Whole Person Health Care: Local Functional Medicine Practitioners Use a Complete Toolbox Approach
“Illness is never simply one discrete process or dysfunction. It is a bundle—a patient’s whole life, from genetics to beliefs and how those influences are layered to create the thing we call disease.” — Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman, Institute of Functional Medicine
Running parallel to a universe of conventional medical specialties and sub-specialties focused on treating body parts and symptoms is the world of functional medicine (FM). This science-based approach of whole person health care has drawn the attention of traditionally trained doctors, chiropractors, nurse practitioners and doctors of Oriental medicine, in addition to capturing the interest of individuals that have arrived at an important conclusion about chronic illnesses: Relationships between multiple health problems are as important as the influences of diet, environment and the uniqueness of the person in pursuit of optimal wellness.
This conclusion is correct, according to the Academy of Functional Medicine, Dentistry and Psychology; Functional Medicine University (FMU); and the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). Also in agreement are local FM practitioners Dr. David Perlmutter, board-certified neurologist and medical director of the Perlmutter Health Center, in Naples; Dr. Carol Roberts, a medical doctor who also practices at the center; Dr. Robert Gilliland, a chiropractor and founder of Southwest Florida Natural Health Center; Terri Evans, acupuncturist, doctor of Oriental medicine and owner of Tae Healthy Aging Center; and Deborah Post, a board-certified advanced nurse practitioner (ARNP) and owner of Well Bridges, Inc.
Based upon their experience, these FM practitioners concur that isolated diagnoses and medications that target particular symptoms are not the best solution for complex, chronic problems such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and cancer, which reflect underlying imbalances in the physiology and chemistry of the body’s finely orchestrated network of interconnected systems.
David Perlmutter, M.D.
Perlmutter, who recently appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, is an adjunct instructor at IFM, which is considered the leading brain trust of the natural medicine movement. Initially introduced to the earliest concepts of FM in 1990 while attending a meeting of the American Holistic Medical Association, Perlmutter later learned more about the subject from Bernie Siegel, M.D., an author and internationally recognized expert on the relationship between the patient and the healing process.
“I was so interested that I flew to Washington and sat in on a roundtable discussion facilitated by Jeffrey S. Bland, Ph.D., who co-founded IFM in 1991 with his wife, Susan,” says Perlmutter, who writes and lectures on functional medicine as it relates to the brain.
Perlmutter’s books, Power Up Your Brain and The Better Brain Book, reflect his cutting-edge research and the FM whole-systems approach to brain health. “Before functional medicine, preventative neurology never received any attention, and no one realized that the brain can be modified by changes in diet and lifestyle,” advises Perlmutter, whose forthcoming book explores the connection between gluten and the brain.
Carol Roberts, M.D.
Board certified in integrative medicine, Roberts recalls that in 2006, when she took her first formal course in FM, she recognized that it was already the foundation of her 20-year integrative medical practice.
“In functional medicine, which is not another term for alternative, holistic or complementary medicine, we are more aware of subtle things that occur early in the disease process, even though they may not show up on a blood test. That’s why a patient’s personal history can be so revealing,” advises Roberts.
The process of rebuilding health through proper diet and supplementation, with the goal of reducing or eliminating medications, can take months. Meanwhile, Roberts focuses on the entire digestive process. “It’s not just about what patients eat, it’s about the nutrients absorbed, inflammation-causing foods and restoring the proper mix of good and bad bacteria in the gut, which is the home for 65 percent of the immune system,” she explains.
Roberts and Post note that these approaches aren’t taught in medical school. “Medical education is controlled and funded by drug companies, which aren’t interested in a real cure, only fixing symptoms,” they advise.
Deborah Post, ARNP
After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis early in her nursing career, Post discovered that when she eliminated dairy products, her lab values returned to normal and her hands functioned better. This piqued her curiosity about the role of diet in health. “I had one nutrition class in medical school, and I didn’t hear anything about the importance of food, other than data showing that a lack of vitamin C causes scurvy,” says Post.
“I was attracted to functional medicine before it had a name. As I educated myself on supplements and herbals and learned that they were gentle and effective resources for building and restoring health, and as I saw through my clinical experience that drugs caused more problems than they solved, I was convinced functional medicine was the only path for me and my patients,” notes Post, who has completed numerous modules in the IFM curriculum.
Terri Evans, DOM
The practice of FM fits Evans like a glove. “I’m naturally inquisitive and always want to know why an organ or system isn’t functioning properly, what action in the patient’s lifestyle created the dysfunction and what can I do to keep the patient healthy,” remarks Evans. FM diagnostic tools, such as functional blood testing, reveal clear answers to these questions.
According to Roberts, Post and Evans, FM often means that patients have to accept responsibility for their actions. Evans points out that this can be difficult. “When I talk about lifestyle changes that will help the healing process, patients start justifying their actions and frequently refuse to give up the very thing or habit that is causing their problem,” she says.
Patients make decisions based upon the knowledge Evans gives them. Sometimes that means they discontinue treatment, only to return a few years later to declare that they are ready.
Robert Gilliland, DC
Gilliand immediately recognized the value of FM when he learned about it. After completing FMU modules in neurology, nutrition, functional endocrinology and functional blood chemistry analysis 13 months ago, he stopped using the primary tool of his profession—manipulation—and only practices FM. “I understood that dealing with the underlying cause is the only way to help my patients with chronic health problems get well,” he remarks.
First-time patients that visit a FM practitioner should set aside a minimum of 90 minutes. An office visit begins with an in-depth questionnaire and generally, an hour of face-to-face time with the doctor. Blood tests, the science for determining specific deficiencies and imbalances that are the root cause of health problems, are scheduled by FM professionals that peel away the layers of chronic illness in the order recommended by Dr. Mark Hyman: examining diet, identifying food allergens, fixing the gut, optimizing nutrient status, balancing hormones, supporting energy metabolism, enhancing detoxification and teaching self-care and nourishment of the mind and soul.
Terri Evans, DOM, TAE Healthy Aging Center, 3811 Airport Rd. N., Ste. 203, Naples. Call 239-430-6800 or visit MagnifyYourHealth.org.
Robert Gilliland, DC, Southwest Florida Natural Health Center, LLC, 27449 Riverview Center Blvd., Ste. 255, Bonita Springs. Call 239-444-3106 or visit SWFThyroid.com.
The Institute for Functional Medicine, 505 S. 336th St., Ste. 500, Federal Way, WA. Call 800-228-0622 or visit FunctionalMedicine.org.
David Perlmutter, M.D., ABIHM, and Carol L. Roberts, M.D., ABIHM, Perlmutter Health Center, 800 Goodlette Rd. N., Ste. 270, Naples. Call 239-649-7400 or visit PerlHealth.com.
Deborah Post, MSN, ARNP, Wellbridges, Inc., 17595 Tamiami Trail S., Ste. 108-14, Fort Myers. Call 239-481-5600 or visit Facebook.com/pages/WellbridgesInc-A-Practice-of-Health-and-Wellness or DebPost.com.