Author: Jeffrey Wacks, MD
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest disruptors to our way of life in the history of our country. We are encouraged to be socially distant, we cannot see our friends and family, our children are not going to school, many small businesses are forced to shut down, and the uncertainty and fear in the air is pervasive.
From a medical perspective, COVID is relatively unique in that the dichotomy of presentation among the population is dramatic. On one hand, for people who are healthy, COVID is very mild. Many people who test positive for COVID say that if not for the pandemic, they would have never even sought medical attention. Some sneezing, cough, runny nose, and they are better in a few days, no problem. But on the other hand, for people who are not healthy, COVID is life-threatening. Escalating death tolls, crowded hospitals, ICUs at capacity.
Mainstream medicine is doing the best it can. We have therapeutics, but they are not 100% effective. Also, the emergence of new strains that are potentially more virulent is an ongoing threat. The vaccine is giving hope to many, but some are concerned about the lack of safety data and the short duration of the clinical trials.
In terms of prevention, we are hearing about masks and we are hearing about social distancing. But where mainstream medicine is failing is where it has always failed. Mainstream medicine is only talking about the “disease” as an existential threat, it completely avoids the topic of health. We know that healthy people are relatively unaffected by COVID as opposed to unhealthy people, so why is there not more emphasis on how to get our bodies into a better state of health?
In this context, Functional Medicine is more important than ever because Functional Medicine does exactly this, attempts not necessarily to “cure disease” but to “enhance health.” We talk about lifestyle parameters such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and community. We talk about functional imbalances that can be corrected such as gastrointestinal health, metabolism, oxidative stress, blood sugar balance, adrenal health, and hormones. These parameters directly affect the immune system and our ability to naturally fight off the virus. For example, it is well known that a large proportion of the immunologic tissue in our body is found in the gut (Gut-Associated Lymphatic Tissue), and that abnormal flora in gut the severely affects the immune system. Another example, people that have iron overload (i.e. oxidative stress) often have weakened immune systems. People with metabolic dysfunction will not deliver enough energy to the immune system and be more susceptible to illness. And the examples go on and on.
No one is saying that mainstream medicine is bad. Allopathic, pharmaceutical-based medicine is a tool in the box. It has the potential to save your life. And some of the therapeutic options that have come out of allopathic medicine are truly remarkable. But why not have the best of both worlds? Why not integrate the allopathic approach with the functional approach? The “big-gun” options are there if we need them, but in the interim, we focus on building your health and getting your immune system in the best shape we can. Functional Medicine makes the patient stronger, it is a different emphasis than a system that is grounded in fear.
Now more than ever, we need physicians to be trained in Functional Medicine. No longer can we afford to have this modality sit on the fringe. Medical professionals need to take it upon themselves to learn about this health-promoting practice and it ultimately needs to be incorporated into medical school education. If we are serious about our pursuit of science, then we will consider all the medical evidence, even if it does not align with pharmaceutical practice. We argue that Functional Medicine and health-promoting practices in general be brought to the forefront of our society to help battle this invisible enemy.