3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative.
Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.
The following is an interview we have recently had with Betty Murray, MS, CN, IFMCP, CEO and Founder of Living Well Dallas Functional Medicine Center and host of the upcoming FX Woman Podcast, a podcast dedicated to women’s health with a focus on functional medicine.
Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?
BM: I actually came to functional medicine and nutrition as a patient, first. I was in a completely different career. Over my 20s, I started having severe episodes of digestive issues that were later diagnosed as colitis. At that diagnosis, I asked if there was anything I could do to change my diet and lifestyle to help my underlying condition. The doctor told me food had nothing to do with my digestive autoimmune condition and that my choices were harsh medications that would suppress my own immune system.
That answer wasn’t enough for me. I knew in my heart that I could do something myself to improve my health. It really put me on a path of discovery. I went back to school taking nutrition classes, later earning a master’s in human nutrition and certification as a nutritionist over 16 years ago. I started Living Well Dallas in 2006 as the first multi-specialty clinic, armed with the concepts of functional medicine, diet, lifestyle and exercise as the cornerstone of health. I have now gone on to earn two masters and I am currently completing my dissertation for my Ph.D. and have worked with people from all over the globe.
I found a way to take control of my health in my personal journey. Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of helping tens of thousands of people turn their health around with functional medicine. The beauty of a functional medicine approach is that functional medicine takes a systems approach, not a silo approach. Our bodies are not individual systems – digestive, cardiovascular, endocrine, etc. These systems are interrelated and operate in synergy with each other. So often what works for one system undoubtedly also leads to health for other systems.
What excites you most about your day to day work?
BM: There are several aspects of functional medicine that I am most excited about. First, in functional medicine, the patient – practitioner relationship is central to the process and so the patient story, history and life is all part of the process. We build relationships with our patients. Functional medicine is based on bio-chemical individuality. We now know that many diseases we can label with a diagnosis code have multiple potential causative factors. When you can personalize the approach to find an individual’s root cause, you can create a treatment plan that is more effective and more accessible to the patient. Functional medicine really embraces biochemical individuality and the tools we use in functional medicine and nutrition help us personalize treatment.
I am also very excited about the future of genomics and metagenomic sequencing. The accessibility of genomic sequencing to personalize a treatment plan to a patient’s unique make up and biochemistry is truly the medicine of the future. As a nutritionist and scientist, I use the genetics and metagenomics from microbiome sequencing to assist in developing nutrition plans for patients. I also couple those tests with biochemistry in cellular metabolism, cell signaling and nutrient metabolites, to guide nutrient choices and dietary direction for my patients. Today, we really have the capacity today to create precise recommendations based on a patient’s genetic blueprint and their epigenetic expression through lab testing. This is a new and exciting frontier.
What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work?
BM: In the United States, our medical system is designed to label a disease or dysfunction and provide treatment – often in the form of medications and surgeries. However, the most common diseases and the disease that have the greatest mortality are largely preventable through diet and lifestyle modification. Our current conventional medicine model is not structured to handle chronic disease. This is why we have the most expensive medical system with some of the worst outcomes in all westernized countries. Conventional medicine and the economic machine of managed care are not designed to incorporate a comprehensive look at diet, lifestyle, nutrient needs, genetics, gut health, and more into a patient’s care. Our conventional medicine system is structured for throughput – speed and numbers of patients seen each day. The economics of medicine puts an insurance middleman between the doctor and patient relationship and that middleman is mostly driven by financial concerns. This situation often leaves physicians to make choices based on insurance coverage, not what is best for the patient.
The truth is that the American public are searching for more out of their healthcare experience and adoption of functional medicine is growing. What we really have is a matching problem. People are looking for a more systems-based, diet and lifestyle-centric approach to medicine. These patients are having a hard time finding those practitioners who practice functional medicine. Accessibility to practitioners is a significant issue. Most functional medicine providers have left the traditional medical system and therefore, do not have the benefits of the built-in transactional model of medical referral. The more practitioners that practice functional medicine, the more functional medicine will become the standard of care. The public is already seeking.
What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine?
BM: Many patients and practitioners view functional medicine as alternative medicine. These are not synonymous. Functional medicine is a medical paradigm based on systems biology. Functional medicine is medicine and medications are used when necessary. A functional medicine plan may contain diet, lifestyle, exercise combined with medications, alternative treatments, and supportive mind-body-treatments together to get a specific outcome. Functional medicine is fundamentally different in that it is about interrelationships, and thus a holistic view is needed. Functional medicine is about identifying who you are as a person, what is unique about you and using multiple tools to help restore and maintain health. Think of functional medicine as an “and” rather than an “or.”
The tools we may use in functional medicine and nutrition may include diet, exercise, stress reduction and meditation, which are also tools that have been used as an alternative to other forms of treatment. However, often medication may be used, when appropriate, but it is not the only tool in the chest. Functional medicine is an exploration of who you are and the balance you need to be well.
What has your experience been with genetic testing?
BM: Genetic testing is something we use routinely at Living Well Dallas. We currently use medical professional genetics testing and reporting. I have tried several free genomics reports as well as paid ones. Often, the free reports give conflicting and, in some cases, inaccurate reporting on some genes. Therefore, we recommend our patients conduct a practitioner focused genetic test or let us use the raw data from 23andme or Ancestry in our software to create a report that is actionable. On occasion, we will run specific genetics labs for specialized treatments. For instance, our psychiatrist uses Genomind frequently to assist with medication and nutritional supplementation choices because of its reporting of drug-gene interaction. We consider genomics part of the process in creating a personalized plan.
How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead?
BM: I see the practice of functional medicine growing in scale and accessibility as more and more practitioners start to question the current system and look for better answers. I also know that the public is searching and are starting to demand a different experience in medicine. Functional medicine is at the forefront of this movement. We have to remember that medicine is a service industry and the customer as the patient is the buyer. So, even if the established conventional model is reticent to change, the patient as a consumer will ultimately cause the change.
I also see the understanding of genomics and the interaction of our genes; our microbiome and this complex interplay is the next frontier of medicine. As a matter of fact, this is the area of my current research. I believe the microbiome and the complex interplay with the human host holds great promise for solving health problems we haven’t been able to solve before.
We are already able to guide patients and individualized plans for optimal wellness with genetic testing and metabolic metabolites to personalize dietary and nutritional supplement recommendations. We are also able to test the microbiome through metagenomic testing and learn a lot about the microbes inhabiting our gut and how they interact with our bodies. We still have a lot to learn and understand. There have never been more strides in medicine focused on preventing disease than now. It is an exciting time. My great hope is that as more and more people experience health through using functional medicine approaches. Our citizens would become healthier, and we will see far less of a chronic disease burden.
About Betty Murray:
Betty Murray, MS, CN, IFMCP is the CEO and founder of Living Well Dallas – Functional Medicine Center, the most comprehensive multispecialty functional medicine center in North Texas. Betty is a practicing Ph.D. candidate at Saybrook University and a practicing nutritionist with a focus in biochemistry, autoimmunity and bio-individuality. She is also a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFMCP), receiving her IFM certification in 2014 from the Institute of Functional Medicine.
Betty founded Living Well Dallas Functional Medicine Center in 2005 with a focus on finding the root cause of illness and bringing together the experts in health and medicine to help her clients manage and reverse disease. Living Well Dallas has grown to over 6500 sqft and 14 different practitioners, including psychiatry, internal medicine, rheumatology along with clinical nutritionist, licensed counselors, health coaches, bodyworkers and several healing modalities.
Recognizing that the most potent force in the world is a community with a mission, in 2009 Betty started the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas, a 501C6 non-profit organization that brings functional medicine education and community to the practitioners of North Texas. She is also the CEO of Minerva Medical Consulting, creator of Perfect Practice Blueprint®, a medical practice business consulting and coaching company dedicated to helping practitioners implement the business of integrative and functional medicine into practice. Betty is committed to functional medicine becoming the foundation of primary care in the U.S. As such, Perfect Practice Blueprint focuses on the successful implementation of functional medicine concepts, products, services and procedures within clinical practices.
Betty is a sought-after author, speaker and TV, and radio guest. Betty is a regularly featured Fox News expert on Fox News National Radio Broadcasting for health and nutrition-related reporting and a frequent guest on television including NBC News, CW33 and CBS.