Ron Grisanti is happy when you’re healthy.
The licensed chiropractor was raised by a policeman father, who strongly emphasized nutrition and fitness. So—when an adult Grisanti was hit with a debilitating bout of anxiety—he went in search of a solution beyond medication and stumbled upon functional medicine. The practice not only helped him; it changed his life.
Ultimately, he was so convinced that he became an expert on this “root cause” philosophy that helps so many seemingly hopeless cases and launched Functional Medicine University for the healthcare community in 2007.
Here, Grisanti—dubbed the “medical detective”—explains why helping others help him too:
Live The Process: How did your formative years shape your interest in health and wellness?
Ron Grisanti: My entire childhood was influenced by my father’s passion for health and fitness. I grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and left at the age of 20 to become a chiropractor. [Those] first twenty years shaped my views on living a healthy life.
My dad ran the Mount Vernon Police PAL, where he taught karate, Judo and boxing. He taught self-defense to other officers. He had sustained a serious injury from a Judo accident that led him through eight back operations and many painful procedures. Even after years of pain, he continued to pursue a healthy lifestyle. From a very early age, I was taking hundreds of vitamins per week, weight training regularly and maintaining healthy eating habits.
This was uncommon back in the 60s and 70s, but it was the only life I knew. My brother’s first job was in a health food store. He went on to write a book about fitness and still trains six days per week. We always trained in a gym, and we both competed in bodybuilding shows. We often talk about our dad’s influence on our lives and never fail to come to the same conclusion: We were very fortunate to have that knowledge from a very early age. For us, it is part of life.
LTP: How did your involvement with functional medicine develop?
RG: I was suffering from full-blown anxiety that my family doctor—along with many other practitioners—were treating with a variety of drugs. I went searching for answers. My illness was so debilitating that I was no longer able to function professionally and personally, but I didn’t want to go through life getting refills to cope. When I ran into a functional medicine practitioner, I found another solution: He compiled an exhaustive medical history, conducted a physical exam and ordered a battery of tests before concluding that I had toxic mercury levels in my body and compromised cortisol levels.
Since I took the oral chelating agent DMSA, stopped consuming foods like tuna that contain mercury, began taking herbal supplements to improve my cortisol function and started a new fitness program, I’ve been doing well. Slowly, my levels started balancing out. It was at a turning point.
Fourteen years ago, I attended a functional medicine conference and had a vision: Here I was, a chiropractor, who woke up every day to treat patients with severe pain. They came to me for help, they trusted me and they were desperate to leave with relief. When I discovered what functional medicine would offer my patients, my world opened up. I knew it was the future of medicine. It was also the beginning of Functional Medicine University (FMU).
The concept of finding the “root” cause of one’s illness and pain was far more rewarding and made so much more sense than simply treating a patient’s problem. I realized that chiropractors [and other doctors] could fuse functional medicine into their practices.
Over the past eight years, I have had over 2,500 students enroll and over 30,000 physicians, chiropractors, nurses, dietitians, acupuncturists, nutritionists and dentists subscribe to my newsletter. Their enthusiasm inspires me every waking moment. I am known to many as the “medical detective.” My days are consumed with educating other practitioners, so that they can learn about and offer functional medicine as an option for their patients. I work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. I could have never imagined the level of satisfaction.
LTP: How is functional medicine different than standard medicine?
RG: Functional medicine requires physicians to dig deep into the patient’s history to identify environmental toxicities, hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, toxic stress (anger, shame, frustration, envy), mitochondrial dysfunction, adrenal stress and infections (viral, bacterial, fungal) to name a few. Standard medicine commonly requires physicians to follow a specific algorithm. In almost all cases, the doctors offer this drug for this disease. The appropriate application of drugs is of value, but the problem reveals thousands, if not millions, of people with unresolved health challenges.
There is a growing dissatisfaction with simply treating symptoms. People want answers. The beauty of functional medicine lies in its unique ability to remove clinical loads on one’s physiology, allowing the body to have the greatest opportunity to heal.
It’s just a different thinking process, a step beyond alternative medicine. It deals with looking at the root cause. The bulk is about completing a review of the last three years of the patient’s medical records. Once the condition is identified, treatment protocols may include nutritional intervention, lifestyle changes, chelating agents to rid the body of toxins and prescribing pharmaceuticals. Functional medicine practitioners often work with the patient’s primary care physician or specialist. A resolution can be found in about 60 percent of patients; there’s a slowing of disease progression in others. The typical patient is someone who has been to a number of physicians and has been told there’s little that can be done.
LTP: What is an example of the treatment process?
RG: For treatment, functional medicine practitioners use a combination of natural agents such as supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals, and homeopathics. We also recommend nutritional and lifestyle changes, spiritual/emotional counseling and even pharmaceuticals, if necessary to prod a patient’s physiology back to an optimal state. Educating patients about their conditions empowers them to take charge of their own health, leading to greater success. Instead of masking the problem, functional medicine aims at restoring the body's natural functioning.
There is a link between physical and emotional, as biochemical imbalances can be reflected in mental processes, emotional and physical symptoms. Everyone’s biochemistry is different, so diagnosis and treatment requires individual testing. Plainly put: Your body naturally wants to be healthy, but certain things might be missing, or something might be standing in the way. Functional medicine identifies the factors responsible for the malfunctioning.
The first step is always your history. Practitioners are trained on how to unravel and make sense of a complicated story. Often clues lead to the identification of key imbalances. The next set of clues comes from a comprehensive physical examination, which includes many nearly forgotten procedures used by famous diagnosticians (both living and long gone), such as Chapman reflex points, ankle brachial reflex and nail inspection. The final set of clues comes from advanced laboratory testing, which helps the practitioner look deeply to identify how a patient’s physiology has been compromised and can be restored.
LTP: What’s your biggest temptation?
RG: My cheat is, and will always be, ice cream.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
RG: I am happiest when I am around my family. Some people find happiness in the way they look; others find it in the way they feel. When I close my eyes to answer this question, I see myself working as hard as possible to stay healthy. Sometimes happiness isn’t about making changes and being different, but instead about embracing what is all around you. And I think that is why I do feel so happy so much of the time.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do more each day?
RG: To me, living the process begins with health. There’s an expression, “One life, one body.” These four words mean everything. Our goals, happiness and passions depend on our health—everything we live for. My dream is for the world to be more balanced, more giving, and for everyone to make health their number one priority