Debunking the “Function” behind Functional Medicine
Sep 05, 2015 02:59AM
● By Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
In the midst of a society saturated by media-endorsed health fads, inconsistent medical claims and so-called “miracle” drugs, seeking relief from ailments of any kind frequently leads to more frustrations than solutions.
But, have you considered that the crux of why you suffer from chronic pain, insomnia, skin irritation or other illnesses might lie outside mainstream explanations? Perhaps, the remedy for your health issues cannot be found inside a conventional clinic or emergency room. What if changing your nutritional intake, physical activity regimen or environmental stressors could positively and profoundly impact your quality of life?
Throughout the following Q&A discussion, Eve Prang Plews, LNC, IFMCP, founder of Full Spectrum Health in Sarasota, lends her professional perspective on this revolutionary concept. A functional medicine practitioner with over 27 years of experience in holistic healing modalities, Plews offers insight into that age-old question, “What’s ailing you?” And her answer just might surprise you.
Natural Awakenings: What do the L.N.C and I.F.M.C.P. distinctions after your name mean?
Plews: L.N.C. stands for “Licensed Nutrition Counselor,” issued by the Florida State Board of Medicine Dietetics and Nutrition Council. It is also worth noting that a L.N.C. is different from a Dietician License. Unlike a dietician, I don’t work within the food management sector (e.g. school, nursing home or prison meal plans). I.F.M.C.P. stands for “Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner.” I was also among the first group of 124 clinicians nationally to receive the four-year C.P. certification.
NA: How does Functional Medicine differ from what we generally know as medicine?
Plews: Functional medicine shifts the attention from a disease-centered approach to a patient-centered approach. Rather than basing observations off an isolated set of symptoms, we search for an underlying cause. In other words, conventional medicine focuses on reaching a diagnosis, while functional medicine looks at the whole person.
The Institute for Functional Medicine is raising the bar on holistic healing. Currently, there are 500 CP-certified clinicians practicing functional medicine, and I remain hopeful this number will continue growing. As more people become suspicious and disenchanted with conventional medicine’s drug and surgery approach, they start looking for alternative approaches. Therefore, the spread of a holistic model is largely consumer driven.
Health is not just an absence of pain or disease, but an expression of vitality. I want people to fully experience this, so I study each patient’s history, diet, lifestyle factors, environmental challenges and even tests performed by other clinicians. More than anything else, though, I listen.
My clients often complain about doctors not listening. Instead of asking about food intake or exercise levels, they simply prescribe a “pill for every ill.” The average medical appointment in Florida lasts about four to seven minutes. My initial intake session is two hours long, and I need every minute of it. This time is necessary for developing a relationship and empowering people to take active roles in their own health. I’m a detective, and talking to patients gives me clues into how a disease’s emergence and progression occurred. How did the problem initiate? That’s what functional medicine seeks to find out.
For example, I once had a client come to me with cracked, abraded skin. Before visiting my practice, he had been to literally a dozen doctors, all of whom prescribed topical medications – steroid, cortisone or soothing creams. No one took into account his eating habits or what might prompt these skin symptoms on a cellular level. From a holistic perspective, skin conditions originate in the bowel or the liver, so regardless of the issue, – eczema, acne, dryness or irritation – we look at the underlying cause from a digestive standpoint.
When you adopt a systematic approach, you’ll find that various conditions, from anxiety to insomnia, begin in the digestive system as well. The body cannot process unnatural molecules from artificial chemicals and processed ingredients. There is no pathway or mechanism to break these chemicals down during digestion, so they muck up the delicate metabolism of a cell.
NA: There are so many conflicting views on diet in our culture. What is your best advice?
Plews: Eat what occurs in nature. A chicken occurs in nature; a chicken nugget does not. A potato occurs in nature; a Pringle does not. No degree of genetically-modified ingredients should be considered safe, not even in moderation. Every plate of food you eat is a letter to your genes, telling them how to respond and behave. Every meal does one of two things – it makes you either more alive or more dead. That sounds harsh, but it’s ultimately the truth.
If every plate of food is a letter to your genes, there must be self-responsibility. That’s what functional medicine is about, a therapeutic partnership between the patient and practitioner which better equips people to care for themselves.
I focus on the foundations of nutrition. We need to eat a rainbow every day. Variety is the greatest salvation of any diet. I’m not even going to tell you to eat the same healthy foods, like salmon, every single day. The average American only eats about 25 foods, but a balanced diet should include dozens upon dozens of foods. Consuming a variety of nutrients, protective chemicals (those found in nature) and even plant toxins offer long-term health benefits. Exposing your body to different organic, seasonal foods builds immunity.
Restrict your total volume of four-legged animal proteins (e.g. beef or pork), as neither your body nor the environment can tolerate that on a regular basis. Eating these meats should be a novelty – perhaps two meals per week, not two meals per day. Next, pay attention to your food’s quality. Did you know, in Great Britain, MacDonald’s makes French fries with four ingredients, – potatoes, oil, salt and sugar? In the U.S., however, they’re made with 19 heavily processed ingredients. That is criminal!
Also, be skeptical of diet trends. Food fanaticism and evangelism cause me heartache because I see people buying into bad science which results in bad health. Anytime people remove an entire category of food from their diets, there will be future trouble. My question is, “Why are you doing that?” Demonizing certain ingredients creates imbalance.
Avoiding whole grains and eating mostly proteins on the Paleo diet, for instance, can cause kidney issues. Just last month, the European Congress on Obesity linked a 59% increase in deaths from all causes when protein replaces carbs. I had a client who consumed over 100 grams of protein from powder shakes without fueling his system with other necessary nutrients, and his kidneys simply couldn’t handle the excessive protein intake.
In regard to veganism, sadly, these people are among the sickest I see. They start out experiencing positive results then become nutrient-deficient over time. I once treated a 38-year-old woman for osteoporosis because, as a vegan, she didn’t eat enough protein to build the bone matrix needed for mineral attachment. So, her bones were literally eroded. I’ve also observed many vegans getting so caught up in the evangelical aspect of this lifestyle that their main reason for pursuing it becomes less about achieving optimal nutrition and more about proselytizing. The question I always come back to is, “Of all the diets out there, how many people are still sticking with them two years later?”
NA: Besides your nutrition
practice, are you involved with other community ventures
Plews: I host public radio shows every Monday – WMNF 88.5 in Tampa and WSLR 96.5 in Sarasota. I also travel both nationally and internationally teaching other clinicians, from doctors to chiropractors, from pharmacists to acupuncture physicians, about the benefits of functional medicine. In fact, I recently did a national seminar tour on liver detoxification methods.
Locally, I’ve run an HIV support group for the past 25 years. This group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at Church of the Trinity on Lockwood Ridge Road. Florida currently has the highest HIV infection rate of any other U.S. state, so awareness is important. As you can see, I am committed to public education. We cannot expect American public health to change unless people receive solid science-based education.
Finally, I teach astronomy at Siesta Key on the Monday evening after the new moon. Astronomy is my personal hobby, and my class – called “Meet the Sky” – is open to the public, beginning at sunset.
NA: Can you provide any
additional suggestions for
maintaining wellness and
Plews: Get enough sleep each night, and if you don’t sleep adequately, change your behaviors. These days, the average person stays awake past midnight to do trivial things like checking Facebook. This habit won’t contribute to your overall quality of life, whereas even an extra 30 minutes of sleep will offer both physical and mental benefits.
Find an activity you love and incorporate movement into your daily routine. Not everyone is wired for the gym, so you don’t have to wear spandex or spend $70 on a Pilates session. Take a walk, work in your garden or play tennis, for example. Just move like your body is designed to!
Find a hobby you adore which constantly allows you to feel fascinated – beading, painting, starting a collection or whatever personally speaks to you. For me, that’s astronomy. Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. The cost is bigger than the payoff.
Eve Prang Plews is a Nutrition Counselor, licensed by the Florida State Board of Medicine. She offers both private consultations and public classes on nutrition and healthy lifestyle practices. Plews has been practicing functional medicine in Sarasota since 1988. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 941-952-1200 or visit FullSpectrumHealth.com.