I have struggled with modern medicine for most of my life. At a very young age, I can remember being stuck in a doctor’s office, listening to my mother and the doctor talk about me like I was a pet or just an object. My weight was to blame for every illness, every injury, and every problem in my childhood. I remember my mother being shamed by medical staff because no matter what she did, I rarely lost weight. She would be told she couldn’t be any kind of a good mother because she allowed me to be obese.
As a prepubescent girl, I was on so many diets and exercise programs that it makes my head hurt to even think about it. At one point, I was even put on Fen-Phen (thankfully, I only took one dose, and told my mother that I couldn’t deal with the racing pulse and the heart palpitations) It didn’t stop until one doctor finally said that if I didn’t stop the yoyo dieting, I would die early.
I’ve spent a lot of my life being told by assorted medical practitioners (and assorted random strangers) that I am lying about my caloric intake, that I am lying about my physical activity, and that I am just “resistant” or “defiant” when confronted by the “truth about my choices.”
After being forced to go through over 20 doctors before I found ONE that would actually do testing of my body functions rather than simply telling me that “all your problems are because you’re fat,” I stopped being willing to see your average MD as the “omnipotent” authority, and realized if I wanted to be healthy, I needed to not only stand up to my doctors and insist that they treat me as a partner in my health, but that I would need to do serious research on not only my symptoms, but possible underlying causes and other ways to deal with my body – in conjunction with modern medicine.
I started with looking into herbalism. The average person on the street tends to look at those who consider herbalism to be a good supporting modality to modern medicine as people who are part of the lunatic fringe. The average person believes that herbalism is “hippy dippy” and any Joe Blow can set themselves up as an “herbalist” without any kind of regulation or certification. Nothing can be further than the truth. If you actually dig deeper than the grocery aisle herbal ‘books’ you will find that to become a certified herbalist, you must go through some rather intense training – similar to the kind of training that a general MD must go through.
Why? Because if you aren’t aware of the chemicals found in plants, if you don’t understand the basics of dosage and how to interact with different body types and health issues, you can easily poison yourself or others.
Some of my favorite herbalism books speak on specific herbs, show the chemical composition of the portion of the plant that affects the human body (for example, THC – the psychoactive chemical found in cannabis [pot, weed, marijuana] has a chemical composition of C21H30O2), list exactly how those chemicals react to the average individual’s body, AND give warnings if there are conditions in which a particular herb will do more harm than good.
How does this all tie into “functional medicine” as a science or pseudo-science?
Well, modern medicine is focused on what is considered “after care.” When someone is ill, they go to a doctor to ameliorate the symptoms, and if possible, cure the illness. I don’t short change doctors of modern medicine. They’ve done quite a bit to be able to cure issues of the body gone crazy. But, sadly, SOME doctors have stopped seeing the patient as a whole body. They have fallen into the trap of seeing a patient as a disease or set of diseases. The worse the illness, the more damage the cure can do to the rest of the body. Cancer is a perfect example of this. Radiation and chemotherapy, while necessary cures also do serious damage to the body undergoing those treatments. Getting rid of those cures would do nothing except kill more people faster.
But, functional medicine, like herbalism, looks at the whole body as a fully integrated system. And it addresses emotional and mental aspects of illness as well. If one subsystem of the human body isn’t doing the job that it is supposed to, it can throw off the entire system – because all of the subsystems are reliant on each other functioning at high efficiency.
Responsible practitioners of functional medicine do not ignore the advances of modern medicine, but use them in conjunction with other options, in order to ensure that the patient’s body is working the way it is supposed to. One of the biggest complaints about functional medicine is that doctors of functional medicine order tests that are “expensive and unnecessary.” The more we learn about the human body, the more our medicine evolves. Modern medical doctors have often complained about evolving knowledge of the human body. Germ theory was first brought up in the 16th century, but it was ignored and ridiculed by the “knowledgeable medical community” until Pasteur, Koch and Lister were able to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But what modern medicine ignores, and what both herbalism and functional medicine focuses on, is WHY an individual may be more susceptible to certain diseases, or systemic failures (or misfires). So yes, they order more “expensive” tests, because those tests are not being used as often as the average medical tests (remember, Economics 101 – supply and demand, if demand is low then supply must raise it’s prices to make the same level of profit).
Cholesterol is a good example. When doctors first started doing blood tests for cholesterol, they only looked at the overall numbers, not realizing there is a “good” cholesterol, and a “bad” cholesterol. But, further experiments have proven that if you focus on dropping the numbers of bad, and raise the number of good, you have a healthier body.
One of the recent tests my functional doctor made was to check for a specific gene mutation that has been shown in experiments to be a base reason for serious medical issues. What that mutation means is that the production of an extremely important enzyme for healthy biochemical processes in the body is either less efficient, or completely missing. Sadly, it’s a rather common mutation, and as with sickle cell anemia, has a larger impact on certain ethnicities – in this case, the commonality is highest in those considered “white.” It’s not unheard of in other ethnicities, but is much less common.
I have ALWAYS wanted to know WHY I have certain processes in my body that seem to not be working at prime efficiency. I’ve always believed if I know the why that I can pinpoint ways to make those processes work at prime efficiency, whether that is via a lifestyle change, dietary change, or other.