My job Has some sweet perks. A few weeks back, it gave me the opportunity to attend a fascinating weeklong symposium presented by the Institute for Functional Medicine: “Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice.”
Imagine, if you will, close to 500 conventionally trained physicians (and me) packed into a huge conference room. Together, from morning to evening, we churned through a huge and illuminating curriculum — one that virtually no medical doctors (and even fewer of us comparative literature majors) ever learn in school.
It was all about the art and science of “upstream medicine” — medicine that addresses the root causes of common health conditions and diseases rather than simply treating their “downstream” symptoms. And it was announced at the outset of the conference that the Cleveland Clinic would, this fall, be opening a Center for Functional Medicine at its primary campus.
Over the course of the week, through lectures, case studies, and interactive exercises, we learned how to take a patient’s in-depth health history, map it onto a structured timeline, and then overlay their health challenges onto a matrix that included not just physical factors but also mental, emotional, social, and spiritual considerations.
The functional-medicine timeline helped us capture and connect the key antecedents, triggers, and mediators of various health issues — everything from genetics, birth experience, and antibiotic use to lifestyle factors, traumas, and toxic exposures.
Plotting all those events onto a visual continuum helped us understand the stories of patients’ lives, and coherently relate those stories back in a way that helped them better understand the likely evolution of their present-day complaints.
The functional-medicine matrix, meanwhile, helped reveal the key areas in which the patient’s health challenges were distributed. It helped us see how many apparently disconnected issues might in fact be related, and how they might be most effectively addressed.
What was fascinating to me, even as a non-doctor, was how looking at health complaints through this lens helped reveal the potential root causes of so many befuddling problems. Not just everyday complaints like low energy, digestive troubles, joint pain, and congestion, but also many scary, complex, and difficult-to-treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel, and Parkinson’s.
We learned the underlying biochemical triggers and mechanisms by which such diseases establish and express themselves, and we learned about lifestyle and medical interventions that can ameliorate or eliminate them entirely.
Needless to say, I came home full of article ideas, and more lit up than ever about what we do here at Experience Life — namely, helping people make the kinds of changes that can transform not just their health, but their lives.
Speaking of which, I’m also very excited about another project we’re working on with renowned obesity expert David Ludwig, MD.
We’ve relied on Dr. Ludwig (a professor at both Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health) as an expert source for many years. And now we’re helping him recruit participants for a pilot program he’s doing.
It’s an evolution of the peer-reviewed research Dr. Ludwig has published in leading medical journals, and also an exploration of the hypothesis he outlined in a New York Times piece, “Always Hungry? Here’s Why” (May 16, 2014).
That piece, which went superviral, outlined emerging thinking on why it may not be overeating that makes us fat, but rather having “hungry fat” (fat overstimulated by hormones) that makes us overeat. A sort of vicious cycle that’s hard to break on conventional, low-calorie diets.
The pilot program is focused on healthy, sustainable weight loss, and I’m happy to say that it’s nicely aligned with the whole-foods-based nutrition philosophies of Experience Life magazine and of our parent organization, Life Time — The Healthy Way of Life Company.
If you are interested in participating in the pilot program, check out “The Weight-Loss Project With Dr. David Ludwig” for more info.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this issue, and come away with lots of ideas for how you can refuel, reboot, and re-energize yourself for a healthy, happy winter season.