Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily the Health & Wellness Committee, and are not a substitute for talking to your doctor.
Amid the tumult of change and uncertainty around health insurance, it is time to re-examine our relationship with conventional medicine. The future of the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid program are uncertain. At the same time, deductibles, premiums and co-pays continue to rise. For most Americans, gone are the days when we could access healthcare as needed without worrying about (or even knowing) the cost. We need to become smart consumers in the medical marketplace.
At the same time, there is a growing mismatch between what patients need and what conventional medicine offers. Our current “sick care” medical model works well for acute illnesses and trauma. But it is not well equipped to reverse or prevent chronic and degenerative illness, which accounts for 86 percent of all health-care costs. Half of adults have at least one chronic illness and a quarter have two or more (ifm.org/functional-medicine).
Conventional medicine has few answers, other than drugs that mask or manage symptoms, to chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease and chronic pain. Increasingly patients are told that the cause of their symptoms is unknown and the only options are drugs and procedures that may or may not help (and can in some cases make things worse). Or, they are told to make lifestyle changes — lose weight, exercise more, reduce stress — by doctors who are not equipped to provide the information or support they need to implement the recommendations.
As medical care becomes more costly, we have an opportunity to dramatically shift our understanding of sickness, health and responsibility.
The body has a remarkable capacity to heal, restore and maintain balance. Symptoms of illness appear when the strain on the body overcomes its capacity for resilience. The stressors that can lead to disease include pathogens, toxins, poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, too little (or too much) exercise and mental and emotional stress. If we pay attention to these factors before symptoms arise, much illness can be prevented. And once illness does does arise, we must look to the root causes rather than just pursue symptom relief.
Here’s what can you do:
- Keep an eye out for early warning signs of “dis-ease”: fatigue, pain, digestive problems, sleep issues, cognitive challenges, mood changes. These are not the inevitable result of modern life or aging. They are signs that the stress on your system is overcoming your capacity for resilience. Your body is talking to you. Listen!
- Seek help from a functional or integrative practitioner who will look for the root causes of your symptoms and pursue a personalized and holistic approach.
- Seek support for the lifestyle changes that promote and preserve good health, including an anti-inflammatory diet, appropriate movement or exercise, stress management and good sleep hygiene.
- Think twice before accepting a prescription that will manage a symptom but not heal your body.
- Take control of your health now rather than waiting for a problem and expecting medicine to fix it.
The more we stay informed, engaged and empowered, the better our health will be.
Dana Barron is a functional medicine health coach and health-care advocate in Mt. Airy. She seeks root causes for chronic conditions and supports clients in developing and implementing self-care plans. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.