An Evolution of Medicine

The seeds of disease are embedded in our cells. They are the cornerstone of our being and health—constantly regenerating and ejecting toxin build-up within our biological system.

Poorly performing cells struggle to remove this toxic waste from the body. If a large grouping of these cells malfunction, you have a disease.

Disease is simply the term we coin for a cluster of cells that are attempting to heal the natural production of toxin, but are failing. The capacity to detox these pollutants from the body’s ecosystem comes from our cell’s memory mechanism.

Yes, our cells have a history—genes that program their ability to function thanks to the DNA wiring of our ancestors. This massive, intricate matrix of cells that form our organs and systems gain information to maintain healing through food.

It seems there’s a highly connected working of cell history and information that systemically affect the entire human being. The only problem is that conventional medicine in the West is so focused on the disease that it forgets about the mapped system, or better yet, doesn’t even consider the need for such a navigational tool.

It’s a reality that is producing unsatisfactory results with regards to chronic disease in America. Research predicts that by 2025, chronic diseases will affect an estimated 164 million Americans–nearly half of the population. On top of that, there exists the rising 81 percent of Americans taking at least one medication a day.

Dr. Mark Hyman experienced this fault in the American medical world after getting mercury poisoning from living in China for a year. Hyman went from riding his bike 100 miles a day and remembering the names of 30 patients without notes to not being able to walk up the stairs or remember the end of a sentence. He sought doctor after doctor and all he got was a list of medications to take, but never a true cure.

“They just searched and searched and came up completely blank,” recounted Hyman on the podcast On Being. “They’re like, take Prozac, you’re depressed, you’re stressed, you’re this, you’re that, and I’m like, ‘I’m not. Something’s wrong.’”

It was then that Hyman realized that he had reached the limits of what could be done with the type of thinking in conventional Western medicine. He needed to reevaluate the system standard of isolated, disease-curing and move towards a method of understanding health mechanisms.

This is an evolution, a movement in medicine that is underway called Functional Medicine.

“So I literally had to understand my body from the inside out through the lens of functional medicine, which is really a systems view of health,” continued Hyman on the podcast. “It’s based on dealing with the causes and not just the symptoms, dealing with the body as ecosystem, or looking at the whole organism, not just the organs.”

Functional Medicine is defined as a systems-oriented approach in addressing underlying causes of disease. The movement is being described as a “map” or GPS technique that hones in on the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease.

Dr. Hyman, who has gone on to become the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, has shifted his medical practice to incorporate more listening in a patient-centered support that fosters connectivity on various levels.

“How does it make sense that your gut flora could cause depression, anxiety, autism, autoimmune disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease?,” asked Hyman. “I mean, that doesn’t make sense given our way of thinking.”

This reawakening to the integral interconnectedness of our system is nothing new to the history of medicine, which harkens back to ancient times. In fact, most who practice Functional Medicine have a background as clinical herbalists or naturopathic studies.

The earliest human records of medicine practice trace back to ancient Egypt, Babylonian medicine, Ayurvedic medicine (in the Indian subcontinent), classical Chinese medicine, and both ancient Greek and Roman medicines.

This prehistoric healing emphasized “natural” remedies with plants (herbalism), animal parts, and minerals—mostly performed by the priests, shamans, or “medicine men” of the community.

What’s most remarkable is that they understood a wisdom in the holistic conceptual treatment of the body, long before empirical science could prove it’s benefits.

In the first millennium BCE, Ayurveda arrived as India’s traditional medicine system. The word Ayurveda means “complete knowledge for long life.” The foundations of the ancient medicinal work are built upon the synthesis of traditional herbal practice with theoretical concepts of wellness derived from the Buddha.

It’s not enough to know what herbs to prescribe though, as a student of Ayurveda, one is expected to know everything from cooking and horticulture to sugar manufacture and pharmacology.

Sarah Josey, a clinical herbalist, nutritionist, and health coach at the Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary & Clinic in Colorado, spoke with BTR about her background in alternative medicine and the growing movement of Functional Medicine.

“This is what the Functional Medicine Institute has been all about, it’s mostly conventional doctors that started to realize that this isn’t actually helping people,” explains Josey. “We need to figure out what the root problems are and how to fix those root problems.”

Josey always felt she was destined for a more natural approach to treating health. After studying biochemistry at Colorado State University, she decided to enter a clinical herbalism program at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism.

The techniques of blending both conventional clinical work and ancient herbal work is much of what Functional Medicine aims to do. Josey practices on an individual patient basis, and in conjunction with the patient’s clinical doctor, to figure out how the greater systems of the body are being affected.

“I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, your doctor says you have x, y, z so here’s an herb for that,’” tells Josey. “It’s really digging underneath to see how that person even ended up with that issue in the first place, because our natural state of being is health; our body wants to be healthy.”

Alternative medicine, or integrative medicine, was the first attempt at bringing the whole person (body, mind, and spirit) into main focus in treatment. However, their therapies still work with conventional doctors. Both practices are yet to be fully fused.

Functional medicine claims to lay out the blueprint for this type of true integration. However, it’s a bit more complex than just placing different therapeutic ideas into one outline of treating a human being, there needs to be a conscious shift in culture and mindsets.

A deeper level of transformation must occur, explained by Dr. James Gordon, founder and executive director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and a clinical professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School.

“The shift in consciousness is absolutely fundamental, and it’s most difficult for the medical establishment, because that threatens the role of the physician,” warned Dr. Gordon on the podcast On Being.

“It threatens the whole way that medicine is done, which essentially is that the physician or the institution does things to or for people, which of course you need if you’re hit by a truck, or you have an overwhelming infection. But for most of the problems that most of us have, it doesn’t work very well.”

It’s true, medical institutions are guarded about this push for holistic change. In fact, in 2009 the American Medical Association even worked to prevent over 30 state legislative actions of naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, acupuncture, Oriental medicine practitioners, and Certified Professional Midwives.

It is becoming ever more apparent that the true cures to chronic disease in America lie beneath the surface symptoms. Our cells and systems are the working mechanisms that foster disease or cure them.

But first perhaps, we must remedy the seeds of our traditional mindsets that continuously resist change for a more comprehensive outlook on health.