Kevin: My guest is Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., who is a respected medical consultant, New York Times best-selling author and a leader in the emerging field of functional medicine. Functional medicine is ideal medicine made real. It is a new medical model, a more successful way of treating human illness and disease born of recent technological and clinical advances applied in a fresh methodology. As Dr. Hyman says, "the future of medicine available now." Functional medicine moves beyond diagnosis-based medicine to allow treatment of the underlying causes of disease. It works with the body's natural forces to achieve what Dr. Hyman calls ultra wellness, lifelong good health and vitality. Doesn't that sound good?
So what I want to do now is welcome Dr. Hyman to the program. This is exciting. You're one of my own personal heroes in terms of medicine and I've read all your books and I'm really excited to have you here.
Mark: Well, it's a great opportunity to be able to talk about the work I do and it's really grown out of my own experience of being sick and my own patients and learning a whole new field, called functional medicine.
Kevin: Well, why don't you talk a little bit about how you got here and your story from when you first started and now, how it's developed into functional medicine?
Mark: Well, actually my original development started way back when I was in college where I was very interested in Chinese and Asian studies and actually the ancient healing systems of China. I learned Chinese and then I actually became a yoga teacher and way before I went to medical school I was very interested in health and was a vegetarian and actually thought I was going to go into medicine to do this kind of work in the first place.
So I had this sort of in my mind right from the beginning and then I slowly got into medical school and sort of got brainwashed little bit and took on the medical model fairly strongly, because it was pretty convincing model. Over the years, I began to realize that even if I was doing a great job with this model I could only do so much for people. It was kind of like I was putting my finger in the dam. In about my mid 30s, I went to China and actually I was there doing a project there, but I got sick. I
got mercury poisoning. I got back to the states and a number of different things happened and my whole body collapsed and I developed chronic fatigue syndrome. It was through the process of my own illness and recovery and through my work as the medical director at Canyon Ranch that I discovered a new way of treating and diagnosing illness that was based not on symptoms, but based on the causes of illness. It was based on the underlying issues that are really at the root of why we get sick and I realized that with putting your finger in the dam and simply treating symptoms you may quiet them down briefly, but the disease, or the processes that are causing the disease still are going on.
So for example, if you take a high blood pressure pill your blood pressure normalizes, but if you stop the pill your blood pressure goes up. So you really haven't done anything to treat the high blood pressure. All you've done is suppress the symptoms. So I began to have to understand this not in sort of an academic way, but in a very real way to my own process of detoxification and healing, because I had no other way to get better. Conventional medicine didn't offer me any solutions other than here take some Prozac, or take some drugs that deal with this or that, that were really not helpful anyway and so I got very lucky at the time and I was working at Canyon Ranch and I was introduced to the work of Jeffrey Bland, who is a nutritional biochemist, student of Linus Pauling, who's been working over the last 35 years really reframing our medical science in a way that allows us to understand things and how they work together.
This is called systems biology and it's an understanding that there are thousands and thousands of diseases, but there are really only about seven underlying systems in the body that has to function in order for you to be healthy and those things, when they're not functioning create illness and the treatment and the diagnosis has to be focused on those seven things. So the rest of the names in the things we call diseases really become more irrelevant as we understand those seven causes. So you can have migraines, or depression, or Alzheimer's disease, or heart disease, or diabetes or irritable bowel, or whatever. Those are just names for collections of symptoms and that any two people with exactly the same named disease can totally different problems. We have no way of knowing that if you have depression, one person might have mercury poisoning. Another person might be severely folate deficient, or B12 deficient. Another person might be hypothyroid and you can't treat them all with Prozac. They're not suffering from a Prozac deficiency. They are suffering from some fundamental, underlying imbalance that has to be addressed in order for them to get better and the body has to get the things it needs to function and thrive properly.
So this is sort of the evolution of functional medicine which has happened over the last 15 years and we have just recently published a textbook of functional medicine that lays out this paradigm in great detail. For those who are health practitioners, it's a wonderful resource, with over 20,000 scientific references. I contributed a couple of chapters to that. Mine was very large chapter on influence of diet on health, which is a big topic. It's a really exciting model, because it's not just an idea. I'm a practicing physician and every day I see patients in my office and I always say I get to be a witness to miracles.
Kevin: Wow. What's the difference between integrative medicine and alternative medicine, as opposed to functional medicine?
Mark: Great question. That's a great question and I think it's an important question. Let me just go through the history of how we got to where we are. We had conventional medicine, which is basically a reductionistic science. It breaks things down into component points, component parts. We have organ systems. We have various diseases. Then came along holistic health, which said we should pay attention to some other things, like mind-body effect and we should use some other treatments that help the body heal, like meditation, or yoga, or massage, or energy healing and then there was sort of a movement in awareness of other modalities, called alternative medicine, which included things like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, which unto themselves are entire, whole healing systems with their own philosophy and methodologies that are very different from conventional medicine. Then Andy Wilde came along and he said there's all these great things out there that we're really not paying attention to that have been around for centuries or even some newer techniques that can really help the body heal, whether it's osteopathy, or acupuncture, or herbs and we should integrate those treatments with conventional approaches to kind of have the better outcome. So what that does is that it says well, here are the conventional diagnoses; migraine, irritable bowel, depression, arthritis, whatever. We're going to use these treatments, these alternative therapies and integrate them with conventional therapies.
Now, I think that's a good advance, but I also think it's very limited, because we're simply doing what I call, green medicine, in the sense where we're simply applying an herb instead of a drug. Someone that has a migraine headache, you give them feverfew instead of Imitrex. Maybe that'll work and maybe it won't. Maybe it's a less toxic therapy, but it does nothing to help us figure out if that person has a migraine, because they have a gluten allergy, or because their estrogen levels are imbalanced, or because they have a mitochondrial defect and need high doses of riboflavin. The feverfew is not going to work. So you have to have a way of thinking to understand the architecture, so functional medicine is the next step. It's the next evolution and it's a way of using all therapies, whether they be conventional, or alternative, in a way that allows you to think about things differently and allows you to get to the problem, deal with the causes and help the body regain balance and it's a really informational architectural of a model of a philosophy, or a theory basically, of how things work. It's based on systems biology and allows us to understand how things relate and connect. So it's not exclusive or inclusive of any particular treatment, modality, test, anything, so surgery could be functional medicine. It's really, what is the best treatment for this particular problem and how do we find that out, because in conventional medicine, or integrative medicine we don't have that opportunity.
I've seen in case conferences with patients in integrative medicine and you take someone, for example, with migraine and you'll sit around the table with various modalities like acupuncturists, say well, they have a spleen chi deficiency and they need acupuncture and an herbalist says they need this herb, feverfew. A nutritionist may say they shouldn't eat aspartame, because that can cause headaches. The other one says maybe they're just really stressed out and need some mind-body therapies and spiritual healing. So you're sort of getting a smorgasbord of choices, but no organized way of how to use them and you can't use everything on everybody. So you have to figure out what is the root and you have to figure out how to navigate to that problem.
Kevin: You say there are seven causes of disease, or illness. Are those the basis of the functional medicine?
Mark: Absolutely. Those are what I call the seven keys to ultra wellness, but they're also called the seven core imbalances of functional medicine. So I simply borrowed them
and made them accessible to lay people, because it's very hard for people to understand
mitochondrial and oxidative redox imbalances, or biotransformational dysfunction, but I try to translate these concepts into things that people can actually get and understand and do something about.
Everybody gets that there's some nutritional imbalances. Everybody gets that you can get inflammation. Everybody gets they might have detox issues. Everybody gets that you might have trouble making energy in your body. Everybody gets the might have stress and mind-body imbalances. Everybody gets that you can have hormonal problems. So these are the base end, or digestive problems. These are the basic systems and if those are not in balance, your body can't be healthy.