What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.
The Functional Medicine model shifts from the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.
Functional Medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at each patient’s genetic, biochemical, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence long term health and complex, chronic disease.
By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners can create direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes and promote optimal wellness.
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 as a positive vitality, beyond just the absence of disease.
- An integrative, science-based healthcare approach. Functional Medicine practitioners look "upstream" to consider the complex web of interactions in the person's history, physiology, and lifestyle that can lead to illness. The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with both internal (body, mind, and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning.
- 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 through nutrition, diet, sleep, stress management, 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.
Functional Medicine is founded in the application of the 4Ps:
- Personalized- understanding that genetic and environmental variations drive individual treatments
- Predictive- using tailored health strategies based upon a personalized map of health risks using both traditional and novel biomarkers
- Preventive- using proactive vs. reactive approaches which shifts the focus from illness to wellness, and from disease treatment to functional enhancement
- Participatory- it empowers and engages the patient, with the physician as guide, coach, and facilitator – a collaborative relationship vs. an authoritative one
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 or Hashimoto's hypothyroidism.
- 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 fractured 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 disease.
- 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.
A Comprehensive Approach to Treatment
Functional Medicine practitioners assess the patient's status relating to modifiable lifestyle factors and fundamental clinical imbalances through careful history taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing. They will consider multiple factors including:
- Environmental Inputs - The air you breathe and the water you drink, the particular diet you eat, the quality of the food available to you, your level of physical activity, any toxic exposures or traumas you have experienced all affect your health.
- Mind-Body connections - Psychological, spiritual, and social factors all can have a profound influence on your health.
- Genetic makeup - 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, Functional Medicine practitioners are 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:
- how your body rids itself of toxins
- regulation of hormones and
- immune system function
- inflammatory responses
- digestion and absorption of nutrients
- digestive tract health
- structural integrity
- psychological and spiritual equilibrium
- energy production and maintenance
All 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. Using a comprehensive Functional Medicine approach, most imbalances in functionality can be addressed; some can be completely restored to optimum function, and others can be substantially improved.