“I wish my doctor took my concerns more seriously. I know my tests didn’t show anything unusual, but I still don’t feel well. Something is definitely wrong but I don’t know how to fix it.”
If you have ever walked out of a doctor’s office thinking something like that, you would not be alone. About half of American adults suffer from at least one kind of chronic illness, said Dr. Ted Brooks of Derry Medical Center. And that’s just the people who categorize their issues as a diagnosed illness -- it’s not even counting the millions of Americans who go about their daily lives knowing they don’t feel as well as they should, but can’t figure out what to do about it.
"Functional medicine is about a different approach to primary care. Instead of focusing on treating the symptom, it’s about saying 'What is the cause of this pain? And how can I fix it?'"
After 35+ years as a primary care physician, Ted Brooks, MD has had many experiences like this. While he considered his primary care practice to be very successful, he noticed that there was a certain group of patients he wasn’t able to serve as well as he would have liked.
These patients would come in complaining of chronic aches, tiredness, gastrointestinal issues, and inability to lose weight no matter what they did. It was obvious to them that they weren’t well. But there was no easy diagnosis for their issues, and when they didn’t respond to medications, well, that was sort of the end of the line. He didn’t know what to do with them, but worse, no other doctors seemed to either. These patients would get frustrated, seek out another doctor, and then have the same kind of experience--over and over again.
After a while, Brooks found that, understandably, these patients became very frustrated with the system, and the system became equally frustrated with them. The patients felt like they weren’t being listened to, and their health team would start dreading their visits, labeling them problem patients or hypochondriacs.
So what’s a good doctor to do?
Brooks began doing some research. What he learned was that this wasn’t just an issue in his office, it was a national problem. After World War II, Brooks explains to me, with the development of advanced surgical techniques, penicillin, and many other major breakthroughs, the medical profession developed a model based on an acute care style. In this model, acute health concerns such as a broken bone or a raging infection, could be treated very successfully. We do a great job in this country, Brooks explained to me, with surgical emergencies. “We can replace hips and knees, create effective vaccines, and even transplant hearts. But 75% of the money spent on healthcare in this country is being spent on chronic health issues which our current medical model isn’t able to treat as effectively. We’ve had an explosion in this country of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic lung conditions, and auto-immune disease, none of which can be easily fixed with a pill or an operation.”
“If someone comes into a doctor’s office with abdominal pain,” Brooks tells me, “The doctor can give them medicine that will minimize that pain. But what we often can’t tell them is why they’re having abdominal pain in the first place. I can put a Band-Aid on their symptoms, but I’m not addressing the disease they are suffering from.”
“Functional medicine is about a different approach to primary care. Instead of focusing on treating the symptom, it’s about asking, What is the cause of this pain? And how can I fix it?”
If you haven’t heard of functional medicine before, don’t worry--it’s because it’s a relatively young field in the medical world. People have been interested in this approach for about 20-30 years, but like any new philosophy, it takes time to build up. Recently, Brooks says he has been seeing a surge of interest. “People are really realizing this approach has value and can add something to the medical field.” He says a recent meeting at the Institute of Functional Medicine drew 1,500 practitioners from around the world.
For the past seven or eight years that he and his team have been practicing functional medicine, Brooks says he has seen some amazing changes - even ones he would describe as “life-changing.”
One of the main things which they consider, he explains, is the health of the patient’s gut. “Right now in this country so many people have intestinal problems such as reflux and chronic intestinal complaints,” Brooks explains, “80% of our immune system is involved in our intestinal system. Everything that enters our body has to be processed. Historically, people have eaten a broad variety of of natural foods and this helped give us an intestinal micro-biome with 10 times more bacteria in our intestinal system than cells in the entire rest of the body.”
So one of the first goals for Brooks and his team is to work on healing the patient’s gut. This is primarily done through considering the patient’s diet and occasionally adding targeted nutritional supplements or probiotics. “Food,” he explains, “is the primary medicine of functional medicine.”
Type 2 diabetes is another chronic condition Brooks is focused on, with its strong links to gut health and diet; he explains that many of the effects of insulin resistance can actually be reversed with the right treatment.
However, Brooks warns, functional medicine is not an overnight solution. He cautions his patients that there is no magic pill and that this approach forces his patients to address their relationship with the food that they eat. He and his colleagues work with a dedicated nutrition staff to determine a plan for each individual patient. Many patients start off with eliminating a wide variety of different types of food--alcohol, sugar, caffeine, gluten, dairy, and processed foods. He then follows his patients closely to monitor their experiences and challenges.
Brooks, in turn, tries to meet each of his patients where they are; he educates his patients about the food industry and how to analyze food packaging labels. He and his team also host seasonal cooking demonstrations and give out recipes.
The functional medicine team at Derry Medical Center is growing. Ted Brooks, MD and Physician Assistant Julie Brooks, will be joined in February by Dr. Caron Eliezer, a board certified Functional Medicine provider who has been specializing exclusively in Functional Medicine for many years in Boston. The team is eagerly taking on new patients as they expand the functional medicine practice at Derry Medical Center.
“I just want to broaden people’s minds about what other options are out there.” Brooks says, “I want patients to know that there is another tool in the toolbox for them, and show them how valuable good nutrition and lifestyle can be.”
Are you ready to make a change? Dr. Caren Eliezer, a doctor certified in Functional Medicine, has joined the team, and we are accepting new patients! Click here to learn more and book your appointment today!