Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine embraces 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 the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease.
Hallmarks of a Functional Medicine Approach
- Patient-centered care. Promoting health as a positive vitality, beyond just the absence of disease. By listening to the patient and learning his/her story, the practitioner brings the patient into the discovery process and tailors treatments that address the individual’s unique needs.
- An integrative, science-based healthcare 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 total functioning.
- Fusing best medical practices. Functional medicine combines traditional Western medical practices with what is sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing/other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.
Conventional doctors primarily treat their patients with a drug-centered approach, and break the problem into individual components by treating each issue with a separate medication. This is perfect when it comes to acute issues like a broken leg or infectious disease but not so much when it comes to the epidemic of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune issues, etc. Functional Medicine considers all aspects of life including genetics, sleep, diet, exercise, environmental factors, nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, stressors, and hormones to identify the root cause(s) and treat it accordingly.
Case Study: A Comparison of the Approaches of Functional and Conventional Medicine
Below is an example of a how conventional medicine would treat a case compared to how we would treat it with a functional medicine approach. The patient is a 56 year old male, struggling with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heartburn, joint pain, and type 2 diabetes.
|Conventional Medicine Approach||Functional Medicine Approach|
|Prescribe blood-pressure medication: have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, back pain, and headaches||Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet which are the major causes of metabolic syndrome|
|Prescribe cholesterol medication: increases risk of type 2 diabetes and joint pain; only deceases risk for heart-attack by less than 2%||Run thyroid tests because low thyroid levels in men and women is a sign of hormonal disturbance that contribute to metabolic syndrome. Consider Bio-identical hormone therapy|
|Prescribe diabetes medication although insulin can actually worsen type 2 diabetes in the long run||Prescribe blood-pressure medication (short term) as a first step; for long term– strategic supplementation and target nutrient-dense foods high in magnesium and potassium that lower blood pressure naturally|
|Suggest non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for joint pain such as ibuprofen: can damage the all-important gut lining and lead to bleeding ulcers, heart attacks, and strokes||Integrate vitamin d/ sunshine and exercise. Ad anti-inflammatory foods and supplementation which are involved in bone strength, weight loss, gut health and cardiovascular health|
|Prescribe acid blockers for heartburn which inhibit the stomach’s ability to make acid needed to digest food and resist harmful bacteria; long-term use is linked to osteoporosis and nutritional deficiencies||Monitor and maintain improvements: if heartburn does not clear up after weight loss, Integrate a plant-based digestive enzyme, strategic pro-biotics, bone broth and other gut rejuvenation techniques|
|Taking all of these drugs together can cause adverse interactions or toxicities such as confusion, often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s in older patients||By getting out of the chronic-disease loop early, our patient avoids the long-term effects these problems eventually cause such as nerve pain and heart disease, and will continue to live a healthy lifestyle with a clear mind, great cardiovascular system, and low risk of cancer or osteoporosis|