Here’s how to quickly develop an effective functional medicine practice this year to further help patients in their wellness journey
Many chiropractors are intimidated at the idea of a functional medicine practice. Those who present seminars are usually playing to an audience that is already knowledgeable in chemistry and nutrition.
Those on the outside often think, “I can’t do this stuff — I don’t have time to learn about methylation and the microbiome. I haven’t thought about the Krebs cycle since school.”
There are certification programs that start from the beginning, but they cost thousands of dollars. Getting started with functional medicine is easy. In the 10 minutes it takes to read this article, you can have a functional medicine practice.
Treating patients in a functional wellness practice
Treating chronically ill patients is much easier than you think because:
- Most of the health problems in the West are self-inflicted
- Getting a patient better is often as simple as telling the man hitting himself in the head with a ball-peen hammer and complaining of headaches to stop
- 10% of what you know fixes 90% of the patients
- All disease involves inflammation — if you treat inflammation, you will help all patients
- You are not treating disease; you are supporting infrastructure
- You are never wrong if you do anything that promotes health — this is not emergency medicine
You have the time to get started, and you can get your patients started with a simple program to reduce inflammation. If he or she needs more, you can add to their program.
Start with diet
There are more than 1,000 clinical studies showing that the typical Western diet is destroying our health. Your patients will find that changing their diets is life-changing.
You want to get them eating in a way that fights inflammation and is not a burden to the digestive system. When you have your patients follow the dietary advice below, you will be stunned at how much they improve.
Thirty days will change your patients’ lives if you have them do the following:
Avoid obvious junk — This includes refined sugar, refined starch and chemical additives (if it wasn’t available 10,000 years ago, it is not good for you).
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — Plenty means that at least ¾ of your diet (by volume) should be fresh produce.
Avoid GMOs (genetically modified foods) — Genetically modified foods tend to be heavily sprayed with chemicals. They harm the digestive tract by disrupting the bowel ecology.
As much as possible, eat organic foods — The more chemicals you avoid, the better off you will be.
Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly — Ideally, chew your food until it is liquid.
Follow a modified Paleo diet — Quinoa and sweet potatoes are allowed, but avoid complex carbohydrates. This means no starchy foods or disaccharides. Starches include corn, potatoes, rice, wheat, etc. Also, beans contain complex carbohydrates and are to be avoided (remember, this is only for 30 days). A disaccharide is a sugar that needs to be broken down by the digestive system, like lactose (so no dairy is allowed). If they do not have any obvious digestive problems, let them have sweet potatoes and quinoa. The Paleo diet is similar to the specific carbohydrate diet. Studies have shown it will improve all manner of digestive complaints.
Drink plenty of water — Divide your weight by two for the number of ounces of water you need per day.
Most of your chronically ill patients got that way from a nutrient-deficient diet that causes inflammation. Add some basic supplementation, like a multiple vitamin and essential fatty acids (preferably vegetable sourced), and you will be amazed at how many of your patients get better. As you learn more, supplementation can be more targeted in your functional medicine practice. I promise that the diet will get the majority of your patients healthy.
What about patient compliance in a functional medicine practice?
Many chronic health problems are self-inflicted. Sugar is addictive and most people are addicted to their bad habits. Many, even though they are suffering, are unwilling to change.
Try to get them to follow the basic diet for 30 days — it is fairly easy to get most people to do that. Some, however, will be intimidated by the scope of the change. At the very least, get them to stop eating sugar, refined carbohydrates and chemical additives. Unfortunately, some people will have trouble doing even that.
Anticipating poor compliance keeps many practitioners from even trying to apply nutritional therapy in their offices. Even uncompliant patients can be helped. I used to joke with these patients, thanking them because by not listening to me they were going to help put my three kids through college. They were going to buy more supplements and require more hands-on treatment. In some ways, poor compliance makes your job easy. If the patient does not get the desired result, you can know exactly what the problem is.
Peeling the onion
We need to lose the concept that we are treating disease. In a functional medicine practice we are correcting physiologic errors.
Patients with asthma, for example, often respond to magnesium supplementation (this is well-researched). It is tempting to say, “Magnesium treats asthma.” Magnesium does not treat asthma; it treats a magnesium deficiency. An asthmatic who is deficient in magnesium will, however, have worse symptoms than one who is not deficient in magnesium.
Treating disease is a medical concept; chiropractors treat the body that has the disease. George Goodheart, DC, compared what we do to peeling an onion. Each layer you remove reveals another layer that needs attention. Let’s use asthma as an example. Drugs may bring the symptoms under control, and that fulfills the goal of medicine. In natural health care the symptoms give a clue to what is going on with the body. We are restoring health — not treating disease. In asthma there is bronchial constriction, inflammation, and possibly thickening of the mucus. Our program will reduce inflammation and decrease bronchial constriction. Many patients will simply get better with this approach. Others will not get better. They may need more layers of the “onion” removed.
If the patient still has symptoms, a little detective work may be needed. Here are some possible issues:
Digestion — Poor digestion is a source of inflammation. Yeast and the wrong kind of bacteria produce toxic chemicals and rob the body of nutrients. In some instances, a parasite is present. While it is not researched, many in natural health care have found a connection between inadequate stomach HCl production and asthma (also allergies). Longstanding digestive issues can lead to “leaky gut,” causing the intestines to allow things into the body that do not belong. The basic diet begins the process of healing the GI tract, but more work may need to be done.
Iodine — Thick mucus plugs are often an issue for asthmatics. Iodine can thin mucus and, according to David Brownstein, MD, is a common deficiency. We have chlorine and fluorine in our water supply, and bromine is a common food additive. All of these chemicals displace iodine.
Magnesium – A magnesium deficiency is also very common. One possible role of magnesium is to enable bronchial relaxation.
Hidden food sensitivity – Sometimes a favorite food is causing a chronic health problem and needs to be eliminated from the diet. According to physician, allergist and researcher Theron Randolph, an offending food will not necessarily cause an immediate allergic reaction. Very often the offending food is one that is eaten every day and you need to remove it from the diet for 72 hours to see if it is a problem. The diet in the PDF book “Roadmap to Health” is free of several foods that are commonly a problem. It does not allow wheat (gluten), corn, soy or dairy. Other foods that commonly cause problems include nuts, peanuts, eggs and nightshade vegetables.
Sympathetic dominance and adrenal issues
Adrenal support is commonly helpful to asthmatics. This is detective work, but you have time. Also, you can never be wrong. The patient’s symptoms will either completely resolve, or they will not (they will almost always have some improvement). Start your functional medicine practice and you will be on your way to a patient-centered approach to maintaining health via chiropractic, diet and nutrition.
PAUL VARNAS, DC, DACBN, is a graduate of the National College of Chiropractic and has had a functional medicine practice for 34 years. He is the author of several books and has taught nutrition at the National University of Health Sciences. For a free PDF of the functional medicine book “Roadmap to Health,” email him at email@example.com.