When your doctor walks into the room, you know that you are in good hands.  You are going to get the right medicine or appropriate procedure that is going to resolve your symptoms.  After all, that is why you are in the examining room, correct?  To see a well-trained expert who can make you feel better, rooting around to Live Well.

But what if you are disappointed?  The doctor may be too busy to really listen to all your symptoms or your complaints don’t fit neatly in a guideline.  She doesn’t recognize the problems you describe, or the tests that she ran were all normal: meaning it’s all just in your head.  The drugs he prescribed did not work or made you sicker with their side effects.  He says you need more or different drugs, but if they don’t work, you may need to see the surgeon.  What do you do?  Where do you go?

Unequivocally, medical care in the US excels at resolving the sudden and severe onset of injuries and illnesses.  Our traditionally trained healthcare providers can give you the drugs, tests, and surgical procedures that re-leave your acute symptoms and send you on a path to recovery.  In recognition of these medical skills, insurance covers the charges of your doctors and other caregivers.

Just as certainly, our medical system has failed at resolving chronic illnesses that are now epidemic in the US.  More and more of us have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, auto-immune conditions, kidney disease, heart problems, obesity, and even cancer.  As a result, a new breed of healthcare provider has sprouted up and adopted the “root cause” approach to help you feel better.  Whether we call it lifestyle or functional medicine, or some other moniker like an integrative or alternative approach, the key is that the provider doesn’t merely want to treat your symptom, but rather wants to find the underlying cause of that symptom and treat that root cause.

To help you better understand this new approach, let me share a story.  Last winter we noted a faintly foul odor in our garage.  It seemed to come and go.  We cleaned out our garbage and recycling containers to be sure nothing that spilled had caused the stench.  But it got worse, forcing us to use scented candles in the room nearest the garage.  When the smell got unbearable, we called the exterminators to look in the crawl space for a dead animal.  Nothing.  Finally, I backed my car out of the garage, and the smell disappeared.  That’s correct, we treated the symptoms, but never thought to look inside my engine where the dead squirrel had somehow gotten.  We finally found the root cause of the problem.  The squirrel had found a warm engine on a cold winter’s night.

We know that 70% of our chronic diseases are caused by our lifestyles.  The carbohydrate content and processed nature of the food we eat may cause our pancreas and liver to overwork to deal with a sugar load: diabetes and obesity result.  Our gut may allow food particles to fall through cracks in its lining, causing a “leaky gut” and a fatigued immune system that loses its ability to protect you from pathogens and instead attacks your joints, kidneys, or brain.  Arthritis, lupus, brain fog, scleroderma, and digestion problems result.

Toxins are in our food, air, water, and the very ground we walk on.  There is mercury in that Sushi that you love and your cavity amalgam, aluminum in your cookware, and antiperspirant.  The coal ash and oil have contaminated the soil, as have the pesticides sprayed on our agriculture.  The air we breathe is no better.  Our water is full of chemicals that run off our land or that we intentionally put in.  Is it any wonder that those blood tests your doctor ordered are normal?  He was not testing for the poisons that make us feel bad or a worn-out immune system.

But functional medical practitioners test for toxins, heavy metals, organic acids, food allergies, overgrowth of intestinal bacteria or fungi, parasites, and other markers of your environment’s pathogens.  More and more doctors, nurses and integrative practitioners are looking for the lifestyle root causes of why we feel bad.  Once identified, it is up to you and me to remove these root causes from our environment and change our habits.

Webster’s dictionary defines “allopathic medicine” as “a system of medical practice that emphasizes diagnosing and treating disease and the use of conventional, evidence-based therapeutic measures (such as drugs or surgery).”  In other words, traditional trained doctors are trying to get rid of the symptoms (that horrid smell) without finding the real cause (the squirrel in the motor).

Lifestyle medicine, on the other hand, dives into trying to identify the root cause of chronic illness.  The system uses different tests and a more intensive look into individual patterns and habits.  Purposely, it is not “standardized” as is the allopathic tradition.  Nor is it covered by insurance.  But it precisely aims to understand the why of your chronic ills and make you feel better.

As an allopathic-trained surgeon, I was initially skeptical of this root cause approach, and the absence of mainstream medicine’s “evidence-based” stamp of approval.  My experience and observations, as well as its slow but steady recognition by traditional medicine, have convinced me otherwise.

We are all unique.

Maybe you should be rooting around to Live Well?