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My patient’s stories have been my teacher, so let me start with a story.


Sophia is a sweet, shy bi-lingual ten-year-old neighbor. Her Mom had shared with me some indications that she was approaching puberty: small breast buds and the noticeable body odor of a teen. Her problem was sudden onset of insomnia and leg pain from her toes to her thighs that was nearly incapacitating. It nearly kept her home from school. I suggested that she see her pediatrician who diagnosed “growing pains” and said she would outgrow it. I suggested that she be given hefty dose of magnesium citrate pills and the leg pains stopped within 24 hours.


The sleep problem persisted so I added a small dose of the trace element boron and she slept soundly that night and has ever since. It was not rocket science. Unmet needs for magnesium are very common. The symptoms have to do with the very expressive term “up tight” in either the nerves or muscle. The magnesium and boron were, at first, a perfectly safe test that became a treatment as soon as we had thumbs up. This approach would be considered unconventional in the sense that her well trained pediatrician’s response was to simply give her symptoms a name.

In every generation doctors who promoted unconventional viewpoints, ideas and practices have taken heat. Physicians who “knew better” ridiculed Semmelweis’s hand washing, Pasteur’s germs, and Marshall and Warren’s bacterial role in stomach ulcers. Some would say that my views are radical. They are radical common sense. Foremost is the idea that the individual, not the disease, is the target of treatment. Answering questions about the individual’s special unmet needs favors Natures buoyant impulse toward healing. The three basic questions are what this person may need to get, avoid or be rid of. These are the core principles for which I am recognized as a founding father of Functional Medicine. In my published books readers will fine  a “wise guide” to show them how to depart from name-it, blame-it, tame-it prescription pad medicine that wrongly views a disease name, rather than the individual, as the target of treatment.

The conventional map of diseases is a vast tree of limbs, branches, twigs and leaves representing the names of 70,000 entities. (illustration to be added). Such a tree mimics the classification of living things. That orderly branching of the family trees of plants, animals, and germs reveals kinship and origins. Physicians made a big mistake when they started organizing diseases in the same way.


Underling that mistake was the notion that diseases, like plants, animals and germs are things. They taught us to speak as if diseases are entities that attack us and make us sick. Common sense tells us that diseases are ideas about patterns of symptoms and measurements that groups of people share in certain recognizable ways. When we are sick we want the doctor’s answer to, “What have I got?” or “What medicine should I take to help me feel better.” If we are taking about a sore throat, sprained ankle, diaper rash, or cut that needs stitches it’s not a big deal. If it is sadness, chronic diarrhea, pain, inflammation, or a seizure it is not common sense to figure that depression, colitis, arthritis, or epilepsy is its cause.  Radical common sense says that you – not your disease name – is the target of treatment.


Treatment’s aim is directed with answers to my three foundational questions: what does this individual need to get, avoid, or be rid of to restore the balance of health. The answers to these questions are simple. There are only a few dozen and they are about you instead of being seventy thousand that apply to groups of people. You, not your disease name, must be the target of treatment.

Finding simple answers to the get, avoid, rid questions that will favor Nature’s profound capacity for healing. The list of possible answers is short and the two that come up most often in children and adults with chronic illness both have to do with their microbiota – the germs that live in the digestive tract and have regulatory roles that have been understood for years and only in the past decade have reached center stage in the drama of chronic illness.


The first in my experience came to my attention in 1977 when I met Orian Truss MD who pioneered the use of methods to get rid of yeast germs that thrive in the gut of people who have taken antibiotics and / or consume sugar. His book The Missing Diagnosis covers the subject thoroughly. The second option has to do the getting organisms to come and live in the gut where they have been missing in most people’s bodies for the past few generations. Called helminthic therapy, this simple and safe restoration of such critters produces a restoration of the immune systems key feature: tolerance to cure allergic and autoimmune disease


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