What is Functional Medicine?
“The Doctor of the Future will give no medicine but will instruct his patients in the care of Human Frame, Diet, and Cause/Prevention of Disease.” – Thomas Edison (1902)
I came across this quote by Thomas Edison the other day and see this as defining Functional Medicine way back in 1902.
OK, not really. However, while seemingly simple it is also complex. Each person is individual and what may be best for one person may not be best for another.
Trained in allopathic medicine, I remember learning biochemistry and was just grateful that I got through it! Never was there really a connection to the illnesses patients developed.
At Harvard Medical School we divided a patient into systems and learned the physiology and then transitioned to pathophysiology and how we treat the dis-ease of our patients. We worked in groups to discuss cases and this community demonstrated how different parts could work together to evaluate each patient. However, each part of the human body was evaluated in separate components, when in reality we are a complex system, not just dysfunctional parts. You give a patient a diagnosis.
The diagnosis is the start for practitioners of Functional Medicine. The Institute for Functional Medicine defines functional medicine as “determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual”.
I’ve heard it described that conventional doctors practice “this for that” medicine. This means a diagnosis is made and you give “this” medication to treat “that” symptoms. As an example, you have a headache, take some aspirin or you feel depressed, here’s an anti-depressant. This simply relieves symptoms without actually evaluating the underlying cause. Meanwhile, the underlying cause continues to worsen and the risk of side-effects from the medication given might require another medication. An analogy is if you have a tack in your shoe and are having pain, taking an aspirin may help but getting the tack out would be a better tactic [pun intended].
WHY FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?
Seeing 20+ patients a day in a insurance plan practice for the past 8 years, I never felt that I really was able to spend enough time with each individual and just applying band-aids as I watched many patients health deteriorate. It’s almost a given that someone with diabetes is just expected to “progress” “worsen” over time, requiring more medications or developing complications. It was feeling like there wasn’t an alternative. Until, I found a newer way to evaluate and treat patients, Functional Medicine. It is in this way that my step-father essentially reversed his diabetes through lifestyle changes and I.
A common complaint of many patients is fatigue and many underlying issues can cause it. The standard allopathic method may, if you can persuade your primary physician to run labs, check your thyroid and basic blood counts. I had many patients who would come to me and say, “my primary says my labs are all fine but I still don’t feel right”. Often a few labs were checked and not much else was addressed. Another consideration is that while labs may be “normal” on the lab reports, these may not be functionally “normal” for that individual.
Certainly, I think that basic preventive care is important and getting your routine check-ups done is the very basic. However, Functional Medicine practitioners spend the time to get to know patients, their full history, factors that influenced changes in their health and can evaluate different labs from a different perspective, both standard labs run by primary physicians and functional lab tests. This helps evaluate what is at the core of their illnesses, not just remedying symptoms, and can evaluate risks prior to development of a symptom or diagnosis. I’ve seen many patients hovering on the border of diabetes with their primary physicians just saying, “you haven’t developed diabetes yet, we’ll check labs again in a year”, waiting for the diagnosis to develop. Why wait?
When I heard about Functional Medicine I realized that this is the model for the future of medicine! It incorporates a whole person approach to medicine. It takes the best of the integrated and holistic traditions and incorporates that with newer technologies. It uses labs and diagnostics, along with genetics; to treat health conditions and more importantly prevent the development of a health condition in the first place.
Of course, it is treating the upstream causes of illness, which requires a team approach. Physician and patient work together to improve health! It is not just replacing medications with herbs and supplements, although these may be used for a short time in your care.
My role is to uncover the “why” behind your health concerns, or optimize your health before illness occurs, and give you the tools to help you feel amazing, healthy and be your best you at any age! The problem now is not lack of information, it is over information and what to do with all the information. What is best for one person may not be for another and I am here to help you find what will work best for you!
Your role is to want to change the trajectory of your health and future and be an active participant. When you are ready, Functional Medicine is the future of medicine and I want to be there for you!