Functional medicine is not only about addressing what your symptoms are, it is also about addressing why your symptoms exist in the first place. This type of alternative medicine is geared toward understanding the underlying root causes of your symptoms. This approach to medicine is based on attaining a different goal: it doesn’t define wellness as the absence of disease. Rather, functional medicine doctors define health as true vitality.
Functional medicine differs from traditional medicine in several significant ways. Functional medicine is not a separate medical profession; rather, it is a specific approach to healthcare. Mainstream medicine is based on a symptom-disease-care model; doctors note symptoms, determine disease, and then formulate a care plan for that disease. Functional medicine is a based on prevention and optimizing function. Doctors look for root causes rather than symptoms, and address the whole person rather than just isolated body parts or systems, and because it addresses the whole person, it is sometimes referred to as holistic medicine.
What About Traditional Medicine?
Traditional medicine is disease-centric, meaning its focus is on diagnosis and treatment of illness. If you think about it, it is trauma-based and the focus is on urgent care. For example, if you have a virus, or appendicitis, or a broken finger, in all cases physicians treat the immediate problem, using drugs or surgery.This works well in most cases, but it doesn’t work well for treating chronic diseases. In fact, most doctors are not even properly trained in traditional medical techniques to determine causes of chronic disease. Even worse, they are certainly not equipped to use strategies like nutrition or exercise to treat and prevent these illnesses. Instead, patients are often given medication or must undergo surgery.
The Holistic Approach
Functional medicine is an innovative approach specifically designed to address the “why”–the underlying cause of a disease. It is a much more comprehensive approach that looks at much more than just symptoms. Rather than centering on a disease, it centers on the patient. The assessment of your condition involves the “whole you”—your genetics, your diet and nutritional deficiencies, the environment you live in, your family history, your exercise patterns, your sleep patterns, and your stress and energy levels.
Illness and Aging
Contrary to popular belief, illness is not a normal part of aging. In functional medicine, practitioners don’t focus on symptoms alone. They delve into the origins, prevention, and treatment of disease.
A Genetic Example
Functional medicine advocates believe that our current traditional medical practice is an outdated model and grossly inadequate to care for patients today. A great example of this can be found in the human genome. Scientists once thought that humans were “genetically hardwired” for disease, yet after decoding the human genome, we now know differently. In fact, genes are expressed or not expressed, meaning that a disease will or will not present itself based on factors like lifestyle, diet, stress levels, or environmental factors.
Since functional medicine addresses the whole person, practitioners look at interactions between not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional Medicine practitioners look at interactions—in genetics, in the environment, and in lifestyle. They’re all interrelated and when taken together, all play a role in determining whether chronic disease is part of a person’s long-term health outlook, and if so, why.
It’s All Connected
If you’ve ever been shuttled from one traditional doctor to another, you understand how current medicine takes the silo approach. You’re instructed to go see one doctor for your internal organs, another doctor for your bones, and yet another for your heart. Traditional medicine looks independently at different organ systems. Functional medicine, on the other hand, is founded in the interconnectedness of organ function. The belief is that chronic diseases occur because multiple organ systems are involved and all contribute to the diseased state. For example, poor digestion may affect immunity.
We’re All Unique
Functional medicine is not a “one size fits all” approach. Every patient is a complex unique system, so what works on one patient may not work on others. Functional medicine considers something called the allostatic load, which is your personal threshold of what your body can handle before it breaks down. This “breakdown” can have outward signs like joint pain, skin outbreaks, weight gain, and decreased sex drive.
The Art of Listening
Listening is a skill. Functional medicine doctors believe that if you listen closely, the patient will tell you the diagnosis. Really listening is an important part of the doctor-patient relationship. Functional medicine promotes a model of shared responsibility; the doctor is a part of course, but the patient is ultimately also responsible for ensuring their own good health.
Since functional medicine views a patient holistically, with equal physical, emotional, and spiritual composition, it is extremely important to listen, because each part needs help and support.
Why do we need to do things differently? Medicine as we know it has been serving us well for thousands of years, right? This isn’t necessarily true when you stop and think about it. Medicine today is acute care—you have an illness or trauma, then we treat it. It is all urgent care, if you think about it.
Disease on the Rise
However, disease is sharply on the rise. Society as a whole is sick. Complex and chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune diseases are blanketing the globe. Why haven’t we solved some of these issues? Why are there still no cures? It’s because the acute care approach doesn’t have the process or methods to prevent these diseases. You might be saying, “What about all the cancer research and other research?” Yes, there is extensive research but there is a monumental gap between the research being done and the way doctors are practicing traditional medicine. Did you know that a whopping 80 percent of the world’s illnesses are chronic illnesses—illnesses that can potentially be reversed if they are identified early enough.
Key Medical Aspects of Functional Medicine
What are the key medical points for this approach to medicine?
The best way to summarize is to say that health is viewed as a relative state, or a spectrum. Vitality is at one end, while disease and death are at the other end of the spectrum. Our body systems fluctuate on that spectrum between dysfunction and optimal health.Rather than looking “downstream”, after you have symptoms, looking at the progression of symptoms and illness, functional medicine looks “upstream” to consider all your factors that could lead to illness, but haven’t yet.
Our planet has had a sharp increase in people who suffer from chronic disease, yet traditional medicine has not made any strides in curing those diseases. Diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases are prevalent, yet doctors are not fully equipped to deal with these issues. Functional medicine is a promising new and different approach specifically designed to prevent these diseases.
With a focus on functional medicine, many patients have found viable results. Join us in your quest for optimum health.
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