It has been said that we can only see what we expect to see. If this is true, it poses a difficult hurdle in finding answers to questions about our health and well-being. So often a patient will come to see me because they feel un-well or have specific symptoms for which they would like to identify a cause. And often, this very patient will have already exhausted all known medical options in seeking the reasons for their problem. And so we start over.
In the functional medicine approach, we start with the patient’s story. I want the detailed story, and the timeline of the person’s history. Our therapeutic relationship begins with me really hearing and getting the picture of the person sharing with me. From this story, clues emerge that begin to form a pattern.
As human beings, our earliest learning is experiential pattern recognition. We learn that crying elicits a response from our parents, we learn that cute behaviors draw others’ attention, and we learn that naughty behavior may be reprimanded. This cause-effect relationship is a pivotal part of brain development and sets the stage for further learning.
The principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy are grounded in the concept of challenging dysfunctional thought patterns to alter our behavior. Recognition of our patterns becomes a foundation for the possibility of change. In seeking healing and wellness, several patterns repeat themselves. Seeking out a team of health care professionals who are gifted in recognizing such patterns is possibly the most important step you can take to build your own health.
One common pattern centers on exposure to toxins or pathogens. The emerging research on the broad impact of the Epstein Barr viruses is one such example. As part of performing the “cognoscopy” that author Dale Bredesen recommends in his book The End of Alzheimer’s, I have been shocked at the many people who have underlying viral causes for their symptoms. We have only begun to realize the impact of viral illness that far exceeds the timeframe of when we felt sick.
Another pattern with huge importance is that of gut dysfunction. Virtually all inflammation originates in the gut, so analyzing the underlying cause and correcting this imbalance are frequently the first steps towards healing. Our learning about the microbiome and how to promote “cultural diversity” in our gut still has far to go, but we now can identify which proteins of our gut wall are being harmed by toxins or bacterial imbalance and provide the missing ingredients to support rebuilding of the intestinal wall. Healing the gut promotes the health of every other system in our body; skin, lungs, heart, joint and brain health is dependent on a healthy gut.
Working with patients to support physical and emotional wellness is challenging, but also an opportunity to collaborate. My hope is that together we can build patterns that support wellness in ourselves and in our community.
Dr. Brossfield practices functional medicine for men and women at her practice, XO Health, in Rancho Mirage and can be reached at (760) 573.2761.