Life is a story and each story is a lesson to be learned.
I recently wrote a new chapter in my story. This chapter would have been one I would rather not have written. Despite living a healthy lifestyle (yes, I practice what I preach), I recently developed severe hypertension. Long story short, I was diagnosed with a Pheochromocytoma—a rare tumor of the adrenal gland which secretes high levels of catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine). This zebra of a diagnosis causes out of control elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, anxiety… The only known treatment and cure, whether natural or traditional, is the surgical removal of the tumor.
This story taught me a very valuable lesson. A lesson that can be found in the question: what is wellness medicine?
Some call it Functional medicine. Others call it Integrative medicine. I prefer wellness medicine. Functional and Integrative medicine are good descriptive terms. I prefer Integrative over Functional: Integrative highlights the focus on integrating with the body’s biochemistry to promote optimal function and healing, instead of blocking and obstructing. Wellness medicine is more than descriptive, wellness medicine highlights the focus and the ultimate goal—the patient’s optimal wellness. Whatever the name used, the paradigm is different than traditional medicine, the questions asked are different than traditional medicine and because of the questions asked, the answers are different than traditional medicine.
Wellness medicine has become a little confused as of late. As the popularity of this movement has increased, the focus on what it is and who it serves has become clouded by marketing and quick fixes—the same things that historically effected traditional medicine. Wellness medicine seems now to be defined as a test, a test company, hormones or hormone therapy, or just as simply different. Wellness medicine is not defined by simply being different. Wellness medicine is defined by the root word of physician—rāphè. Rāphè is the Hebrew root word for physician that is translated ‘to heal’ or ‘one who heals’. Wellness medicine is defined by its focus and its goal. Its focus is the patient and its goal is the healing of the patient. Anything that corrupts that focus and that goal is an obstacle to wellness medicine.
Wellness medicine is many things:
- Disease prevention
- Dysfunction based
- works with the body’s biochemistry
In contrast, wellness medicine is not many things:
- Disease management
- In opposition to traditional medicine
Wellness medicine is never waiting for the event to occur, it is proactively working within a lifestyle to prevent events.
The paradigm of traditional medicine is different. It’s focus is different. If you break a hip, wellness medicine cannot help you. As a wellness physician, I can help you prevent a fracture and heal faster from a fracture, but you will still need a surgeon to surgically fix the broken hip. Traditional medicine is many things:
- Disease based
- Disease diagnosis
- Disease management
- works in obstruction of the body’s biochemistry
In contrast, traditional medicine is not many things:
- Healing (except in rare circumstances)
- Disease prevention
- In opposition to Integrative medicine
- not lifestyle-based
Traditional medicine reacts to the event to then manage the event.
The paradigms of wellness medicine and traditional medicine are quite different and because of this difference, the impression is that the two cannot co-exist and are, in fact, in direct conflict with each other. Both sides are guilty of this perpetuated falsehood. Different paradigms does not indicate opposition, but simply a different focus’ with different goals. Many in traditional medicine claim there is no science in wellness medicine. That is wrong. There is more scientific evidence to support many of the natural, healing therapies in wellness medicine than in all of traditional medicine. Ayurvedic medicine alone has 6,000+ years of observational evidence. This excludes any new supportive evidence that is available in more recent, traditional studies. In contrast, Wellness medicine claims that all traditional medicine is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. That to is wrong. There are many beneficial treatments available in traditional medicine—my case in point. Any of these absolute statements, from each side of this politicized argument, are not evidence-based and are simply politicized hyperbole. The purpose of the physician, whether traditional or integrative, is not to serve the cause of a medical movement or a medical paradigm, but to serve the cause of healing the patient. If you break a hip, there is not a natural therapy in wellness medicine to help you. Likewise, if you are diagnosed with a rare adrenal tumor (my story), the only available option is surgery.
My recent life lesson highlights how the two paradigms are not in direct conflict, but in fact, directly complement each other. How can this be? Just 6 months previously, my blood pressure was 111/62 and my fasting blood glucose was 81. The first sign of the pheochromocytoma was a headache during my daily exercise routine. The following day, my blood pressure was 186/108. My blood pressure continued to climb over the following weeks. In addition, my fasting blood sugar was found to be elevated at 136, despite eating a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, moderate fat diet devoid of refined carbs and simple sugars. I required blood pressure medicine to prevent a stroke and prep me for surgery and I had successful surgery to remove the baseball size right adrenal tumor. There were no other options for treatment other than doing nothing. Trust me, I looked. I didn’t want surgery and I definitely didn’t want to take the blood pressure medicine. I even implemented aggressive natural therapies (high dose vitamin C, magnesium, nitric oxid, capsaicin…) to try and control the blood pressure. However, aggressive prescription blood pressure control was required to control my blood pressure and prevent a stroke. At the same time the prescription drug, in conjunction with the natural therapies, provided time to find the root cause of the abrupt hypertension. Now, 3 weeks post operative, my blood pressure is 102/58 and I am off the prescription medication and the majority of the natural therapies.
But, how did they complement each other? I will leave that to the words of my surgeon and my anesthesiologist. My surgeon told me the first morning after surgery, “I don’t know how you didn’t stroke” while exercising before. In addition, the anesthesiologist said, “I don’t know how you didn’t stroke in the operating room”. On 3 separate occasions during surgery, my systolic (top number) blood pressure spiked to over 300 mmHg. My ICU nurse told me, “I didn’t know that arteries could handle that kind of pressure”. How can that be? My lifestyle of balanced nutrition and targeted supplements prevented any inflammation, balanced my hormones, promoted healing and protected my arteries. Very few 46 year old men today are normal weight, have total Testosterone levels naturally of 600+ and have no systemic inflammation. My lifestyle blunted the effects of the adrenal tumor. The arteries of most American men could not have handled pressures higher than 300 mmHg without a stroke due to the reasons highlighted previously. However, eventually my tumor would have overwhelmed the positive effects of my healthy lifestyle. A traditional medicine intervention to control my blood pressure in the short term to prevent a stroke and then surgically remove the offending tumor was required. Following surgery, my healing and recovery was fast. I returned to work full time in 5 days and now post operative day #23 just completed my first week of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercise and jogged 3 miles on post operative day #24.
Everything happens for a reason. My personal story highlights an important lesson: wellness medicine and traditional medicine are not in conflict with each other, but actually complement each other. Each has a different focus and a different goal because they are different paradigms in medicine. Wellness medicine is evidence-based, lifestyle interventions to prevent disease and promote wellness. A wellness lifestyle can not guarantee a life without disease. However, it can limit disease, slow disease progression, limit the systemic effects of disease and promote an environment that favors faster healing. I am proof of that. In contrast. traditional medicine is evidence-based event management focused on disease diagnosis and disease management. Traditional medicine cannot guarantee disease management. Fortunately, in my case it did. For many others (i.e. cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease…) it cannot.
To your wellness!