What is Functional Medicine?
According to the Institute of Functional Medicine, “Functional Medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and their practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the underlying causes of disease. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms”.
So what does that exactly mean for you as patient?
Functional Medicine takes into consideration that each person is born with unique health needs. Functional Medicine practitioners spend time learning your complete history and look at the interactions between genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence health and complex chronic illness.
Functional medicine is holistic – taking into account the whole person, and how all the different systems of the body are so intimately interconnected. Functional Medicine practitioners understands how the body connects together and understand the complex systems and patterns that can lead to disease. Functional Medicine constantly asks the question WHY… why does a disease exist, in THIS patient. Functional Medicine understands that each individual needs a unique healing protocol.
This is very different from conventional medicine where the goal of the physician is to recognize patterns of symptoms and prescribe drug-based therapies for all patients with a given disease. Conventional medical treatments are often expensive medications that must be taken indefinitely and do not address the underlying problem – just suppress the symptoms.
Functional Medicine is highly cost effective for patients, as it focuses on prevention and promoting sustainable lifestyle changes that address the underlying causes of disease and restore patients to health.
The illustration above of the tree helps visualize the core aspects of Functional Medicine. If the tree was showing signs of sickness, and not thriving, you would first look at the health of the roots and the soil. This is the same with functional medicine – when signs of sickness present, we first look at the foundations of health: nutrition, sleep, movement, stress levels. These foundational lifestyle factors are the roots and soil, which are influenced by antecedents, or specific predisposing genetic factors, triggers which are very discrete events that happen to us over our lifespan, and mediators, or on-going physiological processes. These all cause imbalances in the way our systems work -exemplified by the trunk of the tree- which in turn can affects how healthy the leaves of the tree are. Each and every leaf represents a different isolated or constellation of symptoms you may feel.
Conventional medicine typically focuses on the leaves first – looking at the symptoms to determine a diagnosis, and thus then a treatment plan. In this model, patients with the same set of symptoms will receive the same treatment plan, even though their roots and soil may look entirely different. Functional Medicine starts at the roots and the soil, taking into account each persons unique genes and life events to address symptoms from the ground up.