The Advantages to Treating You as a WHOLE Person

The body is a fantastic network of systems. An incredible realization for me as a physician is that every system impacts every other system in our body. The premise of Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine is that all of these parts need to be treated concurrently to support the body creating health. By appreciating the interplay of all these parts, we can create whole person balance and well-being.

Traditional medicine evolved through a reductionist approach. Initially due to a need to understand the mechanisms of function and dysfunction, scientists broke the body into segments and achieved incredible advances by this methodology. This approach led to thinking of systems as distinct and separate and yielded our current medical specialties based on body systems. Rather than circling back into a comprehensive methodology, traditional medicine has valued and rewarded separation of practitioners such that patients are often left to try to piece the whole picture together.

To illustrate this conundrum, my mom gave me permission to share her story. She has increasing difficulty with mobility – if she sits too long, she can’t walk when she gets up. The orthopedist did scans and prescribed physical therapy. At her follow-up after six weeks of PT, she wondered if her back could be the problem, rather than her hips. The orthopedist said that one way to figure this out would be to inject steroids into both hips and if the issues resolved, clearly it is a hip problem. Here is where things get interesting. My mom has high cardio-vascular risk. One of the unintended consequences of steroid injections is significant elevation of blood sugars and circulating cholesterol. One side-effect of steroids is an increased risk of coronary artery disease up to six times normal. The elevated cholesterol impact of steroids lasts up to six months after cessation, so there is a window of time when risk could be elevated for heart disease.

None of these risks were discussed with my mom, so we had a discussion with her primary care doctor, who is open to my concerns. She is going to have labs drawn before and after her steroid shots and also have protective measures during this time until her labs return to normal. It is this kind of inter-specialty navigation that is desperately needed in health care today.

Within traditional medical organizations, the specialty of ‘primary care’ leads the way in attempting to care for the patient as a whole being. The benefits of having one doctor who can juggle and guide the use of sub-specialists is an excellent choice to support comprehensive care. However, even within primary care, we need a more holistic approach. There is an emerging ground-swell of support for newer movements such as Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine. Each of these approaches seeks to provide care that takes all systems into account and creates whole-system health. In my mom’s case, her primary care doctor and I worked together to plan for her best protection during this round of medical care.

So what’s the bottom line? Beyond your own lifestyle choices, your best preventive action is to develop a trusted health care team to collaborate with you, treating you as a whole person.

Dr. Brossfield is the medical director at the Eisenhower Wellness Institute and can be reached at (760) 610.7360.

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