Paradoxically, Slow Medicine Is the Best Quick Fix for Your Health

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on November 3, 2014 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Hyman, M.D. — a leading functional medicine doctor and author of numerous books, including The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet — about “quick fix” vs. “slow” approaches to medicineHere are some excerpts from our conversation.

Michael Finkelstein, M.D.: For Americans who are used to the quick fix of food from a box, can, or drive-in window, how do you help shift to a whole foods diet without triggering feelings of deprivation?

Mark Hyman, M.D.: I’m all about abundance. I think that most people have a misconception of what it is to eat well. In fact, it’s actually about pleasure, enjoyment, celebration, and delight. What I encourage people to do is to reset their biology — their hormones, taste buds, brain chemistry and metabolism, so that they enjoy real food and so that their taste buds aren’t hijacked by processed foods and sugar. Industrial food is food porn and contains ingredients like sugar, that are proven to be biologically addictive. The question is, how do we unhook from our food addiction?

Real food is full of flavor, amazing tastes and pleasure, and can be made in wonderful ways. The pervasive mythology that prevents people from cooking and eating real food is that eating well takes too much time, costs too much and is too hard. It’s not true. If you look at studies on the economics of eating real food, it costs less or the same as when you eat out or when you eat processed food or junk food. Yes, you can make fancy recipes and gourmet meals, but everyday cooking can be easy, fun, inexpensive, and delicious.

MF: How and why do you encourage people to stay away from inflammatory ingredients, like sugar?

MH: Inflammation, we now know, is the main driver of most chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and dementia. By cutting out sugar and processed foods, and by eating foods that are full of natural anti-inflammatories and omega-3 fats, you reduce inflammation. A healthy diet is a great way to naturally fight inflammation, feel good, and reverse disease. It’s one thing to eat better to prevent a disease years from now, and it’s another thing to eat well now to feel well now.

MF: How did you become so passionate about diet in particular and holistic medicine

MH: I was a vegetarian as a teenager, and I studied nutrition in college. When in college I lived in a household with a bunch of friends, who all cooked together and ate together and made delicious food. We also had a backyard garden and grew our own food.

Then at a summer college program, I studied biological agriculture and a more decentralized way of living. From there, I planned to focus on Asian studies and Chinese medicine. At the last minute, however, I decided to try medical school.

I became a family doctor in a community hospital and was able to focus on community health and public health. But then I got stuck in a regular medical practice, prescribing drugs and working the ER, and I realized that I didn’t want to do that any longer. So I shifted my focus to lifestyle medicine, functional medicine, nutritional biochemistry, and the study of health, and began trying it out on my patients. I saw amazing results.

MF: I imagine it felt much better to integrate all of those things you were passionate about.

MH: Exactly. I was a yoga teacher before I was a doctor!

MF: What do you see as the lure of “quick fixes” like pharmaceuticals?

MH: I think people want to feel better. I think we can help them understand that they can feel better with or without medication. I don’t think people know about the monumental shift that is happening in science right now, a paradigm shift about the very nature of disease, a shift from medicine by symptoms to medicine by cause, from the science of disease to the science of health. This is the approach of functional medicine — a complete rethinking of health and disease based on systems thinking, on understanding the body as a complex network, not a bunch of unrelated organs. It is medicine by organism, not by organs.

I have started an innovative program at Cleveland Clinic, The Center for Functional Medicine, that will change the way we think about disease by showing how we can reverse disease by using the power of a food, lifestyle, and systems approach. Everybody talks about lifestyle and food and eating well, but most think of it as prevention instead of as treatment. Through the new center, we’re going to demonstrate how to use personalized lifestyle medicine, and functional medicine, particularly nutrition, to reverse the epidemic of chronic disease.

MF: What do you think we can do — as doctors and patients, individually and collectively — to move the medical industry towards a slow medicine model?

MH: Food works faster and better, and it’s cheaper than any other medication. We really have to reframe our notion of this approach as not being second best or “slower.” It is actually better and faster than what we are currently doing.

Each person must be the CEO of their own health. Health doesn’t happen in the doctor’s office, it happens in our kitchens and homes, in schools and workplaces and in faith-based communities. We need to decentralize anddemocratize health care and empower people in self-care — what I call self-health. By choosing to change what you eat, by choosing to take back your own health we can change our food and health care system and transform medicine and our chronic disease epidemic.

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