WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?
Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a body-function approach that attempts to connect the dots between the traditional body-system approach many are familiar with (Cardiology, Gastroenterology, etc). For example, it may perhaps look into whether a cluster of symptoms is related to inflammation, structural integrity issues, cellular communication issues, etc It shifts the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, and addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine looks more deeply at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. No two people are alike, and while their “Diagnosis” may be the same, the reason they have gotten those symptoms may be completely different. For example, if we take 2 teenagers with migraine headaches: one may have them because they have a genetic tendency, are Type-A personalities and are under tremendous stress at school. Another teen may have no family history but has a poor diet and is reacting to a food additive, dye, Aspartame or MSG derivative that is in the food at school or that the parents purchase not realizing that this is the reason. Common sense would tell us that while we may want to temporarily relieve their symptoms in similar fashion, the ultimate cause and lifestyle adjustments are very different.
WHY DO WE NEED FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?
Our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Sadly, children are not immune to this phenomenon, either. It has become almost the “norm” for kids to be on a number of pharmaceuticals and yet people feel that they don’t have any medical conditions!
The system of medicine practiced by most physicians is oriented toward acute care, the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that is of short duration and in need of urgent care, such as appendicitis or a broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom. This is where conventional, “Allopathic” medicine thrives and we should all be very grateful for the enormous advances that it has given us. Truly, we are blessed for it and we should not trivialize that success.
Unfortunately, the acute-care approach to medicine lacks the proper methodology and tools for preventing and treating complex, chronic disease. In most cases it does not take into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual or factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and the aspects of today’s lifestyle that have a direct influence on the rise in chronic disease in modern Western society. Most physicians are not adequately trained to assess the underlying causes of complex, chronic disease and to apply strategies such as nutrition, diet, and exercise to both treat and prevent these illnesses in their patients.
HOW IS FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE DIFFERENT?
Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease. Hallmarks of a functional medicine approach include:
—Patient-centered care: The focus of functional medicine is on patient-centered care, promoting health and not just the absence of disease. By listening to the patient and learning their unique story, the practitioner brings the patient into the discovery process and tailors treatments that address the individual’s needs.
—An integrative, science-based healthcare approach: Functional medicine practitioners look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions in the patient’s history, physiology, and lifestyle that can lead to illness. The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with both internal (mind, body, and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning. The beauty of functional medicine is that it is not at odds with conventional medicine, biochemistry and does not require a suspension of scientific reasoning to try to understand how it is approaching the disease process.
—Integrating best medical practices: Functional medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with what is sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques. Many of the treatments discussed and used may not appear to be mainstream, but that does not mean that there is no basis for using them. There is a considerable lag-time between the scientific and research literature and when a treatment is widely accepted by the mainstream practitioner. Just because your doctor is not familiar with it does not make it untrue!
Want to learn more? Watch the video below:
(Adapted from Institute for Functional Medicine Website)