This amazing post was written by Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions. You can learn more about her work from her website, www.terrywahls.com.

The real truth: why anyone considering functional medicine needs to read this first

U.S. spending for health care hit $3 Trillion in 2015, roughly $10,000 per person. Rising drug costs are the biggest drivers of the increase in spending each year. Notably, more and more people are also willing to spend more money on non-covered complementary and alternative medicine and functional medicine services each year.

We as a society spent $34 billion in 2009 on integrative and alternative medicine types of treatments that were not covered by health insurance. These are things like chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, and a wide variety of supplements and vitamins. I could not find a comparable reference for Functional Medicine spending each year. However, the demand for Functional Medicine practitioners continues to grow.

What Is Functional Medicine?

 

Functional Medicine — an organizing method to evaluate and get to the cause of illness — has been steadily gaining traction. It looks at the timeline of an individual’s health from before conception through the present moment. That information is then transferred to the Functional Medicine Matrix that organizes the symptoms into the major organ systems – Digestion, Immune, Mitochondria, Transport, Structure, Hormone.

It also records modifiable lifestyle factors: sleep, movement, diet, stress reduction, and social support. Based upon the information gleaned from the Timeline and Matrix, an evaluation is recommended, which may include food sensitivity tests, comprehensive digestive series, heavy metal and other pollutant assessments, nutritional and metabolic assessments, extensive examination of hormone levels, microbiome assessments, and genetic single nucleotide polymorphism assessments.

All this takes a lot of time and money — the testing is rarely covered by insurance. Then, based on the results of these assessments, a treatment plan is prescribed. It may include dietary recommendations, a variety of nutritional supplements, and/or additional lifestyle recommendations. Coaching to adopt and sustain these changes is recommended—another cost to consider.

Why Choose Functional Medicine?

Some are critical of the expense associated with Functional Medicine assessments and interventions. The costs for a comprehensive evaluation, supplements, and coaching for a year can cost $10,000 to $15,000. Many have called this “boutique” medicine, a realistic option only for the very rich. There is also pushback from conventional health care professionals who do not believe that functional medicine concepts have been rigorously tested.

So why are people paying this so much money for out of pocket care? If there were no benefit, functional medicine and the complementary and alternative medicine practitioners would not be able to attract patients.

People often turn to Functional Medicine because they have no choice. Chronic diseases are progressive, painful, and problematic. The conventional approach of adding medications may control symptoms for a time. The progression of disease may slow, but patients usually see other troubling symptoms develop.

Each year the underlying disease, dysfunction, or symptoms in the patient worsen slightly. Doses are increased, and new medications are added. Still, new diseases develop, and even more, medications are added.

Patients pay more and more every year for medication that is not making them better and has many side effects ranging from mild to life-threatening. The individual drugs for diabetes, heart failure, dementia, and mental health problems cost hundreds of dollars each month.

Those on multiple medications may pay a thousand dollars or more a month, for the rest of their lives. Potent immune-suppressing drugs given to those with autoimmune conditions cost $50,000 to $100,000 per year. Again, the immune suppression will probably be needed for life.

Add to that the cost of testing, doctor visits, procedures, surgeries, and hospitalizations, plus the cost of lost work for those who have to reduce hours or stop working entirely. For those who leave the workforce, there is also the cost of missed work by the rest of the family that is providing care for the ill family member.

Eventually, there is the cost of in-home care, a nursing home, or rehabilitation. All of this adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more over a lifetime.

Out of pocket costs for complementary and alternative medicines such as Functional Medicine that stabilize or regress chronic disease are a very good investment. Some people need to complete the extensive Functional Medicine testing before they are willing to do the hard work to make the changes in diet, stress reduction practices, sleep patterns, and/or physical activity that will improve their health.  

However, those evaluations are still costly and unrealistic for many. I run a therapeutic lifestyle clinic for people who are disabled, typically living on very limited incomes. We don’t offer extensive functional medicine testing. We do a few basic primary care types of labs and then work with people to understand the timeline of their illness and how their diet, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices interacted with their genes to create the health they have.

We then help them improve their mental and spiritual fortitude to begin the journey of adopting and sustaining the lifestyle changes that will restore their health.

Time and time again we see health improve. People with chronic pain have less pain and often no longer need narcotics or any pain pills. Moods stabilize. Weight melts away without hunger. Skin clears. Joint swelling and pain resolve. Energy improves.

Many people can change their health simply by picking up my books, The Wahls Protocol, and the companion cookbook, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life, and using them to make transformative diet and lifestyle changes. These books explain the science behind the Wahls Protocol®, the importance and significance of each element, and the next steps you can take to begin reclaiming your life.

You will learn how easy it is to cook delicious meals at home for you and your family in under 30 minutes. If you order The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life, you will have access to some great free gifts that will help you get started immediately on the journey back to health.

For those who want a more in-depth look at their health, I offer a seminar every summer where we spend four days helping people create the timeline and functional medicine matrix of their health. Everybody who attends the seminar has an aha moment that reveals a connection between their behaviors and their current health.

We help individuals understand what changes will improve their health and how to implement them, but we go much further than that, working with individuals build their inner resilience, so they have the mental fortitude to sustain the changes they need to make.  

To health behaviors relating to changing their relationship to food and more. We teach people skills, build their determination and resilience, and foster a community that supports its members during their journeys back to health.

If you can’t wait till next summer, we offer online courses and programs to help people understand how to take charge of their lives. Learn more about the many options to get more support in your journey back to health.

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Terry Wahls
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Terry Wahls

Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years.Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine and the paperback, The Wahls Protocol A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles.

You can learn more about her work from her website, www.terrywahls.com, on Facebook (Terry Wahls MD), and Twitter at @TerryWahls. Dr. Wahls teaches the public and medical community about the Protocol and the latest from her research lab in a three day seminar every August. She is currently recruiting for patients in a new clinical trial, Dietary Approaches to Treating MS Related Fatigue. To learn more about this opportunity email the clinical coordinator, Cathy Chenard. She can be reached at catherine-chenard@uiowa.edu.
Terry Wahls
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