Too many chronic ailments have been pronounced “incurable.” Here’s how some forward-thinking practitioners are resolving such conditions — and transforming their patients’ lives.
Many progressive practitioners take a systems-based approach, exploring how their patients’ environment and lifestyle factors interact with their unique physiology. While treatment plans are highly individualized, here are some powerful tips that any of us can employ to safely jump-start our own healing process.
Try an elimination diet. Most integrative and functional-medicine experts agree that a comprehensive elimination diet — removing common irritants like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, tree nuts, and sugar — is one of the most effective clinical tools available. Best of all, “it’s free,” says Bette Bischoff, MD, RD, a Tulsa, Okla.–based functional-medicine doctor.
Eat a wide variety of plant-based foods. Do your best to eat a diversity of veggies, legumes, and fruits to minimize inflammation, improve immunity, and support a healthy microbiome, suggests Thomas Sult, MD, a functional-medicine doctor in New London, Minn.
Move your body. It can be as simple as taking a walk, says Sult. If you’re sick or fatigued and exercise often makes you feel worse, he suggests trying “sub symptom threshold exercise”: “If an hour of walking makes you sick but 40 minutes does not, then walk for 40 minutes. Simply stay below the threshold that makes you feel worse.”
Take high-quality supplements. A whole-foods-eating program is a cornerstone of functional medicine, says Bischoff, but soil depletion means our fruits and veggies are less nutritious than they used to be, and most of us don’t eat as well as we might intend. As a result, it’s estimated that anywhere between 30 and 90 percent of U.S. adults suffer from one or more nutritional deficiencies. Taking a high-quality multivitamin with minerals, plus vitamin D and a fish oil or other omega-3 supplement, can help you avoid that fate.
Work with what you’ve got. Even if you are saddled with a family history of chronic disease, know you are not a prisoner of your genes. It’s the way your environment and lifestyle choices interact with your genes that matter. “People need to understand that their lifestyle choices have a huge role to play when it comes to chronic disease,” says neurologist David Perlmutter, MD.
Beware of toxins. “Most people aren’t aware of how disruptive environmental toxins can be, especially when it comes to our hormones,” says Margaret Christensen, MD, a functional-medicine gynecologist in Dallas, Texas. Some of Christensen’s top tips: Use clean, organic personal-care products. Don’t use toxic herbicides or pesticides on your lawn. If you remodel, use low-VOC paint. Don’t cook in Teflon or other nonstick pans. Don’t microwave plastic. Avoid exposing food to Styrofoam and plastic wrap.
Avoid excessive antibiotic use. Although antibiotics can be lifesaving, they are also powerfully disruptive to your body’s microbiome. Let your doctor know you prefer a conservative approach to medication. If you do need antibiotics, ask for a targeted drug versus a broad-spectrum one, Perlmutter suggests. Finally, be sure to add a high-potency probiotic (25 to 50 billion live cultures) while you’re taking the antibiotic, he advises. Continue it for at least one week after your prescription, and ideally longer.
Don’t rush things. People with chronic illnesses are often desperate to get better right away, but in most cases, even “miracle cures” take time. “You can’t do everything at once,” says Bischoff. “I tell my patients to picture a downward spiral: When people finally make it to a functional-medicine practitioner, they are usually somewhere within that spiral. It takes a while to reverse course.”