She is the author of Looking Back Moving Forward, a book of fascinating conversations with thirty four renowned homeopaths in the UK.
Rowena Ronson trained at the London College of Classical Homeopathy and Jeremy Sherr’s Dynamis School, and has been practicing since 2001 in the UK. She is the author of ‘Looking Back Moving Forward’ (2007), a compilation of conversations she had with 34 renowned teachers and practitioners of homeopathy. In her practice, she combines homeopathy, psychotherapy, nutrition and functional medicine.
NS: Rowena, I know that you are very passionate about Functional Medicine. I also know that you are an extremely experienced and multi-talented practitioner who takes the business of healing very seriously, so I’m intrigued to know what it is that Functional Medicine has added to your practice. For a start, can you simply answer the question: what is Functional Medicine (FM)?
RJR: Thank you Nigel. I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk about Functional Medicine, as it has opened up a whole way of thinking, understanding and healing for me as a person, as a family member and as a practitioner. As homeopaths, we already view our health differently from the doctors and specialists that we have consulted in our lifetime. We see ourselves as whole beings and use holistic frameworks and remedies that impact us as a whole. Allopaths view humans as a collection of separate systems that require specific treatments, often treating one part of the body regardless of the possible effects – or side effects – on other parts, including our minds.
FM is an inevitable evolution in thought and application for the treatment of chronic disease. Similarly to a homeopath’s view of health, in FM we create a timeline for our lives and for our health, and in our mind’s eye (and on paper) we can chart all the incidents, choices and ailments that we have experienced along a continuum from birth to the present – and we can see how we have got to where we are. We can imagine this as upstreaming and downstreaming, in a way. And by doing so, we can appreciate cause and effect – and aim the arrow of our treatment accordingly.
All the systems of our mind and body are of course connected and they all have particular ways of functioning. Issues start occurring in our systems when they start malfunctioning, and this happens for many reasons. FM provides us with a framework for understanding how we function, tools to assess how we malfunction, and answers to how we can correct our functionality and prevent and treat chronic disease. Can you see why I am so passionate about it?
NS: I’m certainly beginning to. I understand the importance of the holistic approach to health and to our history of health, as do conventional homeopathic practitioners. Homeopaths treating chronic disease usually establish a detailed timeline for the case. Are you saying that in the FM approach this timeline is established in a different and perhaps more detailed way?
RJR: I would question whether all homeopaths create timelines, but would thoroughly recommend them, as they are so useful, and not just for case analysis. I would imagine only a small percentage of homeopaths share the timelines with their patients and educate them about their health. Even if they did, it would be to consider remedies and remedy states, as that is how homeopaths view health… it is our language. With FM it is more about how our body is functioning and disease processes – and as a result, lifestyle changes are highlighted and discussed. It is a different kind of awareness.
NS: So the appreciation of remedy states and the use of homeopathic remedies are just some of the tools you use in your practice, which seems to have a whole new dimension thanks to the FM approach?
RJR: Homeopathy, psychotherapy, nutrition, life and health coaching, and now FM all play an important part in my clinical practice. I integrate and use whatever skills I need to help patients with each process we are going through at any time.
NS: Are there many homeopaths looking at FM as a way of enhancing their practice?
RJR: Health practitioners from many diverse fields are attracted to the trainings in FM. At the London course in April 2017, a third of the participants were doctors, a third were nutritionists, and the remainder were other holistic therapists, including a splattering of homeopaths. As a result, we all practise differently, and so not many of us use homeopathy and FM – but there is a growing number.
For me, the training and all that I have learned since through further research and studying DNA reports and blood tests, for example, has taken my understanding of health to a whole new level, and for that I am very grateful. I now view disease as a process, which starts with a breakdown in how we function. For each patient, I work as a detective looking for points of change, and use homeopathy, psychotherapeutic interventions, diet and nutritional support and other lifestyle changes, in order to assist rebalance and disease prevention and/or treatment. It is all about keeping ourselves functioning to our individual optimum. I use homeopathy as I always have, constitutionally, acutely and therapeutically.
NS: It makes sense for practitioners of all sorts to establish timelines – and I know many homeopaths do that – but how do you ensure that these timelines are accurate and do not have gaps or incorrect sequences? Is the patient always a reliable witness?
RJR: Patients becoming more aware of their health as a continuum is very important. As part of the registration process for FM, patients dedicate at least an hour and a half of their time to filling out comprehensive questionnaires on line, which, when finished, create the timeline as well as a matrix of their health. This chart splits our health into seven functions: defence and repair, assimilation, structural integrity, communication, transport, biotransformation and elimination, and energy. It is better if the information is accurate, but approximations, in terms of dates, are ok too. The idea is that it all creates a picture and raises awareness for the patient about their health on all levels. Is the patient a reliable witness? I like to encourage my patients to take responsibility for their health, resulting in them becoming more and more reliable in their observing and witnessing.
NS: How do patients react when asked to provide this kind of complete detail about their history of health? For many of them, it must be a novel experience.
RJR: A novel experience? I like that! Yes, it can seem new and much like writing a novel! Some reject the idea completely! And then it is a process of education, much like it is when we work just with homeopathy. Homeopathy takes some explanation for patients to really embrace it and incorporate it into their life. The same is true for FM. In order to embrace it, we need to look at lifestyle, and there can be a fair amount of resistance. And I always work with the individual sitting in front of me. If they are not ready for form-filling, then that is fine too. It is not all about timelines. Sometimes they just need to be in the present and work with what is in the here and now, and we can do that too.
NS: When they do detail this information, do they themselves have revelations about their health? Do they see patterns and so on?
RJR: With assistance, yes. They start to understand the consequences of stress in their lives, or the taking of a medication, such as antibiotics for example, and then a reduction in their immunity. As we all do as homeopaths, we encourage as much self-awareness as we can.
NS: You say ‘with assistance’? Would it be possible for people to do this for themselves? Or do they need the kind of professional help that you bring?
RJR: Would they be able to understand their health as a process and all that that entails without assistance? I doubt it. That is like asking, would someone who knows about Arnica, be able to understand classical constitutional remedies, for example Carcinosin, and prescribe them to themselves, without studying homeopathy.
NS: I know every case is different, but is the patient who wants to tackle their health issues in this way having to make a long-term commitment? Perhaps of many weeks or months?
RJR: It is the same answer that I give to the yo-yo dieters who come and see me… It is much easier to view health changes as an educated and enlightened new beginning. When changes are suggested to the mind, if this is done in an empowering way, they will not feel burdensome, like a long-term commitment – which can be so triggering because of its negative connotations. It is like if you are smoker and you give up – if you view it as a long-term commitment to not smoke, it becomes a chore. It can create a conflict inside ourselves between our inner parent and child. Our internal parent is telling us we must not smoke, eat unhealthy food etc, and our internal child is either being well-behaved (for a while) or rebelling like a teenager. If we make decisions from our internal adult to live a long and healthy life, then it is much easier to transition into change, and to feel like we are opening to the relishing of a self-nourishing process.
NS: So it’s all about bringing about a change and moving forward from there?
RJR: Gaining and maintaining good health is not a quick fix, as we know – it is an ongoing process. I have been using homeopathy since I discovered it back in my twenties. Once awakened, it was impossible to look back. I am sure you agree! I know that my patients get as much out of each consultation as they do from the remedies I prescribe for them. I generally work with patients long-term. I encourage maintaining their health on all levels and I do this through our conversations in clinic, coupled with empowering education about homeopathy and preventative healthcare.
The same applies for FM. Of course it is very different from going to visit a doctor. Patients are not reliant upon me, and I do not encourage them to come to me for answers and prescriptions. I help raise their consciousness so they have more tools to take care of their own health. But I do encourage the strengthening of an ongoing relationship and the building of trust with me. I see this as a completely vital component of the work we do together. FM tests, for example, might only need to be done once, but creating change can take longer. And preventative care is a forever process.
NS: Can you say a bit more about the FM tests?
RJR: I can indeed! I will use a case to help make what I am talking about more relatable and applicable. I just finished analysing the results of a specific combination of tests that I chose together with one of my patients. She was struggling with several debilitating health issues and she was taking a whole array of supplements and remedies prescribed by a number of practitioners, including a nutritionist and homeopath, but not feeling any better at all. She was experiencing easily triggered stress responses in her body, but not due to any particular major stressors in her life. In other words, she felt stress in her body regularly and readily, despite a relaxing daily practise of yoga and meditation, and a good lifestyle, holidays etc. She was following a healthy diet and exercise plan too.
As she has an interest in disease prevention as well as ongoing natural health care, I recommended we test her DNA so I could analyse her genes and see how best she can take care of herself with the information they provide about susceptibility. Progress in this field of science has provided us with an ever-evolving hub of knowledge to draw from, and the modern-day tests allow us to adapt it into health wisdom and intelligence for our patients. The DNA information delivered useful guidelines on her health in detail on all levels (DNA Health), what diet she should follow (DNA Diet), what exercise works best for her (DNA Sport) and how her oestrogen detoxifies out of her system (DNA Oestrogen).
Alongside her DNA reports, she took an extensive and comprehensive test to assess how her body is functioning in the here and now. I would thoroughly recommend this test to anyone with a keen interest in their health, as it gives guidelines on how to look after it optimally. Disease does not just happen to us. It doesn’t just bump into us in the street or fall from the sky. It is the result of a process of our body not functioning as it should, over a period of time, and then becoming unable to recover fully and work efficiently.
The results of this test reveal markers for processes that measure how effectively we are metabolising fats and carbohydrates, how toxic we are, what is happening in our gut (bacteria, yeast etc), how well our brain is working in terms of stress, neurotransmitters, methylation etc, and how well we are managing our oxidative stress. My analysis provides a breakdown of what the markers all mean and what supplements/diet can support the person’s system to recreate balance and health.
Has that given you a taste of what the tests are for?
NS: The tests sound wide-ranging and complex. Can you give an example of what, in this case or another, diet changes and/or supplements you might recommend?
RJR: Yes I can, but I preempt it with a warning. Each test and its results are individualised to the patient, in exactly the same way that a homeopathic constitutional prescription is tailor-made for the totality of a person’s symptoms and what makes them unique. If supplements are taken over the counter and inappropriately, the same issues can arise that are similar to a homeopathic aggravation or proving. Much like homeopathy, supplements are not harmless. Let me explain. This particular patient had been taking the probiotic acidophilus for ten years because she had read somewhere or was told by someone, long ago, that it was good for her health. She had developed an intolerance to it and as a result was overproducing lactic acid. She experienced bloating, and frightening dizzy spells, which had increased her stress levels immensely.
As homeopaths, we are trained to act as detective when grappling with a new case. It is the same when looking at lab results and mapping them through the FM matrix. The Organix markers showed for her yeast and bacterial overgrowth that were off the scale. Her lactate markers warned of the intolerance to acidophilus and, having asked her what supplements she was taking at the start of the process, I made the link. Supplements are well marketed these days and so easily available. The media publish advertisements and articles on all aspects of health, and it might seem wise and proactive at the time to take a vitamin or two if the deficiency resonates with the symptoms we are experiencing. But vitamins, for example, have a wide scope and the ‘Google-researched and identified symptom’ we are experiencing might well not be linked simply due to a lack that can be fixed by pill-popping.
Analysing the tests reveals an entire picture of how we are functioning, and I recommend dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as the removal of supplements and the addition of others. The person might be struggling to detoxify from chemicals in their home – for example, from newly laid carpets or freshly painted walls. They might be overworking their nervous systems with an unmanageable amount of stress indicating a need for B vitamin support to help neurotransmitter conversations. This particular patient was unaware of the healthy ratio needed between LDL and HDL and was unnecessarily taking Omega 6, in preference to Omega 3 on its own.
Examining her DNA at the same time, I could identify that heart disease could hopefully be avoided if a number of factors were considered. These included getting that ratio correct and avoiding saturated fats in her diet. Does that give you more of an understanding?
We can identify a great deal of information when taking the case homeopathically. We look at family history, maintaining causes and obstacles to cure. When we examine the case further with the aid of the FM tools, we can actually identify what their obstacles are, and have a way of resolving them specifically. Instead of just knowing there is heart disease in the family, and prescribing an appropriate remedy, we can also give guidance on how best to prevent it precisely. This is one of the reasons why FM and homeopathy work so well together.
I always wondered why so many really well respected homeopaths have died of cancer. I could understand the emotional aspect to it – being there for so many people, with perhaps a suppression of one’s own needs and feelings. Gabor Maté describes the carcinogenic personality in his book When The Body Says No, and it is similar to how we view it as homeopaths. Yet I still have struggled with why our wonderful remedies didn’t work more preventatively, especially when practitioners and patients had a life-long relationship with homeopathy. FM gives us so many more answers and some really useful additional tools for our ever-evolving therapeutic natural health toolbox.
Without any doubt in my mind, homeopathy is miraculous, on whatever level it is prescribed. To watch someone shift their perspective dramatically and totally, as a result of one high dose of a well-indicated constitutional remedy; or to just observe the healing powers of a first-aid or acute remedy, for ever – its healing potential amazes me.
NS: Now I understand why you are so passionate about FM. It seems, from the way you explain it, that it can “supercharge” a homeopath’s practice. You have talked a lot about “physical” – what about “mental and emotional”? Can FM add another dimension to the homeopathic approach in these areas?
RJR: Yes, it certainly can supercharge a homeopath’s practice. More importantly (perhaps) it can enable us with ways of taking care of our health, and those in our care, that we have not really been aware of before. We can now accurately identify what were not obvious obstacles to cure, and provide options for properly rectifying them. Instead of blaming ourselves for perceived inadequacies in prescribing remedies, we can work with more certainty of change by clearing the path forward. We can understand the mechanisms of how our body actually functions rather than guessing what our vital force is doing when it returns us to health. We can truly support the patients who need our help in desperate times, who are not responding to our well chosen prescriptions yet continue to visit us out of loyalty, fear or reluctance to start working with someone else and building trust again when they are at their most vulnerable. In effect, Functional (Lifestyle) Medicine gives us awareness about our health to supercharge everyone.
I actually discovered FM because I had a close family member who was struggling with depression and was not responding to homeopathy at all. I had taken him to see four well-known and highly experienced homeopaths, and I could understand why they had prescribed each remedy that they did, but nothing helped – not even a little bit – regardless of potency, repetition, classical, complex, miasms, nosodes or anything else you can possibly imagine. I watched him, close hand and in desperation, struggle for two years through the darkest of times, and with an obvious clinical imbalance, but nothing helped at all. And during those times where there was no natural alternative medicine hope, allopathic drugs made him a great deal worse.
Recognising a pattern and researching incessantly, I started to understand more about what was going on in his brain and I discovered articles on neurotransmitters and their role in our mental health. This information lead me to the door of an FM practitioner who assessed him, and then prescribed for him a large assortment of vitamins, minerals and supplements (including tryptophan and tyrosine – the precursors for serotonin and dopamine, and omegas) and after a few months of extreme pill-popping, his brain (and gut) started to show signs of rebalancing itself. I saw change in him that I had not seen throughout his entire illness. His brain needed to regenerate itself and heal, and in order to do that it had to be given the correct nutrition – the basic tools. Homeopathy alone was not able to instigate a healing reaction, as the vital ingredients he needed, were not present to support change.
A few years on, and now that I have studied FM myself, I can see what the supplements actually did. The allopaths at the time, of which we visited many, said that he would be on (toxic) medication for his entire life. They gave us no hope, when I knew intuitively that there must be some – we just needed to find the way forward. Our brains are plastic and are able to heal – given the right nourishment – throughout our lives, and even more so when we are young. There are so many different stressors that cause our brains to not work efficiently, and to switch on the genes that can create dysfunction.
If we are prone to methylation issues, we will need B vitamins to support vital processes. If our brain becomes inflamed, we will need omegas. If we are not metabolising our neurotransmitters efficiently, we will need a boost of their precursors (tyrosine and tryptophan), B6 and antioxidants (such as Vitamins C and E). There are supplements to draw out toxins from our brain if that is necessary too. I combine CEASE therapy when appropriate too, to support that process.
FM gives us opportunities to heal ourselves and heal others beyond the scope of homeopathy, and I thoroughly recommend to all homeopaths to learn more about it. My mission is to teach applicable aspects of FM to homeopaths and in homeopathy schools and colleges internationally. If you are reading this and are interested, you are most welcome to me for further information.
NS: I find what you have just said inspiring and uplifting. FM seems to require an enormous amount of hard work, observation and analysis – but it seems to offer hope where, otherwise, there may be none. I’d like to ask you a final question: what do you think Hahnemann would say about Functional Medicine?
RJR: This is a wonderful question, Nigel. The world has changed so dramatically since Hahnemann’s times. Vitamins, for example, were not starting to be discovered until decades after his death. But he moved with the times himself, and all of the time. His practice never stood still. And as a fellow Aries, I can relate! Wouldn’t you have loved to be his apprentice?! Maybe we all are anyway, as surely his practice would have carried on evolving. I would like to think he would have been grateful for finding out answers for what he perceived as obstacles to cure. I am sure he would have been open-minded. Your question has inspired me to re-read The Organon! So thank you!