On Wednesday morning I went to the grocery store to get a few (healthy as I could find) snacks for my annual trip to the World Congress of Anti-Aging medical doctors. Las Vegas is where the Who’s Who of functional, metabolic, and anti-aging medicine doctors convene every December to share the latest medical findings and technologies. While hunting for food in the grocery store, I ran into one of my local doctor colleagues. Very intelligent, hard-working, caring toward his patients, nice guy. We caught up with what each other was doing.
When it was my turn, I explained that I was on my way to a medical conference. “Oh. CME, huh?” The look on his face and the sigh from his mouth made it obvious to me that he views continuing medical education (CME) as one of those necessary evils of being a doctor. I was immediately reminded of the emails I get nearly every day talking about the epidemic of burnout among doctors practicing traditional medicine (i.e. limited to drugs and surgery). Frankly, I was really surprised by his response. Reflecting on my own experiences with continuing education in functional medicine, I could not relate to his sentiment. I have so much fun learning the latest advances in medicine that I can’t wait to attend the next conference.
In fact, this marks not only my 8th annual trip to the world conference, but my 9th and final conference for the year 2017. There is just so much to learn, and it’s all fun! Yeah, yeah, I know I’m weird. But what we learn at these meetings helps you! I say “we” because it has been my privilege to enjoy several of these meetings lately with one or more of my staff, and it’s great to be able to compare notes during and after the conference.
One of the pearls of information I thought you would find helpful came from Dr. Jill Carnahan. She provided an excellent three-hour review of how to heal difficult gut problems. She also gave us another reason to think twice about prescribing antibiotics for children’s ear infections. I already knew from a recent study that antibiotics weaken the immune system, setting a child up for the next ear infection and eventual tubes. But Dr. Carnahan taught us that antibiotics in childhood also contribute to obesity and diabetes in adulthood.
She further explained why artificial sweeteners cause obesity. Everyone knows NutraSweet is supposed to help you lose weight because you can enjoy your diet soda without swallowing any calories. What you may not know is that all artificial sweeteners (not to be confused with stevia) are deadly to the healthy bacteria in your gut. This leads to overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria, the kind that cause you to absorb more calories from your food.
Who would have thought there were “fat-promoting” and “lean-promoting” bacteria in our guts? In other words, that Coke Zero Sugar may not have any calories, but it will cause you to absorb more of the calories from everything else you eat. And your body dutifully turns all the calories it doesn’t need into fat. Sadly, this is just one of dozens of dangerous effects of artificial sweeteners. Just don’t go there.
Dr. Mark Houston (I’ve talked about him a lot in previous posts) gave us some more tools for identifying and treating heart disease, and doing so long before you get that chest pain or shortness of breath. For example, he highlighted the roles certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies have in causing high blood pressure and blood vessel damage that leads to heart attacks. If you have high blood pressure, a good place to start is a complete micronutrient evaluation to see if one or more deficiencies could be contributing to the problem. It’s a simple blood test in our office.
For his part, Dr. Andrew Heyman shared the results of a surprising study demonstrating that merely controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars using all the right drugs does not halt the progression of heart disease and kidney disease. In other words, this is just another reminder that drugs can’t save us unless they solve the underlying causes of disease. Making the numbers look better on paper makes patients happy, but not necessarily healthy. Lifestyle changes and targeted nutrient supplementation (based on each individual’s test results) are what actually reverse the course of disease. Imagine that: Instead of watching a disease get a little worse year by year, you can actually help it get better!
Well, I can’t possibly give you the blow-by-blow of 24 hours of lectures and training sessions. And I’ve spared you all the technical information that isn’t going to make any sense to you. I just wanted to share a few pearls, and to remind you that it is our passion to learn everything we can to help you optimize your health.
Like I said, I love being a doctor. But not just any kind of doctor. Specializing in functional, metabolic, and anti-aging medicine makes all the difference. In short, this specialty focuses on optimizing health. At the same time, we learn to identify and treat underlying causes of disease instead of merely covering up symptoms with chemicals.
So my love of the practice of medicine isn’t just because I get to learn all the coolest stuff at conferences around the country. That love stems from the privilege of hearing day after day how much better our patients are doing, and how grateful they are for our small role in that improvement. That’s not only what makes me excited to go to my next conference. It’s what makes me excited to get up and go to work every morning!
Ray Andrew, MD