So many people in today’s world are sick and tired but don’t know why. When they try to find answers and help the only way they know how (typically mainstream medicine) most either end up being told “there is nothing wrong with you” or given a prescription that just masks their symptoms and can even cause side-effects and additional health issues.
I know, because I have lived through it myself. In 2011 I found myself accumulating one strange symptom after another, and when I saw my Primary Care Physician he told me I simply had anxiety, wrote me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, and told me I needed to see a psychiatrist. I followed these instructions, because I just wanted to get better, but within the next month I was down 25-pounds and bedridden. My husband, concerned I might not survive, contacted my doctor who then took things more seriously and set me up with somewhere around fifteen specialists. I held out hope between each appointment that the next one would give me the solutions I was so desperately looking for, but time and time again, nothing.
I realized that I needed to take matters into my own hands and discovered what for me, and for many, became a life-restoring approach to health and wellness – Functional Medicine.
Functional Medicine is a movement to improve our current healthcare model by finding and addressing root causes of imbalances in the mind and body. By doing so we can both prevent and reverse chronic health conditions. It focuses less on dysfunction or disease and instead puts more emphasis on strengthening the body to do what it naturally wants to do – heal. Functional Medicine uses the analogy of each person being like a tree - conventional medicine treats you at the symptom level (or the branches and leaves), but Functional Medicine works with you to tend the soil, getting to the root of what causes all dis-ease in the mind/body, stopping issues where they begin.
There are five main pillars that Functional Medicine is based upon – Nutrition/Diet, Movement/Exercise, Sleep, Stress Management, and Relationships/Social Support. Addressing each of these areas in a person’s life is a holistic approach that helps them achieve health and healing mind, body, and spirit. When you only work on one area you may certainly see improvement, but for optimal and balanced wellness, each facet should be considered, which is exactly why Functional Medicine is so successful.
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There is definitely no shortage of diet recommendations out there these days, which can be overwhelming to say the least. Functional Medicine’s strength is personalizing care plans, because they realize nothing is one-size-fits-all. One of the tools that is used fairly frequently in Functional Medicine is the “Elimination Diet.” The other impactful (and fun) aspect of diet that I like to work with my clients on is adding, instead of just focusing on taking away, more variety and color. The phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables are very healing! Another very important topic when it comes to what we put in our bodies is eating organic. That’s not always possible, but there are some foods that are known to have more pesticides than others. These are called the “Dirty Dozen,” so buying those particular fruits and veggies organic should be the priority. Another group of produce, called the “Clean Fifteen” is safer to buy conventional. The Environmental Working Group reevaluates these foods each year and provides a handy list for us to reference for convenient shopping.
This aspect of health can be a tricky one, because some people associate “exercise” with negative past experiences, or they may be dealing with chronic illness or pain that limits them. Once again, tailoring movement to fit a person’s needs, abilities, and what they enjoy is the key. For the purposes of this article I am sharing the most basic, and most gentle, ways to get started.
The research is everywhere we turn – good quality sleep is one of the most important factors in living a long, healthy life. However, it is something many of us struggle with, and there are lots of reasons why. Figuring out the root cause of your sleep issues is a very important endeavor, because sleep is a time of deep healing and repair for both our brains and entire bodies. We also now know there is a lymphatic system in the brain (glymphatic system) that actually flushes while we sleep…essentially “taking out the trash.” Since our bodies and brains are detoxifying and repairing each night we want to ensure that we give them enough time to finish this very important job, not only so we feel rested but also so we can maintain optimal health.
I am certain that anyone reading this is already quite aware that stress is not avoidable in life. Therefore, the most important thing that actually is within our control is how we react to it and deal with it. This is especially crucial since stress has been identified as the root of 75-90% of all doctor’s visits. These statistics are exactly why Mind-Body Medicine is a big part of what I use when working with my clients, regardless of their challenges, because I have seen it help all areas of wellness. Anything we strive for, whether that is something like training for a physical challenge like a marathon, or practicing to play an instrument, we must build up our strength and ability. It is no different with “mastering” stress. The more we work on calming and relaxing ourselves, the more we counteract the impact of stress, and the more resilience we have to roll with the punches of life. Being in a relaxed state also puts us in repair and healing mode. Sometimes the most compelling information comes from personal success stories…When people are turned off by things like the idea of meditation, yoga, or any of the most common practices associated with stress-reduction, I encourage them to get back to the basics and learn how to properly breathe. It’s way more beneficial than you may realize!
Last, and certainly not least when it comes to health & wellness, is our relationships. In fact, one of the longest studies on adult human life, out of Harvard, as well as the Blue Zones research, teach us that our social connections may be the most important factor when it comes to quality of life and longevity. So switching off your device to go spend time with loved ones may be the best thing you can do for yourself today! Harvard study, almost 80 years old, has proved that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier, The Harvard Gazette - For more Functional Medicine resources and links, visit Sharon’s InTended Holistic Wellness business page