Addressing Chronic Health Conditions at a Functional Medicine Institute (Part 1) – Cardiovascular Diseases & Strokes

This article is the first of a series that will be highlighting how a functional medicine institute like New Health Montana addresses chronic health conditions versus traditional practices. In our first installment, we’ll take a look at cardiovascular disease and stroke. These conditions are common ailments affecting the population, but they are most commonly treated in an allopathic setting. In this article, we’ll discuss why this often fails to treat the true cause of these conditions and provide patients with the help they need to improve their health.

Functional Medicine

Donna Kay Jennings has been a registered nurse since 1973. During the first thirty years of her career, she worked in a traditional allopathic setting. About ten years ago, she decided to go back to school and become a nurse practitioner. 

She chose psychiatry as a specialty because she saw there was a huge need in this area. While the causes of death remain largely the same in the psychiatric population as in the typical population, the median reduction in life expectancy for people with mental illness worldwide is ten years, attributed to chronic co-morbid conditions. 

After she was awarded her psychiatry nurse practitioner degree, she started practicing functional psychiatry. Over the course of her training, she developed a passion for treating chronic health conditions. After all, the brain is attached to the body, and so, when patients come to our functional medicine institute with a brain condition, we must also heal the body. 

She came to understand that if you don’t heal the body, total remission from psychiatric problems is not possible. As her understanding has progressed, her passion—for treating all kinds of people—has grown and grown over the years. 

As she has learned more about functional medicine, she became particularly interested in how simple and inexpensive it is to treat chronic health conditions functionally, versus the allopathic, traditional way in which pharmaceutical drugs are used—and which costs billions of dollars.

The Top Causes of Death 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) usually provides a list of the top causes of death each year. The positions on the list change from time to time and vary by age. On the CDC website, you can view the statistics in detail. In this section, I’d like to discuss the diseases most commonly found near the top of the list.

If you discard accidents, which are generally third or fourth on the list, the list is generally like this: 

  • Cardiovascular disease  
  • Cancer  
  • Respiratory conditions  
  • Stroke  
  • Alzheimer’s  
  • Diabetes 

In the next section, we’ll go in-depth into Cardiovascular disease and stroke, and why we group them together in our functional medicine institute. 

Cardiovascular Diseases and Strokes 

Cardiovascular disease includes anything that affects the cardiovascular system—from hypertension to strokes to heart attacks. 

When you consult with a traditional doctor and your blood pressure is a little elevated, the doctor will prescribe a blood pressure pill. When you go back in six months, and your blood pressure is still elevated, they’ll give you a diuretic. When you go back in another year, you’ll be prescribed a higher dosage or more medication.

There are many side effects of blood pressure medications. For example, a lot of males don’t like their blood pressure meds because a side effect is erectile dysfunction. 

You will be told to remove fats and cut cholesterol from your diet. One of the myths about cardiovascular disease is that you need to eliminate fat and cholesterol from your diet to improve cardiovascular health. Cholesterol is actually healthy for your brain and your body. 

Cholesterol is necessary for the successful function of many of your hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, aldosterone, and cortisone. 

Inflammation in the vessels is what causes increases in blood pressure; so, once again, we have an inflammatory process going on. Traditional medicine doesn’t address inflammation in the cardiovascular system, with one exception—some doctors advise patients to take aspirin, which does reduce inflammation. 

In a functional medicine institute, if you were to come in with hypertension, first and foremost we’re going to figure out the status of the inflammatory markers. Then we will start an intensive investigation. We will look at everything. 

We will ask: 

  • What’s going on internally?  
  • What else is happening that’s triggering inflammation?  
  • Are you drinking enough water?  
  • Are your kidneys working well?  
  • Are you overweight?  
  • How are you breathing at night?  
  • Are you having sleep apnea?  
  • What is your diet like?
  • Do you exercise?  
  • What is your level of stress? 

If you have sleep apnea, this can affect the cardiovascular system. About 60% of Americans have some type of sleep apnea, but many don’t know it because it has not been diagnosed. We can send you home with a home test kit for a night, to check if you’re experiencing sleep apnea at night. 

As I’ve said, we talk about diet with all patients, including those with cardiovascular issues. We create a cardio-metabolic lifestyle plan, which gives you a list of nutritious foods that you can eat. We do not give you a list of foods that you can’t eat; we just give you lots of choices of foods that you can eat. If you are overweight, we work with you on a plan to lose weight. 

Then we monitor your blood pressure. We take three readings when you’re sitting and relaxed; you really have to put in the time to get a completely accurate measurement. Then we recommend you purchase a home blood pressure cuff, so you can keep an eye on your blood pressure at home.

We start an exercise program, and we work on eliminating the foods that cause inflammation. We start fixing any nutritional deficiencies if that is also an issue. We give you supplements that may help relax your cardiovascular system, such as magnesium, which is great for relaxing the musculoskeletal system, reducing muscle cramps, and contributing to better sleep.

Get on the Road to New Health at a Functional Medicine Institute

In our functional medicine institute, and in functional medicine in general, we treat all conditions functionally. 

What does this mean? 

We take all of their symptoms and look at them in groupings. We try to figure out which organ—or organs—are involved. Then we do a full spread of tests. We do way more testing than a traditional practitioner typically does. We do very thorough lab testing, including blood, stool, genes, and more, and then we start at the root: we search for the root cause and start treatment there. 

After testing the patient thoroughly, we review the symptoms and the test results from a whole-body perspective. We understand that all of the body is fully connected—the brain, the gut, all the organs, and systems. It’s all connected.

Every patient’s care is individualized, and each patient has a different treatment plan, based on the root cause of their symptoms and their particular circumstances. It’s not by the book, not by an algorithm. It is based completely on the needs of that individual patient.
As Montana’s premier wellness and medical weight loss center, we pride ourselves on meeting and treating our patients’ whole selves. Get on the road to new health today by requesting a consultation or calling us at (406) 721-2537! You can also get more information about how functional medicine can be used to effectively treat chronic conditions in Donna Kay Jennings’ book, Your Journey to New Health: Lifestyle Approaches to Address Chronic Health Conditions.