Functional medicine is an evolutionary practice that addresses the unique healthcare needs of those in the 21st century.
Rather than treating just the symptoms of any disease, functional medicine focuses on the underlying cause of disease by using an approach that focuses on the body’s systems and their primary functions. Functional medicine practitioners work to engage the patient in a partnership that will lead to overall better health and wellness.
Functional medicine practitioners focus on the whole person, rather than just the isolated constellation of symptoms. This shifts medicine from traditional sick care to a more patient-centered approach. These practitioners spend a great deal of time with their patients and listen to histories, while also evaluating the environment, lifestyle, and genetic factors that may play a role in long-term health and the development of chronic disease. By doing it this way, functional medicine practitioners offer their patients a unique experience in healthcare, which will lead to higher engagement and vitality for each individual.
Why is Functional Medicine Needed?
There are several reasons why functional medicine has become more and more popular in our culture. Some of these reasons include the following:
- Current medical practice is aimed toward acute care (or sick care), the diagnosis and treatment of disease or trauma, and conditions that need urgent attention such as broken bones or appendicitis. Medicine is not focused on the wellness of a human body, but in the curing of an already sick one.
- There is a drastic increase in the number of chronic disease diagnoses among those in our society. These diseases include heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, cancer, and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Acute care medical approaches do not allow the ability to treat or prevent complex chronic diseases. This is generally because it does not account for the unique make-up of the individual or outside factors that could be playing a role, especially in the environment, which exposes us all to toxins. Lifestyle choices also play a primary role in overall health and may have a direct influence on the rise of chronic illness in our Western culture
- There is a gaping chasm between the way doctors practice and the research in their selected fields. This gap is enormous, as much as 50 years, especially in the field of chronic disease.
- Sadly, most modern day physicians are not trained to look for underlying causes of disease. They are not taught to look at treatment strategies such as diet, nutrition, and exercise that could improve illnesses in their patients.
Functional Medicine Differentiation
As I mentioned, functional medicine deals with looking for the underlying causes of disease. The origins, prevention, and treatment of chronic disease, especially, is of primary concern to a functional medicine practitioner. The principles of functional medicine that differentiate them from conservative approaches include the following:
- Patient-centered healthcare: The whole patient is the primary focus of functional medicine. Functional medicine promotes positive vitality beyond the absence of disease and promotes overall good health. By truly listening to patients’ stories and background, the functional medicine practitioner is able to guide the patient into self-discovery and then further tailor treatment to fit their individual needs.
- Scientific and integrative healthcare approach: This is unique in itself. Functional medicine doctors look for causes of illness by evaluating the web of interactions in the patient’s history, lifestyle, and physiology. Alone, the genetic makeup of a person can cause illness, so it is of primary concern to a functional medicine practitioner. Additionally, both external (social and physical environments) and internal (body, mind, and spirit) factors affect the body’s overall health as well.
- Using best medical practices that are integrative: Functional medicine brings together both alternative medicine practices, as well as traditional Western medical practices. They focus primarily on prevention through diet, nutrition, and exercise routines. They use the latest and best lab results and other diagnostic studies to assist in their diagnosis and treatment of each individual. They prescribe a combination of pharmaceutical medications, natural supplements, botanicals, detoxification programs, stress-management strategies, and therapeutic diets.