The Industrial Revolution dating back to the 1700s brought with it many advances to our modern era. One could also say, it brought with it the demise of some basic tenants of health.
I will never forget the time when a patient told me that she was having trouble digesting the herbal formula I had prescribed her to... help her digestion. It was Si Jun Zi Tang/Four Gentleman Decoction, a very simple 4 herb formula: ginseng, white atractylodes, poria, and honey baked licorice root. It was the first among many things I would see as an East Asian Medicine physician that would lead me to study and incorporate Functional Medicine into my practice.
In East Asian Medicine, we know that we must nourish the digestive system above all else. At least since the 1100s, physicians began to see disorders originating or exacerbated by damage to the Spleen/Stomach (what we refer to in part as the digestive system - what turns food into energy for the body). Back then, damage to this system occurred from poor diet, excess emotions, unhealthy lifestyle and the use of cold/heat draining herbs (i.e. herbs with antibacterial/antiviral/antiparasitic properties) by physicians to treat infectious disease. In course the doctors of the time saw this damage to the Spleen/Stomach give rise to damp-heat, translated roughly as inflammation in western medicine. The complaints from patients started with milder symptoms such as fatigue, poor digestion - what we now call irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), urinary tract infections, skin rashes (hives, eczema, psoriasis) and other issues. When this imbalance continued over time, what EAM calls enduring disease, the deeper levels/the essence of the patient became depleted culminating in complex recalcitrant disease with damage to bone, organs, and the immune system such as we see in autoimmune diseases.
Before industrialization, a poor diet was too many "sodden wheat products", contaminated food (parasites/bacteria) eating too much, too little or irregularly, and drinking too much alcohol. Now the poor quality of our food and water comes from processing that strips nutrients and adds preservatives, pesticides/herbicides, antibiotics, hormones, fillers, binders, to foods grown on depleted soil and picked too early. In addition, the pharmaceuticals we ingest - prescribed, over the counter, or synthetic supplements; the toxins and pollutants we absorb through our skin and lungs; and our exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) all add up to a complex array of damage and symptoms.
Enter Functional Medicine. This modality gives the physician modern tools to evaluate modern problems in a holistic way much like East Asian Medicine evaluates the patient as whole person with relationships to the different parts of themselves and the outside world. The two diagnose and treat the root of the problem. Functional medicine lab tests can evaluate accumulations of organic and heavy metal toxins in your body so that you can intelligently detox. You can get a microscopic view of your microbiome - the vast living community of bacteria that live within our intestinal tract and have evolved with us and help us in so many ways. We can look at the wall of the intestine to see if it is weak and permeable, called "leaky gut", letting things through the intestines and into the body that should not be there. The food particles and toxins are then met by our immune system and attacked. Now we have an over active immune system using up our energy to fight the good fight. In addition, molecular mimicry - ex. when a piece of your thyroid gland looks like a piece of the sandwich you just ate, causes our immune system to attack ourselves and we get the beginnings of autoimmune disease. Fortunately we can look at the health of the gut, food sensitivities and toxic accumulations to get to the root of the problem and fix you before you get to full blown disease.
I'm grateful to have these tools to help my patients. A special thanks to Dr. Tom O'Bryan for writing "The Autoimmune Fix", a book that has been for me a springboard into a vast area of knowledge and research.
- Dr. Laura D Varga, DAOM