My medical school training gave me the ability to diagnose thousands of different separate diseases. Diseases, I suggest, which don’t really exist in the way we think they do. We give names to disease like depression or ADD, but that just helps us group people together who have the same symptoms for the purposes of giving them all the same drug therapy. But what if I were to tell you, that new scientific discoveries tell us that there is no such thing as depression?
What we see as the symptoms of depression are reflections of a few common interconnected imbalances in the body that have nothing to do with the medical specialties, as we know them. Depression is not a psychiatric illness, but a systemic disease. To address it we need to address the whole system—the ecosystem of your body.
That means we need to understand how the WHOLE body operates as a system, not just how different pieces of the body operate independently from one another. We need to treat people, not body parts; we want to treat the causes of disease, not symptoms.
I was trained according to the dogma of separate medical specialties—for heart problems you see the cardiologist, for stomach problems you see the gastroenterologist, for joint pain you see the rheumatologist, for skin problems, the dermatologist. You just don’t ask the skin doctor about your joint pain. If you do ask, they will cut you off and tell you to see the joint doctor.
The roadmap I was given in medical school to navigate through the territory of illness was the WRONG map. It taught us to diagnose disease and then assign standardized treatments no matter who was suffering. This is the wrong approach. It’s a map that sends you in the wrong direction.
Not only are your joint pains, skin rash, irritable bowel, and depression all connected, but the ONLY way to to find your way out of this mess of chronic disease (which affects 162 million people) is by using a new map—one that allows us to see how everything is connected.
This is what the rich new method called Functional Medicine offers. Functional Medicine applies the science of systems biology in a practical setting. It is the revolutionary new system I have been talking about. It’s a fundamental change in our thinking, a whole different paradigm, like the world-is-round-not-flat shift. It changes our approach to the very way we think about illness and the human body.
With it we can truly treat and cure disease.
Unlike conventional medicine, Functional Medicine personalizes treatment based on a patient’s unique needs. We are all different. We have a different genetic makeup. As a result our bodies react to our environment in different ways. Understanding this allows us to develop unique methods to treat people, not diseases.
At the heart of this paradigm shift are the 7 keys of UltraWellness.
All medicine can be simplified into a few basic principles and concepts or natural laws that explain all disease and suffering. These concepts are the 7 keys, or core systems, of the body:
Key # 1: Optimize Nutrition
We are made of the stuff we eat. Our biology, our biochemistry and physiology, needs certain raw materials to run optimally—the right balance and quality of protein, fats, carbohydrates; the right vitamins and minerals in the right dose for each of us and all the colorful pigments in plant foods called phytonutrients that support our wellbeing and function. Nearly all of us are nutritionally imbalanced in one way or another.
Key #2: Balance Your Hormones
Our hormones are a symphony of molecules including thyroid, sex, and stress hormones, insulin, and many more. They have to work in harmony for you to be healthy.
Key #3: Cool off Inflammation
We must protect and defend ourselves from foreign invaders or abnormal cells inside our own body. When this is over or under active, illness occurs. Inflammation of the brain is a central theme for almost all psychiatric and neurologic conditions, as well as most chronic disease. If you have a broken brain it is almost certainly inflamed.
Key #4: Fix Your Digestion
Digesting, absorbing, and assimilating all the food and nutrients we eat is critical for health. Our digestive systems must also protect us from internal toxins, bugs, and potential allergens as well as eliminate wastes. Breakdown anywhere in this process creates illness.
Key #5: Enhance Detoxification
Our bodies must eliminate all of our metabolic wastes and all toxins we take in from the environment through our food, air, water, and medications. The toxic burden in the 21st century is overwhelming and often our bodies can’t keep up. This leads to illness.
Key #6: Boost Energy Metabolism
Life is energy. Once no more energy is produced in your cells you die. The process of extracting energy from the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe is the most essential process of life. Keeping that metabolic engine running smoothly and protecting it from harm are essential for health. Loss of energy is found in almost all brain disorders.
Key #7: Calm Your Mind
A life of meaning and purpose, a life in balance with connection, community, love, support, and a sense of empowerment are essential for health. The overwhelming stresses of the 21st century, including social isolation, over work, and disempowerment create enormous stresses on our nervous system leading to burnout and breakdown.
By treating imbalances in these 7 keys we now have a way to cure, stop, slow and reverse this looming epidemic of “brain” disorders (as well as virtually all the diseases we see in the 21st century).
But what creates these imbalances?
Are these 7 key systems out of balance because of poor diet, allergens, infections, stress, and toxins?
Or are they out of balance because they are missing the essential raw materials for life and health—whole, real food rich in phytonutrients and fiber, vitamins and minerals, oxygen, clean water and air, light, sleep, exercise, deep relaxation, love, connection and community, meaning and purpose?
More to the point, I want to know how these factors influence a person’s unique genome and their gene expression creating their unique set of problems. You see, your genes are not fixed but capable of dynamically responding to information or instructions that comes from your diet, lifestyle, and environment. What “information” you wash over your genes determines whether you stay well or get sick, and just how well you function day to day.
This is the study of nutrigenomics.
Think of your genes as the software the runs everything in your body. Just like your computer software, it only does what you instruct it to do with the stroke of your keyboard.
The foods you eat are the keystrokes that send messages to your genes telling them what to do—creating health or disease.
Imagine what messages you are sending with a double cheeseburger, large fries, and a 48-ounce cola. Consider what messages you might send instead with deep-red wild salmon and a bed of greens.
The new science of nutrigenomics allows us to personalize medicine—not everyone with the same problems needs the same prescription. Your individual genetic makeup determines what you need to be optimally healthy.
You only have about 30,000 genes. But you have over 3 million little variations in those genes called SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms). Those variations make up who you are. And they make your individual needs slightly different from my individual needs. We all have different needs for food, vitamins, rest, exercise, stress tolerance or ability to handle toxins.
By analyzing where you are out of balance in the 7 keys to UltraWellness and then applying the science of nutrigenomics to help re-establish balance, we can create treatments matched to each person’s individual needs.
Using this method I now approach each encounter with a patient from a general framework that is completely different from the one I learned in medical school. I create a treatment plan that is not reproducible for a group of people with the same symptoms, but is, of necessity, created anew for each patient.
What I do is actually quite simple.
The first step is to take out the bad stuff (the things that create imbalance such as a nutrient-poor, processed diet; toxins; allergens; infections; and stress); remove what’s bugging you. If you have ten tacks in your foot, you can’t take out one, pop an aspirin, and hope to feel better. You need to find and take out all the tacks; taking out just one of them won’t make you better.
The second step is to add the good stuff (high-quality whole foods, nutrients, water, oxygen, light, movement, sleep, relaxation, community, connection, love, meaning, and purpose), and the body’s natural intelligence and healing system will take care of the rest.
That’s all there is to it. Using this simple, yet comprehensive method, allows me to treat diseases, whether they are “in the brain” or “in the body.” And it works for one simple reason: the body and the brain are one system.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD