Getting to the root of health

Functional medicine practice uses food as medicine.

Erica Armstrong, M.D., drills down to the root of symptoms.

After opening Root Functional Medicine two years ago at 746 Wealthy St. SE, she focuses on “functional” instead of “traditional” medicine.

“I really wanted to solve the problem at the root cause,” said Armstrong, who previously practiced family medicine for Spectrum Health and in San Francisco. “I wanted to use natural therapy and nutrition.”

After several years of training, she became certified in functional medicine, a nutritional-based, natural healing method that’s been around a couple of decades but is sprouting in popularity.

“It focuses on optimizing your body function,” she said. “It is a completely different mindset around health and wellness. Instead of labeling symptoms and treating those symptoms, we look for root causes to optimize body function.”

Primary areas of focus? Gut health (rebalancing imbalances that lead to inflammation), ovarian syndrome/hormones, thyroid and fertility.

The team strives to combat symptoms through nutrition and supplementation of deficiencies.

Doctors and dietitians work together to customize health plans for clients.

“The nutrition piece is very personalized,” Armstrong said. “We look at lab panels and hear our clients’ stories and put together a reasonable and sustainable nutritional plan based on their needs. We do testing. Some people have food sensitivities, so we customize food plans for them. We started with just myself and a dietitian. We just grew really quickly by solving problems that were going unsolved. Most people we are working with had no answers and they feel great after three to six months.”

“It (functional medicine) is a completely different mindset around health and wellness. Instead of labeling symptoms and treating those symptoms, we look for root causes to optimize body function.”
Erica Armstrong, MD

The practice does not accept insurance.

“We have a very different model,” Armstrong said. “We really don’t use medicines or procedures. Clients spend an hour with a doctor and dietitian each month. We take on a limited number of clients so we can keep it personalized.”

She encourages people to avoid processed foods, things in packages and items containing inflammatory oils, such as vegetable oil, corn oil and the like. Olive and avocado oils are healthier diet bets.

Seeing the success of clients, Armstrong and her team added a creative food service last spring available to even those who are not clients to fulfill the need of healthy, home-delivered meals.

“One of our dietitians is a chef,” she said. “We started a weekly subscription service. It’s at the point of selling out.”

Root Farmacy recently moved into commercial space at the former Marie Catrib’s Deli, 1003 Lake Drive Ave. SE, to prepare subscription meals and open a deli.

“We’re making (healthy food) more accessible to our community,” she said. “The most common food sensitivities are gluten, dairy, soy, corn — we don’t use those. We add no refined sugar. They’re fully cooked packaged meals people pick up weekly that they can reheat in their microwave, like chicken and vegetables and one of our favorites, turkey meatloaf. It’s so full of nutrients with so many vegetables and fruits directly in the meatloaf.”

Even if a menu item contains meat, the focus is plant-based, with various veggies in the mix. The menu changes seasonally to provide fresh farm-to-table options.
Most clients choose between five and 10 meals a week, including some breakfast options, according to Armstrong.

The deli, open six days a week, offers healthy, homemade protein bars, breakfast and lunch items, as well as food by the pound such as hummus and a variety of salads.
“With the deli cases, we can increase our offerings for more grab-and-go items,” she said. “We’re also going to have coffee. Our coffee will not be full of sugar syrup.”

Armstrong has been dreaming of gluten-free restaurant/food options since med school.

“Even 15 years later, that option doesn’t exist in Grand Rapids,” she said. “Our food is gluten-free. That’s important for people. There’s no cross-contamination.”

Primary goal? To make functional medicine available and easy for all.

“We have meals we prescribe that people can just grab and go,” she said. “We put a lot of thought into every single meal we make and what ingredients we use. We’re trying to make health easier for our community.”

This story can be found in the January 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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