medication a day. But just because something’s common, that doesn’t mean it’s normal.
Prescription drugs now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined. According to JAMA, 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 the “right drug.” Meanwhile, the drug industry is funding most of the scientific research we read today.
According to the World Health Organization, the global pharmaceuticals market is worth $300 billion – a figure that is expected to rise to $400 billion dollars within three years. The WHO agrees that the current pharmaceutical system has “an inherent conflict of interest between the legitimate business goals of manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs of providers and the public to select and use drugs in the most rational way.” Because of this conflict of interest, when it comes to chronic and autoimmune disease, mainstream medicine is trained to diagnose a disease and match it with a corresponding medication. This medicinal matching game leaves many frustrated when nothing changes with their health but a growing prescription list.
In functional medicine, we’re not anti-medication. We recognize that many people are alive because of these medications and advancements in modern medicine have brought us lifesaving procedures, especially in emergency care. We just ask the question: What is our most effective option that causes the least amount of side effects? For some, a medication may fit this criteria. But a lot of the time, pharmaceuticals are not the best choice.
4. We realize our DNA is not our destiny.
Research like the Danish Twin Study has shown that over 90 percent of our longevity is determined by the choices we make – not our genetics. Sure, people can have a genetic predisposition for certain diseases (most of us do) but that gene may not be expressed if it’s not triggered by these epigenetic, lifestyle factors.
The Okinawa study showed there is no reason why the majority of us can’t live at least 100 disease-free, healthy years. It’s the interaction between our genes and our environment that determines our health. The foods we eat or don’t eat, our stress levels, sleep, activity and exposure to toxins are constantly and dynamically instructing your genetic expression. This is a revolutionary message of health empowerment and responsibility.
5. We know the best medicine is at the end of our forks.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said thousands of years ago “let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” How far have we strayed that the words of the founder of modern medicine can actually be threatening to conventional medicine?
With the strong influence that the pharmaceutical industry has on government policy, it’s no secret that using foods as medicines is not high up on the list of mainstream medicine. You only need to eat hospital food once to know this truth. Even more, under current laws it is, in fact, illegal to say foods can heal. That’s right. The words “treat” “cure” and “prevent” are in effect owned by the FDA and can only be used in the healthcare setting when talking about pharmaceutical drugs. This is the world we live in today; health problems are on the rise despite spending more on health care than ever – and we need to do something dramatically different.
Functional medicine is growing, and for good reason.
Functional medicine is a large part of filling these gaps created by conventional medicine and our health culture. And with leaders in healthcare such as the Cleveland Clinic taking the initiative by starting a functional medicine center, I have a lot of hope for the future. Functional medicine experts like myself are making it our mission to make sure functional medicine is accessible and affordable for everyone. And developments like webcam consultations are helping us make healthy go viral.
The take home message? We can’t depend on the drug companies or the government for what is truly our responsibility: our health. Share these words with your friends and family and let this be the manifesto for all of us that want to make the world a healthier place.
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.