What is Functional Medicine?

 In Being Healthy

What is Functional Medicine?


he 21st century has seen the explosion of longevity with more people living into their 80s and 90s than ever before. The 21st century has also brought about an explosion of chronic diseases burdening many adults and children threatening to shorten lives and worsen quality. Preventative care has become a list of screening tests, vaccinations, and generic recommendations. Although these may be necessary components to prevention of illness it doesn’t tackle the increasing burden of chronic disease.

The conventional wisdom of medicine leans heavily on drugs and surgery to tackle chronic diseases. It is not unusual for a diabetic with heart disease to be on over 10 medications. Each medication is prescribed to treat a different disease, and then more medications are added to treat the side effects of the original medications. Throw in a few vitamins and dinner is served. A wise instructor once told me, “If by the end of my career I stopped more medications than I started, I was a successful doctor.” Today’s conventional medical practitioners don’t have the time or the knowledge to implement a comprehensive strategy to truly heal the mind, body, and spirit of the person suffering with multiple chronic diseases or prevent them from occurring in the first place.

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We need an approach away from the “one pill for every ill,” pharmaceutical-heavy treatment scheme. Functional medicine is such an approach. According to the Institute of Functional Medicine, “Functional medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.” Clinicians who use this approach engage in a therapeutic partnership with their patients. They practice individualized, patient-centered, science-based care integrating both the art and the leading edge science to treat the whole person. The functional medicine practitioner doesn’t narrow down a person to a list of diseases, but uses this list as a beginning to ask why. Why does this person have this disease at this time?

Asking “why” questions broaden the search for causes and then answers. Of course asking why also complicates matters. A pill will not answer why someone has diabetes. Knee surgery will not answer why someone has arthritis. Functional medicine clinicians dive into how genetics, environment, and psychosocial conditions can disrupt health. They assess how the seven systems (Communication, Structural Integrity, Assimilation, Defense & Repair, Energy Regulation, Biotransformation & Elimination, and Transport) play into the health of an individual. It is a complicated process, but the functional medicine matrix, provided by the Institutes of Functional Medicine, organizes the thinking process. Proper organization allows the clinician to order the appropriate tests, initiate treatment, and track progress back to good health.

Functional medicine prescriptions are often different from the traditional medical prescription. The most commonly prescribed treatment is a lifestyle change. This isn’t some generic out of the box diet and exercise program, but a program tailored to the individual’s needs, based on genetics, environment, and situation. Also, treatment may include drugs, botanical medicines, nutritional supplements, therapeutic diets, or detoxification programs.

This approach requires the clinician and the patient to spend more time together than the standard office visit. Due to this reason alone it may not be practical for every patient or clinician. For those willing to put in the time and energy needed to attain good health, there is a different path to wellness. As stated by the Institutes of Functional Medicine, “Functional Medicine offers a paradigm shift in clinical practice, encompassing the uniqueness of each person, the importance of the therapeutic partnership, and the role of environment and lifestyle in the development and treatment of disease, thus producing a more effective response to clients’ chronic conditions.”

To your health!

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