Diseases don’t exist. What, really? How?

Under the microscope. Photography by Joel Philip.

Well, at least not in the way you think of them.

We’re experiencing a scientific revolution. That’s not a light statement to make. Just like when Christopher Columbus said the world is not flat and Benjamin Franklin transformed our living and put electricity on the map, the way we see health (or more to the point, ill health) is being challenged. Our current beliefs of what diseases are, are being undermined. This is profound. The medical industry as we know it is changing and it is happening right before our eyes. It means if our understanding of disease is changing, then it’s only a matter of time before the treatment changes too. And it’s all for the better (hurrah!).

What is this new wave of thinking? Functional medicine. It’s a GPS system that allows health practitioners to navigate through the landscape of illness through mechanisms, not disease. I realise that this is a bit dense to get your head around. After all, we’re reshaping our minds and how we think about ill health. But Dr Mark Hyman, American physician and medical scholar, puts it rather simply. He says “diseases are actually downstream effects or symptoms from some upstream mechanism.” That’s to say, a disease is a symptom (or a collection of symptoms) from something that has gone wrong in the wider roadmap of your body systems. They are effects of the problem; not the problem. Still with me?

Arial view of London. Photography by Leon Seierlein.

Let me explain myself. Imagine a map of London laid out across your table. All the many roads that link into one another are like the patterns and connections of our body systems. Digestion, cardiovascular, neurological, endocrine and so on. It’s all connected. Now imagine something went wrong on Oxford Street. Perhaps there was a road accident. What would happen to the traffic? Vehicles would slow down, if not grind to a halt. Some drivers might get impatient and start honking their horns. The vehicles in roads close by will start to feel the effects, until gradually central London is in a traffic jam.

The traffic jam is the disease. It’s the total sum of symptoms that resulted from the road accident. The road accident is the mechanism. It’s the underlying cause of all the symptoms. In this way of thinking, the disease no longer becomes the problem to resolve. The mechanism is. This is functional medicine. We don’t ask what is wrong, we ask why?

“I had a lot of prescriptions to treat all of my symptoms. But I realized that I didn’t have a drug deficiency. Is depression really a prozac deficiency? Is low sex drive a viagra deficiency? Is ADD a ritalin deficiency? These are not drug deficiencies, these are imbalances in the basic biological systems and the network of our biology. Disturbances in the patterns, that give rise to what we call disease.” Dr Mark Hyman

Currently, the established medical standard is to treat the disease by suppressing the symptoms. Functional medicine is about addressing the symptoms by going directly to the source. The so called road accident. It’s about panning out and looking at the bigger picture. Connecting the dots between symptoms that at face value might seem unrelated. A bit like realising that the traffic on Harley street isn’t its own problem, it’s the far reaching effects of the road accident on Oxford Street.

Collaboration is key

I think it’s important not to be extreme. Please don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying that doctor recommendations are wrong. Far from it. My personal view is that there should be a collaboration between functional medicine and conventional medicine. Medication and alleviating symptoms directly helps a lot of sick people. You should always follow the advice of your GP. However, addressing the mechanism that is potentially causing the symptoms simultaneously is a very powerful tool. This is the core of what Registered Nutritional Therapists do.

Healthy food. Photography by Joanie Simon.

Contrary to social media, we’re not just recipe makers, food stylists, foodies and healthy eaters. That’s the work of food bloggers and Health Coaches; they’re super for inspiring healthy living in general and can make our work a lot easier when convincing clients to increase some foods in their diet (thank you).

However, Registered Nutritional Therapists are scientific and targeted. We adopt the practice of functional medicine allowing us to understand what mechanisms underline ill health. We then use the scrummy recipes (supplements too), to restore the underlying imbalance. Providing they’re loaded with scientifically proven nutrients that address the problem at hand, of course.

We really are in exciting times with the advances in medical care. I have personally worked with GPs to great success, transforming my client’s lives. We still have a long way before experiencing the full effects of this paradigm shift. But it’s well on its way. And I’m delighted to be part of this revolution towards better healthcare.

Kay Ali, Co founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist.

To book a consultation with Kay, visit our consultations page.

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