Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Annual International Conference in Los Angeles. The venue was, without a doubt, a very long way from my home city of Manchester. But far, far longer than the 10½ hour flight was the gulf between my former world of PR and a conference entitled The Dynamic Brain – Revealing the Potential of Neuroplasticity to Reverse Neurodegeneration. (Despite having retrained as a health coach, there’s no airbrushing away the fact that I’m a French and Spanish graduate who spent 22 years working in the rather less lofty arena of PR for the likes of food companies.)
So it was, I admit, with a certain trepidation that I set off alone for three days in the company of well over 1,000 doctors, listening to in-depth medical lectures by the world’s most brilliant minds on the subject of neuroplasticity. And, yes, there was a fair bit of content that whistled straight over my head. But, thanks mainly to the exceptional teaching at the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (with whom I’ve been studying for the past year), I’m pretty chuffed to say that I understood the vast majority of it.
It would be impossible to distil those extraordinary three days of seminars into an at-a-glance blog for you. But let me just say this for now: the not-so-cheery news is that just about every aspect of our modern environment – from our processed foods to the toxins that are all around us – is an assault on the health of our brain.
The heartening news is that the brain has a miraculous capacity to repair itself…if only we give ourselves the right keys to unlock its potential for regeneration. In essence, we all have the ability to craft our own brain through the lifestyle choices we make: how empowering is that?
From beginning to end, the conference was unforgettable. Our collective hairs stood on end as we learnt of case after case of brain disorders being reversed using functional medicine – each one worthy of a Hollywood movie. Cases like the company director told to get his affairs in order as Alzheimer’s tightened its grip – and then the astonishing cognitive results showing a return to whip-smart brain function within a few short months. Or the victim of Parkinson’s who transformed his painfully laboured shuffle into assured rock climbing.
We listened in awe to the formidable Dr Terry Wahls who, in the year 2000, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After spending four years in a wheelchair, she succeeded in restoring her health – and cycling an 18-mile tour! – in the space of 12 months. She achieved this using the tenets of functional medicine and now helps others follow the protocol she devised.
We wiped away a tear as we saw mind-boggling transformations in autistic children, released from the cage of their screaming disconnect with the world and now chatting happily, at ease with themselves and those around them.
And we leapt to our feet to salute Dr Jeffrey Bland, known as the father of functional medicine, and his youngest son, Justin. Standing alongside his dad in front of 1,300 people, Justin gave the most eloquent, first-person account of not only living with but thriving with a brain injury. It was profoundly humbling to realise that, having been written off by doctors as a small child after brain damage, Justin had gone on to achieve more than most ‘normal-brained’ people do in a whole lifetime.
This was a conference that vibrated with positivity, hope and a collective determination to spread good in the world. I heard many attendees refer to ‘finding their tribe’. I know just what they mean. I made countless friends with some of the most sincere, open people in the world.
The functional medicine tribe is one which embodies the very spirit of collaboration and embraces every one of its members, no matter what their background or expertise. And so it was that globally respected Dr Mark Hyman – chair of the Institute for Functional Medicine and New York Times best-selling author ten times over – took the time to provide encouragement and support to this PR girl-turned health coach as, over a cup of tea, I chatted to him about the work I’m doing here in Manchester.
And Dr David Perlmutter (who had given the most inspired presentations which juxtaposed the gut/brain connection with scenes from Star Trek and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) stood patiently in the street outside the after-conference party for this little video. That’s the sort of people these guys are.
I think my 11-year-old daughter hit the nail on the head in the note she hid in my suitcase: “I’ll miss you so much Mummy, but I know you’ll have a wonderful time with the best doctors in the world.”