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Who Owns YOUR Wellness? Understanding Functional Medicine

I want to start this week with a little good news (and it has EVERYTHING to do with this week’s article).

This good news is from my friend, Dr. Allen Weiss (MD, MBA, FACP, FACR), who just happens to also be the President and CEO of NCH Healthcare System:

“Congratulations Southwest Florida on again being the healthiest and happiest region with the longest life expectancy in the nation. The Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranked first for the third year in a row by the Gallop-Sharecare MSA rankings. These objective facts share a great story:

  • Ranked #1 for 3rd consecutive year
  • Score of 67.6 (2017/2016 data), improved from last year’s score of 66.3 (2016/2015 data)
  • 1.1 point difference separating Collier MSA from second place MSA (Barnstable Town, MA) versus last year with only a 0.1 point difference between Collier MSA and Barnstable MSA
  • Collier MSA is moving up in rankings faster than other MSAs in the Top 10. Barnstable Town MSA only increased its score by 0.2 since last year versus Collier MSA’s increasing its score by 1.3 points
  • Collier MSA ranks 1st or 2nd in all 5 elements of well-being
  • Collier MSA improved its ranking in Purpose, Social, and Physical—three areas that the Blue Zones Project interventions target; also a big jump in the Financial element ranking, from 11th to 1st
  • Ranked 3rd in Purpose, Social, and Physical last year; this year, ranked 1st in Purpose and Social and 2nd in Physical (behind Boulder, CO)

Our statement for this year’s ratings emphasized how our community reacts to stress:

I’m incredibly proud of our greater Naples area for holding its top spot in the Gallup-Sharecare MSA rankings for the last three years. While the residents of Southwest Florida have relatively high well-being, we have not remained satisfied with the status quo. Programs like the Blue Zones Project are bringing together diverse people and organizations across our region in collective efforts to improve community health. The strong social connections and community organization we have built over the years helped us weather Hurricane Irma and come together to restore our residents’ health and well-being faster. I am excited to see our hard work pay off as NCH continues to make well-being a high priority in Southwest Florida.

Helping everyone live a longer, happier, and healthier life has to start somewhere in America, and currently, we are objectively the best. We have an opportunities to share success as we continue leading our nation.”

Exciting News For All Of Us

This goes right along with the GREAT news we got last week from Dan Buettner, Founder of the Blue Zones Project, which you may have seen on Facebook. It’s particularly gratifying to me because I was an early adopter of the Blue Zones strategy years ago when the research was first coming out. The cover photo on my Facebook page is from two years ago when my practice was Blue Zones certified. I worked for a long time to bring Blue Zones to Naples, and now all of Southwest Florida is recognized as a Blue Zones Project area.

There are a lot of elements that go into qualifying as a Blue Zone. There are requirements for businesses, government agencies, community groups, and builders (among others), to ensure that our work and play environments promote good health. There has to be buy-in from citizens who want to live healthy lives at home and in the community.

This Is So Important

But one of the most important is that the healthcare community has to be invested in promoting wellness. I am so grateful that Dr. Weiss (who has spoken here at Fundamental Health Solutions) is using his enormous range of influence to advocate for wellness. There are doctors, hospitals, and whole health systems that put profitability over their patients’ health. You can see the evidence when insurance audits come to light that show billings for unnecessary treatments, unnecessary tests, over-prescribing medications, and other forms of fraud.

If you’re a doctor and you knowingly prescribe a medication or a treatment that you know the patient doesn’t need because you get a kickback from the pharmaceutical company, you should turn in your license to practice medicine. I’m not even kidding.

The System Is Not Always For You

In the current system, our doctors act as our healthcare fiduciaries, charged with protecting and preserving our wellbeing by recommending the best prevention and treatment options. Despite honorable intentions, most primary care physicians cannot act as true healthcare fiduciaries within the politics, policies, and limitations of our broken system.

Recent research shows that two-thirds of doctors in America get some form of compensation from pharmaceutical companies. And as hospitals buy up private medical practices, employee doctors are forced to meet the equivalent of a sales quota when it comes to treatment.

That’s why I appreciate Dr. Weiss’ leadership in Naples. I’ve seen first-hand that he truly cares about wellness. A big part of wellness is disease prevention, living a lifestyle that promotes health and healing. Not many medical doctors are trained to view health that way. Even fewer are incented to do so.

Emphasizing wellness management and disease prevention is not always the most profitable strategy in modern medicine, so it takes courage and vision to do what Dr. Weiss is doing here in Naples. I think we should all be grateful to him.

Wellness Is Winning

I’m pleased to say that it’s a growing trend among healthcare providers of every stripe. One of best examples of this in Southwest Florida is my friend and colleague, Dr. Jacqueline Romero. Dr. Romero has a traditional family medical practice in Naples, but what she has mastered is the ability to help people use natural means to overcome disease and walk in sustainable wellness.

There’s so much packed into that sentence, and I don’t want you to miss any of it.

When I say, “traditional family medical practice,” I mean it looks just like pretty much any other normal doctor’s office in town, at least at first glance. Dr. Romero’s specialty is in osteopathic medicine, which means she focuses on the wellness of the whole person – body, soul, and spirit. She helps her patients walk in wellness by natural means over medical means.

Her practice and philosophy are in really close alignment with mine in this regard, so it is my privilege to welcome her to speak at the next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner on Thursday, April 12. I hope you’ll make plans to be a part of that great evening.

Food Before Medicine

Hippocrates (who said, “first, do no harm”) also said, “let your food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” His point is, the tools we need to fight disease and maintain wellness are found in food.

Remember, he didn’t live in a society where people called Twinkies “food.” All of the items that people in his day considered food came from the earth – plants, animals, water – unlike today’s pre-packaged “Frankenfood.”

If we would make it a priority to feed our bodies real, living food, we could safely expect our food to promote wellness in our bodies. See my recent series on the Mediterranean Diet for more specific information on that topic.

How We Think About Disease

But I want to take it a step further this week, and examine the deeper issue of how we approach disease. Whereas modern medicine-based healthcare uses chemicals to fight disease from the outside, osteopathic treatment (or “functional medicine”) works to strengthen the body’s own defense systems to root out the underlying problems and rebuild and sustain wellness from the inside. Some call it a “root cause” approach to disease. There are dozens of studies that support this approach over mainstream medicine.

Even the Cleveland Clinic has doubled the size of its Center for Functional Medicine in the last four years. They saw the success they were having – and continue to have – from treating patients primarily using nutrition and natural therapies.

RANT (Just A Quick One)

This is my hot button when it comes to marketing. People talk about pharmaceutical treatment as “standard medicine” and natural therapies as “alternative medicine.” That’s word manipulation. The pharmaceutical industry didn’t exist until the turn of the Twentieth Century. Plus, it was chemists in the petroleum industry that pioneered much of it. Just look at the side effect profiles of most pharmaceuticals – the cure is often worse than the disease! I agree that there is a place for chemical medicines in healthcare. I just wish they would stop misleading people into believing that chemical medicine is “real” medicine and naturopathic treatments are “alternative.”

If you really want to blow someone’s doors off, point out that the ancient Greek word “pharmakeia,” where we get our words “pharmacy” and “pharmaceutical,” is literally translated “poisoning,” “sorcery,” or “witchcraft.” Food for thought.

Why Does Natural Treatment Work Better?

The natural approach to healthcare has been shown to improve patient outcomes while reducing overall costs. But that makes sense.

Think about food for a minute. Your body responds better to organic food than to processed food because your body was designed to use the cellular building blocks of organic food for nourishment and replenishment, while it wasn’t designed to use the chemistry experiment we call “the snack aisle.”

The same is true for medicine. If the cellular building blocks of our bodies are found in the organic compounds in food, and our bodies reject chemical additives like maltodextrin and sulphur dioxide, why do we use non-organic chemicals that our bodies will reject to treat disease? Your symptoms – runny nose, diarrhea, eczema, swelling, acne, headaches, and so on – are largely your body doing its job to flush toxins out of the system. Why add more toxins?

How To Discuss This With Your MD

Consider the following questions when discussing medication options with your medical doctors (I’m going to assume you have a medical doctor that you see at least once a year for a physical):

  • Is this medication going to lead me to a more sustainable state of health?
  • What is the side effects profile? (I’ll bet you your doctor doesn’t know)
  • What will this medication cost me in terms of short-term wellness and long-term wellness?
  • Is there a risk of dependency with this drug?
  • What can I do to being myself back to a sustainable state of health that doesn’t require chemical-based prescription drugs?

The key is to take responsibility for knowing your own body and managing your own health.

Taking Responsibility For Your Own Health

I have patients who wouldn’t dare trust their investment portfolio to a broker, but they think nothing of taking any drug the doctor hands them. You need to take at least the same amount of personal responsibility for understanding your body and how to care for it that you do to manage your own finances.

I have a friend whose wife was having fainting spells where her heart would race and then almost stop. Her primary care doctor gave her a prescription to manage the symptoms. One of the side effects of that drug was the possibility of “sudden heart failure and death.”

At that point, can you even call that a treatment?

She started asking questions and doing some of her own research, including talking to a nutritionist. She found that she could get the same benefits for her heart by making some simple changes in her diet, getting more sleep, and adding a couple specific vitamin supplements to her daily routine. No side effects.

And, she lost about ten pounds almost immediately.

If she would have talked to me, I might have also recommended a series of simple stretches like the ones I highlight in my “Move Right Monday” series. Who knows? She might have lost 15 pounds instead. I’m just teasing.

Key Takeaway

I guess my key takeaway from this week’s “Wellness Wednesday” – and from the successes we’re seeing in improving the overall wellness of Naples, which Dr. Weiss highlighted – is that, when people take responsibility for their own wellness, and the healthcare community works together to promote personalized wellness (instead of disease management), everybody wins. We live active, productive lives without physical or cognitive hindrances. We enjoy our children and grandchildren more. We make a more meaningful impact on the world.

That sounds pretty good to me.

Please make sure to mark your calendar and come hear Dr. Romero’s presentation on April 12. It’s going to be a fun evening with great teaching and surprisingly good food. RSVP on my Facebook page now to save your seat.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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