We are thrilled to have Dr. Tom Sult, MD joining us this week to talk about his work, Functional & Integrative medicine and how our future can look pretty bright if we start embracing the human as a whole and understanding that everything is connected, there is root, and we need to find it in order to optimize our health!  Dr. Sult, let’s talk!

Q: Tell us a little about who you are and your practice.

My name is Tom Sult, I am residency trained and board certified in family medicine. I am also board certified in holistic, integrative medicine and certified by the Institute of Functional Medicine. The word Dr. means teacher, and I take that as the most important part of what I do. Prior to medical school I was a paramedic. I received several awards for teaching as a paramedic. As a resident in family medicine my fellow residents voted me the resident teacher of the year and as a professional speaker I consistently get very high reviews. Now, as a physician of functional medicine, the most important aspect of my practice is helping patients understand how they got from a place of wellness, how an imbalance was triggered leading to a cascade of events that caused disease. From there, I try to help them understand how specific diet, lifestyle and other interventions can lead them back to wellness. This is done through storytelling. The artful telling of the patient’s story to them in a way that is meaningful and illuminating will create the hope and inspiration for that individual to do the difficult things required to get well. So often at a physician’s office an individual will be told to change their diet. They’re given no tools and very little insight into how or why they should do that. It is through the retelling of their story and teaching them how and why in an inspiring way that can lead individuals back to wellness.

Q: How were you called to functional/integrative medicine?

After graduating from medical school, going on to family medicine residency and graduating from that program, I was left somewhat disillusioned. I did not feel that we were getting to the root cause of most disease. We were treating the end stage symptoms. Prior to medical school I had been in acupuncture school. While the tools there were somewhat limited I felt that their ideas were more holistic and more an attempt to get to the underlying causes. That led me on a long search. I found a group of people who were creating the underpinnings of functional medicine and became quite involved. That group of people eventually evolved into the Institute of Functional Medicine.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of practicing functional medicine?

My practice focuses on chronic complex disease. The sorts of things that modern medicine has no obvious cure for, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and various gastrointestinal disorders. My typical patient has been seen by the local primary care doctor, the local specialist, they then travel to a major medical center such as the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic or a university center and despite all of this intervention continue to have difficulties. Because in functional medicine we ask a different set of questions, we are able to come up with a different set of solutions. While conventional medicine focuses on what is the disease, functional medicine focuses on the question, “Why would you have this disease?” and it is that question that intrigues me so deeply. Trying to understand the uniqueness of this individual and their genetic makeup, coupled with their epigenetic metabolism and how that interlaces with their environmental influences. It’s unique with each individual and a great challenge to figure out.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.49.10 PMQ: Within functional medicine, what are you most passionate about? 

Functional medicine really isn’t about a disease or condition. It is about understanding the individual in front of you from a genetic, epigenetic, and metabolic point of view and from their understanding, how their environmental interactions through diet, lifestyle, psychosocial spiritual interactions etc. has led them to this moment in time. Then, it’s helping them to try and understand how subtle changes in those interactions can lead them back to wellness. This is the fundamental misunderstanding about functional medicine. People often ask me, “How do you treat disease X from a functional medicine point of view?” The answer is that you take a careful history, create a timeline, order tests, try to understand how the patient went from wellness to disease, create a “functional medicine matrix”, and try to understand where one can place leverage on that matrix to move the physiology in a meaningful way towards wellness. Did you notice that I never mentioned the diagnosis? On some level functional medicine is independent of the diagnosis. The diagnostic categories we have today are actually artifacts from an incomplete understanding of the interconnections of the various organ systems within the body. Functional medicine is whole organism systems biology applied to human physiology and pathobiology.

Q: How do you think us, in nutrition, and you, in medicine, can further support each other?

Functional medicine is food as medicine. Along with sociology as medicine, activity as medicine and spirituality as medicine. Functional medicine is a treatment of the human organism at the interface of its environment. Food is a critical interface between the environment and the human being. Food is essentially several pounds of environment carefully gathered, prepared and eaten. Food is information. If you provide healthy information to your body, it’s more likely your body will be healthy. Unfortunately, a significant fraction of the food we eat, especially in the “standard American diet, SAD” is inflammatory and/or otherwise dysfunctional information. Nutritional expertise is imperative to a functional practice. In fact, at the newly formed Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, the functional medicine physician is paired with a functional medicine nutritionist and health educator. This team approach is common in functional medicine and this holistic approach is critical to helping people with these various chronic complex diseases.

Thanks Dr. Sult! we are so honored to have you join us.  Anyone looking for more information on Dr. Sult and his practice, check out the 3rd Opinion in Wilmar Minnesota.