Recently, while purchasing a mask for each member of my family and tabulating the ongoing and critically necessary work of the Institute for Functional Medicine going forward, I found myself feeling curious about the current state of the world. Locked away in our homes, each of us is seeking refuge from a virus that we know surprisingly little about. We are using terms such as social distancing, trackers, antigen testing, PPE, and ventilators as if they have been part of our daily lexicon for years. We can easily rattle off those who we believe to be vulnerable to this virus, while all the while, we are wiping down our groceries, wearing masks and gloves to the grocery store, either working from home or not working at all, holding happy hours and birthday celebrations by video conference, and making very few trips from our homes.
Why are we doing this?
Because we are all vulnerable. For many decades, around the globe, our vulnerability has been increasing. Through the acceptance of fast food, rapidly growing carbon footprints, massive increases in consumerism, sedentary lifestyles, ubiquitous pesticides, and an ever-increasing number of pharmaceuticals, we’ve created not simply vulnerable populations, we’ve created a vulnerable—some might say fragile—society.
What should we do now?
Well, if we are honest with ourselves, this pandemic requires us to take dramatic steps to not waste this moment. We must not let the lives lost, the healthcare system torn in shambles, and the broken economy to have been in vain. This crisis is novel, and novel challenges demand innovative voices, innovative thinking, and innovative ideas and solutions—and personalized innovation is the life blood of Functional Medicine.
In a simple news search of COVID-19, the most common words we see are “find a vaccine,” “flattening of the curve,” and “no treatment yet available” for this dangerous virus. And yet, over the last three weeks, we have seen that Functional Medicine is bringing hope in clinics across the country. Rather than hanging all hope on the development of a magical pharmacological cure, Functional Medicine clinicians are studying the “why” and the “how” of our vulnerability. These clinicians are determining what is breaking down and causing dysfunction and how function can be restored. And, while adhering to the recommendations of scientists to wash our hands, social distance, and stay home, these same clinicians are treating patients by telemedicine and thinking about how we can do more than cover our noses and mouths to become less vulnerable to the virus—things like eating a rainbow of clean foods, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and boosting our immunity through the use of nutraceuticals and botanicals. Together with these ‘trickle down’ public health measures, it is our role in the Functional Medicine community to champion the personalized interventions that will have a profound ‘trickle up’ effect on public health for the immediate pandemic and in the long term. Unfortunately, this approach is not shared by everyone in the healthcare field.
Recently, in JAMA Network online, authors Fontanarosa and Bauchner presented a piece entitled COVID-19–Looking Beyond Tomorrow for Health Care and Society,1 an opinion piece describing a multi-paper series covering the challenges of the pandemic. In the first paper in the series, From Mitigation to Containment of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Putting the SARS-CoV-2 Genie Back in the Bottle,2 authors Walensky and del Rio conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic will end with a “course-corrected public health strategy that promises widespread testing, resources for those affected, and a profound appreciation for an impressive, inspired, and tireless health care workforce that helped the US deal with this pandemic.”
Surely, we can think and act from a larger, proactive, and compassionate perspective. Out of respect for the thousands of healthcare workers on the front lines, for the families heartbroken with loss, for the populations rendered more vulnerable than others, and for the more than 25 million unemployed, we owe them more. We must find more than a single-use vaccination that will work only for this virus and not for the next pandemic around the corner.
A Functional Medicine Approach
To that end, in the last four weeks, The Institute for Functional Medicine has released a series of important papers that address overcoming vulnerability and building resilience:
- The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Virus-Specific Nutraceutical and Botanical Agents assesses the scientific plausibility of promising prevention approaches and therapeutic interventions and offers clinical recommendations.
- The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Lifestyle Practices for Strengthening Host Defense outlines research on how modifiable lifestyle factors can help prevent infection and reduce the effect of infection if and when it occurs.
- The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Helping Functional Medicine Practices Achieve Their Duty to Serve presents a menu of the most essential tools to maintaining or reinvigorating your Functional Medicine practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Primer on SARS-CoV-2 Testing includes a deep dive into the biology of SARS-CoV-2 testing and serves as a resource for important testing-related information.
In the coming weeks, we will be releasing new papers every other week designed to educate practitioners and patients about recovery.
The vulnerabilities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic can be mitigated through a Functional Medicine lens—an approach that reduces our vulnerability not only in the current state of the world but, more importantly, for the future and how we live our lives with COVID-19.
- Fontanarosa PB, Bauchner H. COVID-19—looking beyond tomorrow for health care and society. JAMA.
Published online April 17, 2020. doi:1001/jama.2020.6582
- Walensky RP, Del Rio C. From mitigation to containment of the COVID-19 pandemic: putting the SARS-CoV-2 genie back in the bottle. JAMA. Published online April 17, 2020. doi:1001/jama.2020.6572