HOW ROOT CAUSE MEDICINE CAME TO BE
I’m often asked how Dr Rick and I came to create Root Cause Medicine. It has a quite a bit to do with my personal story.
I did not enjoy good health. I began life having convulsions with fevers over 104 degrees and apparently they would pack me in very cold ice baths up to my neck in the hospital to get my fevers down – this I don’t remember, fortunately.
What I do remember is passing out from low blood sugar. I was a figure skater, and part of my training was to take ballet and jazz classes. I grew up in New York and every Sunday morning (my day off from training) we would drive to New York City, and adjacent to Radio City Music Hall was a walk-up studio where a ballet class was held for mostly professional dancers. I was about 11 or 12 at the time and it was an honor to be invited to the class. It was a long class and only recently I recalled that I never “made it” through the entire class. Things would start to look a little “hazy” and basically I passed out. Someone carried me to the car where my mother would drive me home. It sounds so crazy to think back on it, but as a child you don’t think such things are necessarily abnormal. At that time my blackouts only occurred during periods of intense exercise.
Then I went through puberty and they began to happen without exercise. I could be at home or at a store and I would just pass out. This continued for years, as did migraines.
I also had daily “regular” headaches when I wasn’t suffering from migraines, along with back pain. As a figure skater, doing double jumps (no, not triples as they do today!) and taking a lot of falls, there were occasional days I couldn’t stand up due to the pain. But it would pass and I was back to my routine of training 8 hours per day, six days per week.
I earned a U.S. gold medal status in figures when I was 16, but went to college to study pre-med instead of pursuing further skating goals. I actually trained in NY City with both Dorothy Hamill and John Curry, both of whom won the gold medal in the 1986 Olympics. They were much better than I, therefore no regrets for moving on to my next goal.
It was after I stopped my rigorous physical training that my migraines and blackouts worsened. I was told my mother had both problems so it was genetic. I remember thinking, “great”, not a lot I can do with my genetics at this point.
I would be incapacitated with fatigue, migraines, pain and menstrual cycle “difficulties” a large percentage of my life and with a pre-med major in molecular biology, making it through the rigors of college at an academically difficult ivy league women’s college was a struggle.
Things changed when I first saw a doctor of chiropractic my junior year of college. I had been playing a lot of tennis and my back pain had worsened. Unbeknownst to me the doctor also specialized in nutrition. I’ll never forget the day I was lying on the table thinking about my next exam when he raised his voice and said: “Vikki, what’s going on with your liver and spleen!” I came out of my reverie and told him I was just getting over mono – something I had contracted over the holidays which had delayed my return to college for almost a month because I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed.
His comment was, “Oh, okay, that makes sense. You had me worried.” It wasn’t until after I left that I realized I had told him nothing about being ill, yet he figured it out. I spoke to him later and he told me about the nutritional work he did – the seed was planted.
That summer I was working in a hospital doing volunteer work. Something all “good little” pre-med students did to show their commitment. I decided I wanted to experience what it was like being on-call and shadowed a young intern around from Friday night until Sunday night, wearing scrubs, sleeping on cots and generally doing whatever he did.
Saturday night about 2 am we were awakened by a nurse to see a patient who was having trouble breathing. He had congestive heart failure and I’ll never forget the sound he was making nor the look in his panicked eyes when we got to his room. He was struggling for air and the intern quickly surmised he was drowning in his own fluids due to the inefficiency of his heart. The patient was put on a diuretic through his IV and a few hours later he was sitting up in bed, looking much better and able to speak.
The intern was ecstatic, having “saved” the gentleman and having succeeded in his goal for the weekend – no one dying. I shared his enthusiasm and we “high-fived”, but it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to wane to dismay. I was struck by the fact this patient was never going to leave the hospital. He could not return to his home, his wife, nor his life. He was terminal. He was going to die there.
There were several such patients we had interacted with over the weekend who were in similar states of ill health. I remember being taken aback at how the doctors spoke of their patients behind their backs. I distinctly remember a doctor saying to a nurse, “Of course her diabetes is out of control, she weighs 300 pounds – what does she expect me to do about it.”
And then I had this thought: What if someone had interacted with these patients sooner? What if the body could be healed? What types of doctors interacted with patients before they got too ill to help? What needed to be done for these people?
Personally, I started to see a nutritionist and as a result of his care, I stopped passing out. This was a great improvement in my health. There were plenty of other issues to fix, but no more blackouts was a nice start. All I had done was change my diet and take some nutritional supplements.
My doctor of chiropractic enlightened me that chiropractic school’s curriculum included two full years of nutrition while medical school students received a brief semester.
When I questioned doctors in the hospital about nutrition it was completely dismissed. “If you want expensive urine, take vitamins”, was the uniform response I frequently heard.
If was a difficult time for me because I was confronted by a crossroads: I always wanted to be a doctor but I was starting to feel depressed whenever I went to the hospital. I wanted to impact people’s health at a time in their lives when they could fully regain function and fully accomplish their goals. My health was improving through natural means but the doctors I interacted with at the hospital said vitamins and dietary changes were irrelevant.
After much soul searching and continued improvement in my health, and my mother’s (she stopped blacking out too!), I chose to become a doctor of chiropractic and specialize in nutrition. It was in school I met my future husband, someone who shared my desire to combine the best of chiropractic and nutrition to normalize and optimize health.
While in school I continued to work on my own health and began to see improvement on all fronts. As it turns out, I wasn’t genetically “programmed” to have migraines. I resolved my migraines and those of my mother’s. She had suffered for about five decades at that point, but neither one of us ever had another migraine once we isolated the driving force – the root cause.
Once I graduated and began work with patients, Dr Rick and I developed a diagnostic and treatment philosophy. We spoke of getting to the underlying root cause a great deal to our patients. Education was critical because we live in a medical system that provides a drug for every symptom with no attention spent trying to figure out “why”. We desired for our patients they develop a different way of thinking about their health and their body.
Why did I have migraines and daily headaches and fatigue and joint pain (at one point I was told I would never practice chiropractic!) and menstrual cramps and PMS and….?? It turns out there was a basic root cause underlying all the problems, despite the fact they involved different organs and systems.
You see the body is a coordinated, complex, miraculous machine that doesn’t operate in a vacuum. I didn’t need a drug for my headaches, an anti-inflammatory for my joint pain and a hormone for my menstrual issues. It turns out the system that needed assistance was my digestive system, the one area I didn’t have any symptoms! If you had asked me at the time, I would have told you I had a great digestive tract. I could eat whatever I wanted, my stomach never hurt, I was “regular”, etc. Of course I craved sugar, bread, pasta and cheese – and basically those constituted the majority of my diet.
You can likely guess, if you follow my work at all, I soon discovered those foods were not my friends, and changing my diet and utilizing some precise nutrition turned the corner for me.
Of course I followed the same line of thinking with my patients. The nervous system had to function because the brain was “the boss” -that’s where chiropractic came in. Next was the “second brain” as the digestive tract is sometimes called, and I quickly learned that if I didn’t isolate any foods that were reacting poorly in the patient’s body it didn’t matter what else I did right, they were not going to get well.
Often patients just wanted the “magic pill” in the form of a supplement. It was good they wanted something natural vs. a drug, but it still wasn’t going to get the job done. One thing I’m known for is my honesty. I tell my patients the truth, whether they like what I’m saying or not. I started telling patients that if I agreed to give them supplements in lieu of them changing their diet, they should fire me, because I wouldn’t be truly helping them.
As time passed we developed what we now call Root Cause Medicine. It involved a very thorough history that focused on isolating all the possible stressors in the body and addressing them from the viewpoint of the highest to lowest priority. In order to impact the largest change and reduce and eliminate medications, we added a medical doctor to our ranks. In order to impact any physical ailments in the most comprehensive manner, we also added Physical Therapy to our roster. We now had a team of clinicians that could address the body and its symptoms in a comprehensive, highly effective fashion.
I well remember attending our first Functional Medicine conference about 15 years ago. We had known the founder, Dr Jeffrey Bland, for many years and decided to see what was involved in his newest seminars designed to train doctors. Dr Rick and I were amazed to see they taught doctors a method of thinking and analyzing that was almost identical to what we had been doing for so many years. It was great to suddenly discover an entire Institute founded on the principles we had “evolved” over years of practice. We went on to support the Institute, becoming on the second group of doctors to earn the certification of Functional Medicine Practitioner after vigorous examination. And we continue to attend seminars to this day.
The hardest part of practicing Root Cause Medicine is that I can’t do all the work for my patients. I honestly wish I could. The discipline I learned from figure skating, so many years of school, tough exams and ongoing doctoral training, not to mention working on my personal health (Yes, I still miss pasta and cream sauce and sugary desserts, but I never eat them!), has served me well. But unfortunately my discipline is something I cannot pass along to my patients via a magic wand.
We have excellent success treating patients with Root Cause Medicine. But due to the need of lifestyle changes, some personal discipline comes into play. The patient who won’t make changes and stick to them, does not get results. Some things are worth fighting for, and worth changing for, and in my opinion your health falls squarely into that category.
I hope this answers the story of how Root Cause Medicine came to be.
For every wonderful patient who seeks our help, I often think of the thousands that are continuing to suffer due to not being offered a method of healthcare that diagnoses the underlying root cause. If you know of anyone suffering ill health, please forward them this article. We are happy to offer a FREE phone consultation (call 408-733-0400) or FREE in-office consultation to anyone ready to improve their health.