The field of medicine is like an oil tanker—slow to move forward and even slower to change direction.

Which means while your doctor may be brilliant, passionate, and even in the best cases, up to speed with the latest science, he or she is probably doing things by the book. And the book is not just out of date, it’s missing a few chapters when it comes to health in the 21st century.

The notion of what it means to be healthy is changing for most of us. It’s no longer just about not being sick, or not having a disease with a name, like cancer or diabetes or high blood pressure.

Today, health is more than that. Healthy is vitality, energy, a sense of calm, and a body that doesn’t hold you back. A body that is your vehicle in life, firing on all cylinders and ready to take you where you want to go. It’s not about looking perfect. It’s about feeling supple, strong, and light on your feet, whatever your weight happens to be.

On the flip side, the definition of unhealthy is changing, too. The bulk of the disease burden in the United States is now chronic disease, meaning disease that is driven by and modifiable with lifestyle choices, and that spans a continuum and progresses with time, rather than having a definitive on or off.

Naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, and many others who practice from a holistic point of view get this. But most mainstream doctors aren’t educated to see things this way. Which is why they need your help.

If you go to a traditional Western, or allopathic, doctor, here are 5 things to ask him or her at your next visit that have the power to start a revolution in medicine:

  1. How do you think my job affects my health?
  2. What do you know about the human microbiome? Are the prescriptions you’re giving me possibly impacting my microbiome in a negative way?
  3. What is a good resource to know if herbal medications are safe, or might have interactions with my prescription medications?
  4. How does food contribute to systemic inflammation? Which foods should I be eating to decrease inflammation and which foods increase it?
  5. How does stress affect my overall health and what are some concrete ways of decreasing the impact of stress in my life?

The response you get to these questions will give you a sense of how much your doctor understands—or is open to learning—about the most important concepts in holistic medicine:

  • The context of your life and how you live it
  • The essential role played by the bacteria that live in and on us
  • The potential for herbs and other non-pharmaceuticals to support health
  • The power of food as medicine
  • The power of mental and emotional stress to both cause and affect diseas

If you doctor can’t answer most of these questions, you know that he or she is not practicing from a holistic perspective. If your doctor can’t answer but is open and curious to find out more, and has answers for you at your next visit, he or she is making progress. If your doctor is dismissive of you, maybe it’s time to find another doctor.

Asking these questions isn’t a waste: it gives you some important information, and you might plant a seed that could one day grow so big it changes the way your doctor practices.

It’s fair to ask these questions of most physicians, including general practitioners, pediatricians, OBGYNs, specialists like cardiologists, gastroenterologists and rheumatologists, and even surgeons.

Demand more from medicine. More from your doctors. More from health care. We are in a time of huge disruption in health. If everyone starts asking for change, we’ll get it sooner than we could ever imagine.

OCTOBER 22, 2013 4:31 AM EDT

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