Functional Medicine (Part 3)

We're all icebergs and the current medical system is the Titanic

titanic2I watched Jack & Rose in “Titanic” way back in high school (when Glorietta was still called Quad), blissfully unaware that I would someday be on a Titanic of sorts myself.

We all know the Titanic sank because it hit an iceberg: a mass of floating ice that shows just 10-20% of its bulk above the water and hides the rest underwater.   No matter how big or small an iceberg looks, you can be sure the whole thing is much larger than you think.  When it comes to our health (actually, when it comes to anything & everything) we’re just like an iceberg.  What you see is just the tip of a greater whole.


Unfortunately, the current medical system I was trained in focuses almost exclusively on that tip.  We were taught, almost in passing, that lifestyle choices affect health, but we weren’t taught how to treat disease from a lifestyle approach.  The current medical system doesn’t seem to appreciate (and sometimes it seems that it just doesn’t care at all) that there is more to the iceberg than just its tip; there is more to the patient than just his diagnosis.  So just like the Titanic, it comes up against the submerged part and flounders in the water or outright sinks…leaving the Jacks & Roses to cling to debris floating in the sea hoping for rescue (or awaiting death).

For example, based on my conventional training all diabetics have the same problem: high blood sugar levels.  Thus the treatment is cut and dried:
– diet & exercise (which is usually left at exactly that, “Kailangan niyo po mag-diet and exercise”, without more concrete instructions);
– metformin (the first drug of choice for all diabetics);
– some “-gliptin” drug for sugar control;
– a statin for cholesterol control;
– and maybe insulin.
The only thing that varies is dosing.  I used to tell my patients that “kung gusto niyo pong humaba ang buhay, habang buhay niyo po kailangan iinumin ang gamot nyo” (“If you want to live a long life, you have to take your medication for life.”)

BUT!  I know better now.  Even before discovering Functional Medicine I already started prescribing physical exercise (specific exercises with a demo so the patient would know how to do them properly); deep breathing exercises; vegetable soup recipes; sunlight…  I had prescription pads made with these instructions so that my patients would understand that these were actually medicine.  Just not the kind that they could buy at the drug store. Better, too, because they were free, had no side effects, no overdose, and easily sharable with the whole family.  (Because, sadly, in the minds of the vast majority of people “medicine = pills”.)

(My first “graduate” was a 57 year old male who had diabetes [on insulin], high blood [on one maintenance medicine], and psoriasis [on-and-off flares, with the worst one needing a hospital admission because his whole body turned bright red and almost raw].  It took us 3 years from when I first saw him — and a lot of coaching, monitoring and follow-up — but he has been completely medication and flare free for over a year now and counting.) get a better idea of just how big an iceberg is, to really see the bigger picture, you have to dive down and explore the depths.  Just like a scuba diver, it takes practice, training, skills, time and, most of all, willingness to do this.  Functional Medicine provides that training, equips you with the skills, and inspires you to have the willingness to do the diving needed so that you can treat the patient instead of just managing the disease.  

(To be continued…)


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