What is functional medicine?
It is a new approach to medical care which seeks to find the underlying root cause of symptoms and treat those symptoms “upstream” by removing the root cause other than treating the symptoms “downstream” by simply masking them with medication. It also represents a shift in the traditional Western medicine therapeutic encounter from a disease centered approach to a patient centered approach by viewing the patient as a whole person rather than as an isolated group of symptoms. Think of a sink that is overflowing and there is water all over the floor; the drain is clogged and the faucet is still running full blast. While western medicine focuses primarily on mopping the floor it does very little to stop the sink from overflowing and thus often times treatments and medications are but a part of vicious cycle that rarely actually treats the issue. You can never stop mopping the floor. Functional medicine focuses on shutting off the faucet and unclogging the drain, while at the same time supporting the immediate issue with mopping the floor as needed. The goal however is to eventually get rid of the mop.
Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.
Functional medicine is also a collaborate effort where the doctor and the patient are a team and the patient is empowered to take control of their own health. This is in contrast to the traditional doctor/patient relationship where often times the patient has no control or at least FEELS that way.
Functional medicine views each patient as a unique individual with different genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors all of which play a role in disease development. Treatment plans are personalized for each individual, not lumped into a category by disease as is the tendency in western medicine.
Functional medicine is science based, updating with all of the latest research. It is deeply rooted in the basic physiology of the body, viewing it as an integrated complex system that cannot be treated in terms of isolated organs or disease. Understanding the relationships of the different biological systems and how they interact with each other is key component to functional medicine that is regularly absent from the traditional medical approach.
Functional medicine sees the body as an incredible and powerful system that has a built in ability to heal. Most of what functional medicine practitioners do is to help you restore your body’s own ability to heal rather than relying on medication; and when provided with the right information from you diet, lifestyle and environment your body will reach a point of vitality where chronic disease will not even develop.
Functional medicine considers all aspects of a persons story when treating a patient and is centered around mind body spirit approach. Wellness isn’t just the absence of disease or physical symptoms but is a feeling of vitality with not only a healthy body but an equally healthy mind and spirit. Just as the biological systems of the body cannot be treated as an isolated issue, the body cannot be treated isolated from the person as a whole.
Finally, functional medicine places an emphasis on equipping the patient with the tools they need to facilitate the changes required. Rather than simply telling a patient to “lose weight”, functional medicine providers spend more time with patients and or provide health/life coaches to help patients navigate the difficult but very doable process of change.
Why do we need functional medicine?
Western medicine is quite good at acute care issues. For example, injury or infection.
However, western medicine has not done a very good job at treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even less thought of entities such as auto immune disease and mental illness. Chronic disease is becoming a world wide epidemic. Despite all the advanced medications and treatments Western Medicine has developed over the years, chronic disease is increasing at an alarming rate and there is no end in sight. Functional medicine, by looking at the underlying root cause of chronic disease is better equipped to not only stop the progression of chronic disease by removing the underlying causative factor (such as ongoing chronic inflammation) but can actually reverse it and is most effective when it comes to preventing the development of disease long before it is a clinical problem. In contrast, much of Western medicine is reactionary – meaning it waits until disease has developed to act by treating the patient and rarely reverses or stops the disease, it merely slows it.
Who is functional medicine for?
Anyone who is willing to take control of their life and health and partner with someone dedicated to making them not only healthy but well. Whether you are suffering from a chronic disease and looking for an alternative or you are healthy but looking to stay that way, functional medicine has something to offer. As part of the therapeutic process however, patients must be willing to change. Diet, lifestyle and environment modifications are generally the first line treatment plan.