Shirolyn Moffatt, MD, in Harrison, is the type of doctor whose patients come from far and wide because they get the kind of help that is rare in today’s fast paced medical environment. They get a doctor who really listens to them, and spends an unusual amount of time getting a medical history, assessing the problem and mapping out a course of treatment.
Patients go to Moffatt knowing she won’t rush through the examination or act disapproving when asked about herbal or other natural medicine alternatives.
Moffatt doesn’t like the word “alternative” used to describe the type of medicine that she practices.
“It is not alternative,” she said. “It shouldn’t be considered alternative. It is integrating functional medicine into regular preventive healthcare. It should be taught in all medical schools as part of regular medicine. It is the opposite of acute care. People have complex problems, and functional medicine digs deeper into what causes the problem. We go back to biochemical pathways like with the research into Alzheimer’s being considered type 3 diabetes.”
Moffatt considers her practice a working partnership for health and positive change. Her mission is to empower patients to make healthy choices. She does this by applying the principles of functional medicine (see http://www.functionalmedicine.org/) to the practice of gynecology and women’s health.
“By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms,” Moffatt said. “I spend time with my patients listening to their stories and looking at the interaction among genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health. In this way functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each person. Functional medicine is personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease.”
Functional medicine is anchored by an examination of the core clinical imbalances that underlie various disease conditions, Moffatt said. It emphasizes a definable and teachable process of integrating multiple knowledge bases within a pragmatic intellectual matrix that focuses on functionality at many levels, rather than a single treatment for a single diagnosis.
Betsy Hendricks, MD, the Arkansas Center for Integrative Medicine, (www.bestyhendricksmd.com), in Quitman, also believes in the holistic approach. The integrative medicine she practices isn’t just about recommending nutrients, herbs and dietary and lifestyle improvements as opposed to relying on surgery and pharmaceutical drugs.
“That is not the whole picture,” Hendricks said. “It all about getting to the root of why someone is sick in the first place and helping them get well. In some ways integrative medicine is very similar to traditional medicine. But we all have a little different way of looking at things. What I’ve gravitated toward is working with people with chronic illnesses who have had trouble getting answers and getting well. As we look at the different factors contributing to them staying sick, we work with them to get well so they are not taking so many medicines and have a better quality of life.”
Integrative medicine combines of the best of both conventional and alternative medicine. It is based on science, just as is traditional medicine. For example, one of the more increasingly common health problems Hendricks is seeing is gluten intolerance. Medical research is showing that gluten is having a bigger impact than formerly realized, not just on the GI track, but auto immune involvement capable of attacking virtually any system in the body.
“That is not necessarily something we were taught to look for in medical school, but there is more and more research in the medical literature about gluten intolerance,” Hendricks said. “The first step was learning that celiac disease is more common than we thought. It is now estimated at one in 133 people, a big jump from previous estimates. It used to be considered extremely rare. Now we are starting to recognize celiac disease is not so rare, and are being more sensitive that someone presenting with chronic symptoms might have celiac disease. It is also important to realize celiac disease is just one part of the gluten intolerance picture.”
Hendricks is constantly studying new literature for the latest information about how to best serve her patients. For example, recently the Institute of Medicine tripled the Dietary Reference Intake recommendation for Vitamin D to 600 IU. This came after studies showing two-thirds of Americans are deficient in the “sunshine vitamin.”
Hendricks said the 600 IU recommendation is based on what is healthy for bones.
“Vitamin D does a lot more than take care of bones,” Hendricks said. “If we don’t look at the big picture on Vitamin D, then we may not be providing the best service to our patients as far as disease prevention. There are studies showing Vitamin D may be very, very important for preventing cancer. Or it may be when people are healthy and have the right amount of Vitamin D, we are less likely to get cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disease. In looking at the research and the correlation between blood levels and health, a general recommendation of 2,000 units per day for adults is a safe recommendation. It doesn’t put them in toxic range, and it improves their Vitamin D status.”
Recent findings about Vitamin D and gluten intolerance show the importance of keeping up with the research—and keeping an open mind.
“Things that ten years ago were considered alternative are considered more mainstream now,” Hendricks said. “For years we just knew, for some people, going on a gluten-free diet helped symptoms. Now we are seeing the science of why that is true. I think to provide the best care, integrating the best of both worlds is the way to go.”