Therapeutic Lifestyle Intervention, which is the heart of Functional Medicine not only encompasses changes in food, but also the use of vitamins and botanicals, and the way we view our life.
As the concept of whole food, organic food, unprocessed food has become more and more popular, I think it is important that we maintain a perspective on what we are really trying to achieve with Lifestyle Intervention.
Sometimes we get lost in the details and forget the bigger picture. In part this is driven by the standard medical model that has conditioned us to name the disease and match the drug or treatment. In this model, we are clearly anticipating that there is one thing that is the cause of our dis-ease and that there is one band-aid that will fix it. If that were the case, you would most likely not be reading this article and you would be cured.
The epidemic of complex chronic disease is clearly an indicator of the failure of the current model to prevent dis-ease. The acute care rescue model and the use of drugs to dictate physiology is designed to halt processes in physiology that are out of control and save lives. Yet there must be something we can do before our house catches on fire to turn off these pre-disease tendencies and reverse unhealthy aging. This area is the focus of Functional Medicine/Lifestyle Medicine.
Besides its expertise in collecting the story of how the uniqueness of you has interacted with the story of your life and the environment that has interacted with your genes, it also helps co-create the wisdom and methodology of how to guide an individual in understanding their uniqueness and the environmental variables that might be contributing to their well-being or demise.
The variable that is easiest to modify is our food and life-style choices.
The value of food as medicine is that it contains complex signals that interact with our taste receptors, it triggers our digestive forces, it interacts with our immune system, and it also triggers a myriad of hormones including insulin. In other words, food is information that speaks to our body to regulate a variety of complex responses that contribute to our health. We now know it is more than just calories or fuel. It’s more than just carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
The way we combine our food, the quality of the food itself, how we prepare it, season it and even chew and enjoy it; all creates a complex interplay with our unique physiology.
It’s easy to take these complex variables for granted and forget to be mind-ful and relaxed when we eat. To celebrate the blessing and gift of the vitality of the food. To focus on the quality and vibrational energy within the food itself. Is it fresh, is it processed, is it charred, is it organic or sustainable? Did we offer thanks to the animals and plants that have surrendered their life force for us? Are we supporting the companies that treat the life-sustaining foods albeit plants or animals with respect?
In addition to nourishing foods that embrace the entire color spectrum and are rich in what we call phyto-nutrients, we also use botanicals and vitamins to support the unique physiology of individuals in Therapeutic Lifestyle programs.
Hence the concept of seasoning yourself. How many spices, herbs, and seasonings do you have in your spice cabinet? I believe the influence of the current allopathic model of naming a condition and matching a treatment is also applied to nutrient therapy. There is a tendency to name the symptom or condition and match the nutrient. The internet, health food stores, and practitioners’ offices are full of supplements. Do we use them like medication day after day?
People find that can be hard on their pocketbook, their GI tract, and their spirit. Oftentimes, I hear how many pills can I take day after day? I hear questions like well what one supplement can I take to get all that my body needs? Don’t get me wrong, I love supplements. As you report various symptoms, or we screen various nutrition tests, I am able to see the need for and recommend seasonings to try to support a change in physiology. However, after years of contemplating the use of adjuncts to food, I have come to think of nutrients and botanicals as seasoning. Do you season your food the same way every day or do you vary the flavors?
I propose this is how we use supplementation. We use it to support physiology as though it was a part of our spice cabinet. Some supplements may be more foundational. That is, we may need them more regularly, such as Vitamin D if you live in the land of no sun. There may be essential fatty acids like omega 3 oils that may need support especially if you don’t like sardines!
Now that we have mapped the genome, we can begin to see certain B vitamins may require support such as methyl-folate and the MTHFR genetic variance.
Unlocking the genome has allowed us to see some of the biochemical “Achilles heels” in individuals that invite additional nutrient support. However, when we read those reports, many of us read them through the reductionistic; name the genetic variance match the nutrient lens. This runs us into the wall of this nutrient is bad for this gene and good for that. Guess what, we are not linear, we are a complex dynamic interplay of dancing biochemical pathways that are always shifting and moving. The goal is to season and support their function using synergistic combinations of nutrition in ways that support the uniqueness of us as the individual.
There is no cookbook, no one size fits all formula. There is only the lens of system thinking that allows one trained in the art of peering into this complex interplay to guide the individual to find their TRUTH in a sea of complex, confusing, and conflicting information.
These windows of function, such as the Nutr Eval by Genova Labs, genetic testing, general blood work, and other progressive tools give us a glimpse into physiology and its function. This data in conjunction with a thorough understanding of the phenotypic expression (i.e. the presentation of the environment-gene interaction of an individual on the physical plane), their story, their symptoms, allows us to make educated suggestions to support and change the expression of the genes while monitoring specific outcome points to see if we are succeeding.
At our current level of understanding, it is a “Braille method.” We are feeling our way through, one individual at a time. Yet this process invites the individual to actively participate in the co-creation of their health. To make choices with awareness and not just blindly follow the recommendations of the latest article about their symptom or the recommendation of a practitioner.
When I trained in medicine in the 80’s we were programmed to work hard to save lives. Over the last 40 years the tools of conventional medicine have failed to impact the epidemic of chronic disease; that low-grade burning misery that people feel that does not always have a name. The idea that there is one thing that we can do or find to fix these issues is unrealistic.
And at best at the end of the day no matter what road to health we chose we are all just guinea pigs. There is no secret formula. There is just the Holy space between the teacher and the student each holding the intention to find the pearl that is needed to shift the energies contributing to the dis-ease. The power of belief is the key. I tell my patients to go where it glows. Within each of us is a deep knowing, a guide if you will. Our mission as individuals, as spiritual beings is to connect with the lens of our heart the part of us connected to the wisdom of our soul and allow that place to help us navigate this sea of confusing choices with a partner trained in the healing arts as our guide. Someone you trust. Yet we are not surrendering our power to the guide rather we are listening from the place of knowing and making our best choice in each moment to propel ourselves along this journey of healing, this journey of life.
We all need healing on some level whether that be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. We all have burdens in our heart that we carry.
Let’s make the journey together drawing on the Foundations for Healing: self- awareness, understanding how our choices in life affect our well-being and self-empowerment, the ability to make the choices that honor the purest essence of ourselves. The third ingredient that facilitates these qualities is connection or community, a tribe of like-minded people to share that journey.
So let’s move away from magic bullet model, the quest for the one thing to cure us and instead focus on the quality of our lives, our thoughts, our choices whether that be our food or our supplements, the way we speak to those around us, our internal self-talk, the way we care for our body mind and spirit, our families, and our relationships. Let’s restore gratitude, reverence, gentleness, and love into our day to day lives in our every action or reaction.
As we draw on the tools to support our day to day physiology think of seasoning yourself with a variety of flavors whether it be in your food, your supplements, your sacred practices, your exercise, or your relationships.
My prayer for you is: May your life be rich, may it be easy, may it be filled with grace.
Blessings to You and to your health…
Dorothy Sprecher, M.D.
Dr. Dorothy Sprecher opened the Northeast Ohio Institute of Functional Medicine in 1997.