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, for sure.
Despite living a healthy lifestyle (yes, I work very hard to practice what I teach), I 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). These acute stress signals are more well known as adrenaline and noradrenaline. 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 definitely prefer Integrative over Functional. Integrative highlights the focus on integrating with the body’s biochemistry to promote optimal function, healing, and ultimately wellness. In contrast, conventional medicine targets blockade and obstruction. Wellness medicine is more than descriptive, wellness medicine highlights the focus and the ultimate goal—the patient’s optimal wellness. Integrative is the means to achieve the wellness. Whatever the name used, the paradigm is different than conventional medicine, the questions asked are different than conventional medicine, and because of the questions asked, the answers are different than conventional medicine. Yet, strong science permeates this different paradigm, the questions asked, and the answers found.
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, quick fixes, power, protection of territory, and maximizing profits—the unfortunate same things that historically effected conventional medicine. Wellness medicine seems now to be defined as a test, a test company, hormones or hormone therapy, as simply different, or alternative via those that seemed tasked daily with the simple opposition and demonization of anything counter to the conventional medicine narrative. 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 can be 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
- Disease healing
In contrast, wellness medicine is not:
- 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 conventional medicine is different. It’s focus is different. If you break a hip, wellness medicine cannot help you. As a wellness, integrative 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. The same applies to cancer. Sometimes in cancer, surgery is required to prevent damage to vital organ functions or to reduce tumor burden. Integrative medicine will help to reduce the side effects of surgery, increase recovery, reduce pain…I also propose that it reduces the risk of local recurrence and the metastatic spread of cancer.
Conventional medicine is many things:
- Disease diagnosis
- Disease management
In contrast, conventional medicine is not:
- Healing (except in rare circumstances)
- Disease prevention
- In opposition to Integrative medicine
- not lifestyle-based
Conventional medicine reacts to the event to then manage the event.
The paradigms of wellness medicine and conventional 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 conventional medicine claim there is no science in wellness or integrative medicine. That is wrong. There is more scientific evidence to support many of the natural, healing therapies in wellness and integrative medicine than in all of conventional medicine.
Ayurvedic medicine alone has 6,000+ years of observational evidence. This excludes any new supportive evidence that is available in more recently published research. In contrast, Wellness or integrative medicine claims that all conventional medicine is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. That too is wrong. There are many beneficial treatments available in conventional medicine—my case in point. Any of these absolute statements, from each side of this unfortunate politicized battlefield, are not evidence-based and are simply politicized hyperbole. The purpose of the physician, whether conventional 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 surgical repair that broken hip. 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 years previously, my blood pressure was in the 110s/50-603 and my fasting blood glucose was in the 70-80 range. 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, plant-based, 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. 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. Second, I tried and nothing worked.
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 intravenous vitamin C, magnesium, nitric oxide, 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 blood pressure prescription drug, in conjunction with the natural therapies, provided time to find the root cause of abrupt hypertension. Now, 5 years post-operation, my blood pressure is back in the 110-120/50-60 range and requires no further prescription medication. I continue a healthy lifestyle and the majority of the natural therapies.
But, how did conventional medicine and integrative medicine complement each other in my story? 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 three 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 the use of aggressive integrative intravenous therapies and targeted supplements reduced any inflammation, balanced my hormones, promoted healing, and protected my arteries. Very few 46-year-old men, at the time, 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 conventional medicine approach 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 were extremely fast. I returned to work full time in five days and returned to High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercise and jogging three miles on postoperative day twenty-four.
Everything happens for a reason. My personal story highlights an important lesson: wellness or integrative medicine and conventional 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. That does not make one right and one wrong. That is an intellectual shallow and dishonest argument by both sides.
Wellness or integrative medicine is evidence-based, lifestyle intervention to prevent disease, promote healing, to achieve wellness. A wellness lifestyle can not guarantee a life without disease. Unfortunately, every individual on this earth will have a time of the end. However, wellness or integrative medicine can limit disease, slow disease progression, limit the systemic effects of a disease, heal disease, and promote an environment that favors faster healing.
I am proof of that.
In contrast, conventional medicine is evidence-based event management focused on disease diagnosis and disease management. Conventional medicine cannot guarantee disease management.
Fortunately, in my case it did. For many others (i.e. cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease…) it cannot, and the integration of holistic therapies and some conventional therapies are required.
To your health, your healing, and your wellness!