As a doctor, I always thought that, to be healthy, you simply had to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, take your vitamins, and follow doctor’s orders. But after 12 years of education and eight years of medical practice, I took a job at an integrative medicine practice in Marin County near San Francisco, where most of my patients were “health nuts” doing everything right. And yet, some of them were sicker than ever.
I was baffled. I mean, these well-intentioned folks drank their daily green juice, ate a vegan diet, worked out with personal trainers, slept eight hours a night, took their vitamins, saw the best doctors at Stanford and UCSF, maxed out what Western medicine had to offer—and they were still ill.
Compare this to when I worked in a clinic where many of my patients were from the inner city of Chicago. I understood why they were sick. They ate poorly, rarely exercised, smoked, drank, didn’t listen to the doctor, and got sick. That made sense to me.
But my patients in Marin didn’t make any sense. From everything I had learned in medical school, these people should have been in perfect health. Yet, they suffered. Many of my patients felt tired, they weren’t sleeping well, their skin had lost its luster, their libido went down the tubes, their bodies ached, their bowels acted up, they felt weak, they gained weight—they lost their mojo, really.
The Frustrating Quest For A Diagnosis
As a physician, it’s my natural inclination to help “fix” my patients. So although many of them had already seen the best doctors, in addition to a variety of alternative health care providers, I tried to do something—anything - to be of service. I’d start by running a battery of tests—some of them common, some of them specialized.
And, yes, with my functional medicine approach, I’d sometimes pick up something surprising that, when treated, would rid my patient of all his or her symptoms. (Hallelujah!)
But more often than not, I’d either find nothing earth-shattering and wind up shrugging my shoulders—or I’d find something and treat it, but the patient wouldn’t get better. Way too often, the patient and I came away from an expensive diagnostic process empty-handed. We’d both wind up frustrated. Surely, something was wrong, the patient would assure me. And yes, clearly something was wrong. But I finally concluded that it might not be something I could treat with a pill or a vitamin or an injection.
It was clear that there was still a big, missing piece of the health puzzle. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
A Radical New Intake Form
Desperate to help my suffering patients, the first thing I did was change my patient intake form. In addition to the typical health questions, I started asking all sorts of personal questions—and I want you to ask yourself these same questions.