Constantly Learning

Dr Indra Barathan

MBBS, DRCOG, DFFP, MRCGP, IFM (2018)

July 1, 2021

As a doctor and a functional medicine specialist, I need to be constantly learning.  All of our practitioners take pride in reading and researching about new advice and findings in order to provide our clients with the best care possible.

Recently, I attended the Annual International Conference for the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM). Previously, I have attended this conference in person as it is a chance to meet other practitioners, make new friends and see what is happening around the world but, with the world the way it currently is, this year it was online. The IFM was set up thirty years ago by Jeffery Bland and his colleagues, to support the new approaches they were using to support patients’ health; representing the birth of functional medicine, as we now know it.

The conference is a three-day event, based in America (which made for a few late nights), focusing on a general theme, with many different lectures to choose from.  This year’s theme was resilience.  Amy Mack, the CEO, opened the proceedings with an emotional presentation about the history and the passion of the people who came before us, and set the foundation for what would be a truly inspiring and eye opening few days.

The main highlights for me, included:

  • Understanding unseen discrimination
  • Poly vagal theory
  • A growing adoption of functional medicine by conventional medical doctors
  • Getting back to the fundamentals of life

The first learning point, unseen or unconscious discrimination, is viewed by one’s ability to earn money, buy foods, learn how to look after yourself and how this has an impact on our health. The lectures did make me think about how this can be a stressor for our patients and one that we may have not considered when managing them. For example, if someone is on a low income, this may result in them having limited options regarding their health journey; is this a barrier for them adopting a healthier lifestyle and do they feel judged?  In functional medicine, to support patients with chronic illness we will consider genetics, their past medical history, family history, incidents in their life that would have changed how their body works but we also take into account the social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of our patients.

The next fascinating highlight from the conference was the poly vagal theory, discussed by Dr Stephen Porges.  This helps us to explain the effect of the nervous system on how the body works.  My understanding is, the vagus nerve has the parasympathetic and the sympathetic parts to it and we are wanting to get into the parasympathetic phase.  This is where the body is able to rest, digest and heal. Dr Porges states that another pathway is also triggered in the oldest part of the limbic system which makes us freeze and shut down. By knowing this, we can use manipulation of breath, posture, vocalisation and listening to provide ways to calm the autonomic nervous system via the vagal pathways, promoting both mental and physical health. This system is the body’s quest for safety.

Throughout the many lectures, what I found so interesting is that we are seeing more conventional medical doctors using the functional medicine approach to support their patients. This included a vascular surgeon who gained a better understanding of how the immune system works and what it needs to heal.  He found by incorporating this approach, his patients with chronic ulcers and wounds were healing better.  Another example was from a chronic pain consultant who presented some papers on how Omega 3 EFA seemed to reduce pain, Vitamin C reduced the prevalence of complex regional pain syndrome, and Vitamin D improved pain scores.

The final main takeaway from the conference was the need to fully understand the fundamentals of life and how this information can be transformative to people whose lives we are supporting, educating and empowering throughout their journey at the practice.

The main foundational pillars being:

  • Fostering, community, purpose and gratitude
  • Vagal Tone and parasympathetic nervous system
  • Stress Managements, mindful meditation, relaxation and guided imagery
  • Sleeping
  • Basic Nutrition, hydration, colour and fibre.
  • Fasting (this is dependent on each patient)
  • Healthy Movement
  • Then fostering community and purpose and gratitude.

Overall, the conference reconfirmed my passion for this complex and ever-changing way in which we can help people.  It certainly gave me many things to consider, especially the need for group care programmes for our existing patients along with new ways we can work with people embarking on their health journey. Watch this space!