What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the health care needs of the 21st century by shifting the traditional disease-centered focus that treats symptoms with conventional medical practices, such as surgery and prescriptions, to a patient-centered approach that looks at all aspects of the well-being of an individual by supporting their mind, body, and spirit.
Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms, which means 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. Functional Medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.
- Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century.
- Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and the understanding of how environmental and lifestyle factors influence the emergence and progression of disease.
- Functional Medicine enables physicians and other health professionals the ability to practice proactive, predictive, personalized medicine and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.
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, and mental illness, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease, to name a few.
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 urgent care (such as appendicitis or a broken leg).
Unfortunately, the acute-care approach to medicine lacks the proper methodology and tools for preventing and treating complex, chronic disease.
There’s a huge gap between research and the way doctors practice. The gap between emerging research in basic sciences and integration into medical practice is enormous — “as long as 50 years,” particularly in the area of complex, chronic illness.
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.
Functional Medicine involves understanding the origins of illness (the root cause as to why the individual is presenting disease and/or symptoms), prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease by incorporating the best of contemporary medicine and the history of effective practices that have supported healing through millennia.
Hallmarks of a Functional Medicine approach include:
- Patient-centered care. The focus of Functional Medicine is on patient-centered care, promoting health as a positive vitality, beyond just the absence of disease.
- An integrative, science-based health care 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 the functioning of the body.
- Integrating best medical practices. Functional Medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with what are sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention and healing through nutrition, diet, and exercise; the use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, stress management, and/or mindfulness techniques.
How Is Working with a Functional Medicine Practitioner Different?
Functional Medicine practitioners (FMPs) promote wellness by focusing on the fundamental underlying factors that influence every patient’s experience of health and disease. FMPs assess which systems are out of balance and dive deep into what the unique contributing factors are for that particular patient. Once the FMP understands the contributing factors to the underlying issue, then they design a treatment plan utilizing a systematic, therapeutic order for optimal healing that is unique to the patient’s health story. FMPs consider a range of contributing factors in the overall health story of an individual:
Functional Medicine practitioners look at environmental factors like the quality of air and water you consume, your exposure to ingested and environmental toxins, what types of food you eat, and the quality of that nutrition.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL FACTORS
Psychological, spiritual, and social factors can all have a profound influence on your health. Considering these areas helps the Functional Medicine practitioner see your health in the context of you as a whole person, not just your physical symptoms.
Although individual genes may make you more susceptible to some diseases, your DNA is not an unchanging blueprint for your life. Emerging research shows that your genes may be influenced by everything in your environment, as well as your experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. That means it is possible to change the way genes are activated and expressed.
Through assessment of these underlying causes and triggers of dysfunction, the Functional Medicine practitioner is able to understand how key processes are affected. These are the body’s processes that keep you alive. Some occur at the cellular level and involve how cells function, repair, and maintain themselves.
These processes are related to larger functions, such as:
All of these processes are influenced by environmental factors and your genetic makeup; when they are disturbed or imbalanced, they lead to symptoms, which can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied.
Functional Medicine Is a Comprehensive Approach to Health and Well-Being
Most imbalances in functionality can be addressed, some can be completely restored to optimum function, and others can be substantially improved:
- Prevention is paramount. Virtually every complex, chronic disease is preceded by long-term disturbances in functionality that can be identified and effectively managed.
- Changing how the systems function can have a major impact on the patient’s health.
- The Functional Medicine practitioner examines a wide array of available interventions and customizes a treatment plan, including those with the most impact on underlying functionality.
- Functional Medicine expands the clinician’s toolkit. Treatments may include combinations of drugs, botanical medicines, nutritional supplements, therapeutic diets, or detoxification programs. They may also include counseling on lifestyle, exercise, or stress-management techniques.
- As a patient, you become an active partner with your Functional Medicine practitioner. This type of partnership allows you to be in charge of improving your own health and changing the outcome of a disease.