Introducing Dr Ibrahim MBBS, MRCP, FRCP. A former NHS Hospital Consultant and Functional Medicine Doctor practising in London and Weybridge. Dr Ibrahim is one of a number of eminent doctors in the UK and the US taking a whole body, systems approach to medicine and health.
Addressing the Root Causes of Disease and Poor Health
Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine addresses the root causes of chronic health problems. Then it goes about treating and reversing the disease or imbalance through comprehensive disease profiling, genetic testing, nutrition and dietary changes and a good old-fashioned approach to medicine – listening to the patient and finding out what is really wrong.
We call it a proper bedside manner! Now read on.
As a functional doctor, I have been inundated with questions from people who are suffering with chronic health problems. “Is there any chance for me to reverse my asthma, my heart disease, my diabetes, my thyroid problem, my sky-high blood pressure, my fibromyalgia, my MS, my arthritis, my IBS, my acid reflux, my Crohn’s disease, my ulcerative colitis, my chronic fatigue, my brain fog, my severe menstrual symptoms, my accelerated ageing……?”
I can tell you firmly, the answer is “Yes!”
Aristotle Says "Fear the right thing at the right time in the right way."
If you are one of the people asking these questions, I want you to convert your fear into courage. Aristotle said, “Fear the right thing at the right time in the right way.” The right thing to do is to work hard to resolve your chronic condition the natural way – and the best time is now.
Many of my patients have been able to resolve their chronic conditions. What made them successful in this was their willingness to change their thinking. Einstein said, “You cannot resolve the problem with the same mind that created it. If you continue doing what you are doing, you are always going to end up with the same results.”
Changing your mindset is crucial to succeeding.
You may think that all of this sounds very unscientific. People with chronic conditions go to their doctor for the prescription for the magic pills that will put it all right.
People think this way because pills have worked. You have germs; you take pills; you get better. This “Germ Theory” was developed by Louis Pasteur in the second half of the 19th century and supported by Alexander Fleming when he discovered penicillin in 1928. You apply a powerful agent (antibiotics) to clear one type of bug (micro-organisms.)
Germ Theory has worked for a long time – until, more recently, the pills started to fail due to antibiotic-resistant organisms.
But the basic premise continues to motivate doctors to discover diseases and then to find the specific agents that will relieve the symptoms. The logical conclusion of this thinking, however, is that we tend to consider depression to be just a lack of Prozac, or dementia a deficiency of Aricept.
Mainstream medicine manages the symptoms
Please do not get me wrong here: it’s important to recognise that mainstream medicine is excellent at treating acute conditions and infections. If you’ve broken your leg, are having a heart attack or suffering with pneumonia, there’s nowhere better to be than a hospital.
But chronic health conditions are a totally a different kettle of fish. Whilst there’s no doubt that we are living longer, too many of us are doing so in failing health, and becoming dependent on care in our later years.
Restoring Balance and Function to the Mind and Body
The problem is mainstream medicine manages chronic diseases at the level of symptoms, while the conditions themselves progress unchecked and get worse over time.
For example, you are given tablets to lower high blood pressure and balance blood sugar. These may slow the disease and delay complications, but the disease inevitably continues to worsen, and you stay dependent on medication for the rest of your life with any additional side effects from the medication.
An article published in the BMJ in 2003 discussed the pattern of patients who present with altered function (fatigue, migraine) in the absence of observed pathology (medical tests come back as normal)? In the light of a lack of clinical evidence, some doctors consider these patients’ problems are just in their heads.
The article encouraged a new type of approach and eventually led to the growth of functional medicine.
Functional Medicine Supports Whole Body Functions
Conventional medicine normally acts either when a diagnosis can be made, or when signs and symptoms are severe enough to demand a clinical intervention. Functional medicine evaluates functionality at a much earlier stage. It focuses on restoring balance to the dysfunctional systems by strengthening the fundamental physiological processes that underlie them (your immune system, your lung function), and by adjusting the patient’s environment to nurture and support rather than impair these functions.
This approach naturally leads to therapies that focus on restoring health and function, rather than pills that simply control signs and symptoms.
“My clothes are falling off” – the recycled cyclist
One patient – an ex-cyclist – was devastated to be diagnosed with a series of medical conditions in his 70s, and found himself on pills for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and gout.
He came to see me with general lethargy, frequent palpitations and severe arthritis. He had to sleep in a reclining chair because of severe back pain and suffered insomnia and irritable bowel symptoms. He weighed 103kg (BMI 31.5), had blood pressure of 160/100, high cholesterol at 6.7 and HA1C (reflecting diabetic control over the previous 3 months) at a very high 9.2.
After six months on a personalised, functional healthcare plan consisting of a healthy diet, regular exercise and appropriate dietary supplements, he reported back: “I need to start a trouser fund, as my clothes are falling off me.” He had lost two stone in weight, his blood pressure had normalised at 123/68, his blood sugar had too, and his HA1C had come down to 6.8 (normal < 6.5). His cholesterol dropped to 4.3 – and he came off his regular medications.
He went back to enjoying normal life – gardening, household work and cycling several miles on a regular basis.
Here’s another type of patient I frequently see in clinic.
“I’ve done this for 25 years, I can’t change”
A 55-year-old accountant came to see me because his GP felt he needed to go on insulin. He presented with brittle (poorly controlled) diabetes, despite being on multiple pills. He seemed to struggle badly with his accountancy workload – he was always behind with his deadlines and his diabetes got progressively worse as his clients’ frustration increased. And ironically, he was obviously a ‘people pleaser.’
He was devastated when I advised him to change his job, saying that this was not possible as he had been an accountant for over 25 years. I suggested that he hire a younger accountant to deal with the day-to-day tasks, in order to free him to do what he loves, namely connecting with and supporting his clients.
The change worked and his diabetes came under control with his usual medication, without the need to add insulin.
Functional medicine is all about prevention, early assessment, and the improved management of complex, chronic disease. It works at multiple levels, correcting core imbalances and restoring each patient’s functionality and health to the greatest extent possible.
The Best Possible Version of You
I explain this simple concept to my patients by saying: functional medicine is going to make the best possible version of you.
For example, if you’re suffering from lethargy, brain fog, muscle pain, skin changes and impotence, you can only reduce and eliminate those issues by addressing the underlying causes rather than dealing with the symptoms. In these cases, the effective intervention is likely to be to control your blood sugar, balance your hormones or repair your gut.
I have also used functional medicine to treat groups of people with similar problems en masse. The champion of our latest course was a 52-year-old diabetic who lost three stone in weight in six weeks, also, more importantly, he also let go of his diabetes, hypertension and arthritis.
One 50-year-old gentlemen with prostate cancer presented with severe lethargy and the inability to walk. His ambition was to be able to enjoy the swimming pool with his children, but he was unable to complete one 25-metre length. My nutritional test revealed vitamin deficiency due to a genetic problem. We worked with him to clean his diet and to increase his physical activity gradually. After nutritional changes over just 10 days, to our great amazement, he was able to swim 2.5km in one go! interestingly, MRI scan 8 months later showed shrinking of his prostate cancer from size 14 to size 6.
For more information on Functional Medicine or to contact Dr Ibrahim FRCP please visit his website below. Dr Ibrahim see patients in his private clinic in Harley St and Weybridge. He also offers a free online health assessment. It takes 7 to 10 minutes to fill in, and you will receive your score and brief health advice.
Column Written by Dr Ibrahim FRCP, adapted by Alison Jane Reid