A new approach to chronic disease management | Guest column

Submitted by Gavin Guard

Living in modern times has brought about great inventions, convenience and opportunities for humans. Modern medicine has equipped us with being able to transplant organs, create imagery of active parts of the brain and use nano-robots to fight cancer. We communicate and make financial transactions on our phones.

Unfortunately, humans have been plagued with modern chronic illnesses that are increasingly becoming more common. One in four women and one in six men have an autoimmune condition; one-third of Americans suffer from hypertension; one in five kids ages 6-11 are obese. The diagnosis of depression increases by 20 percent each year and autism rates have doubled since 2011.

It doesn’t look like it will get any better. In 20 years, it is projected that one in three people will have diabetes and just about 95 percent of Americans will be overweight if the current trend continues. This is not an inexpensive problem that we all face. In 2013, the country spent about $3.8 trillion in healthcare expenses which equates to almost 25 percent of the total gross domestic product.

Yes, we are living longer than ever before. But are we living healthier? My stance on this question is, “no.”

Our current healthcare model is not set up to deal with this madness. Rarely is conventional medicine armed with the tools to fix the underlying cause of the disease or condition.

I believe there’s a solution. Functional medicine aims to look at the root cause and pathology of disease. How? It treats the underlying cause of a disease rather than its symptoms through careful evaluation of the body’s functions through advanced lab testing, history taking and physical exams. It uses intricate knowledge of the interconnectedness of different body systems to detect how one is affecting the other and vice versa. It utilizes the powerful intervention of nutrition; sleep; stress management; community; movement; nutrients; supplementation; and even pharmaceuticals (at times) to treat the root cause of the disease. Functional medicine aims to partner with the patient to empower them with the tools to make a profound impact in their own life rather than being told what to do.

Functional medicine is not “voodoo” or whatever some may say about a model different from the conventional one. It’s science-driven and evidence-based, but not evidence-limited.

I do believe conventional medicine is crucial to our health. We need drugs at times and brilliant physicians to treat aggressive cancers, manage heart attacks and other emergencies, and prescribe antibiotics when needed. This is not a dichotomy at hand but rather an additional framework that can be implemented alongside our current model of medicine.

I believe functional medicine will make the largest difference for the island community. I’m excited to work with and give back to the people who made my hometown such a great place to live and to what it is today. I’m invested in transforming the health of my community so that it can make a larger impact on the world around it.

Stay tuned for what’s ahead.

Guard is a former Friday Harbor High School graduate in his final year of graduate school at the University of Colorado studying to be a physician assistant. He and his family plan to move back to Friday Harbor to establish a functional medicine clinic aimed at transforming the health of the island community.