What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is the future of conventional medicine. It seeks to identify the root cause of disease, which is primarily inflammation, and views the body as an integrated whole rather than a collection of individual organs and systems. It treats the whole system and not just the symptoms. It treats the person and their history, and not just the presenting disease.
Why is it different?
The conventional medicine is to divide the body up and into different organs and systems and assign a specialist to that problem. This is why you go to a rheumatologist for joints and a cardiologist for your heart, and an endocrinologist for your hormones. Therefore you get a separate approach to disease based on who you go and see. Quite often patients have multiple Doctors and take multiple medications depending on what their disease or symptoms are.
For a long time we thought that the bodies systems were separate. The hormone or endocrine system was separate from the nervous system, your digestive system was separate from your immune system. But over the last few decades with breakthroughs in technology, we have discovered that the body’s system communicate with each other via hormones, nerves and chemical messengers. Therefore there evolved a need for Doctors who can assess the body as one and understand that the body is much more complex than we first thought, and cannot be treated separately. Hence the birth of Functional Medicine, a way of scientifically understanding the function or dysfunction of the whole body.
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. Everyone is different. How one person developed chronic fatigue syndrome for example, from another could be entirely different, which is why the solutions need to be different.
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. But these diseases do not happen overnight. How people develop these diseases is through an inflammatory process. http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20040223,00.html But how someone reacts to that inflammation, and the reasons they got that inflammation can be completely different. For example someone might get autoimmune disease due to a food allergy, or an infection, or a hormonal imbalance. The solution for those different causes are completely different.
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 broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom.
Unfortunately, the acute-care approach to medicine lacks the proper methodology and tools for preventing and treating complex, chronic disease. In most cases it does not take into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual or factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and the aspects of today’s lifestyle that have a direct influence on the rise in chronic disease in modern Western society.
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.
How is Functional Medicine Different?
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. By listening to the patient and learning his or 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.
Integrating best medical practices. Functional medicine integrates 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 and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.