Functional medicine is the future of medicine – Now.
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. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.
We address the underlying causes of your health problems (instead of just treating symptoms) so you can get well and stay well without unnecessary drugs or surgery.
We consider the modern environment and stressors shaping your health in positive, and negative ways. We look back to a time that was free of modern, chronic illness for insights in 21st Century health.
We recognize that despite all we share, we are each unique. Your challenges and goals are your own and your treatment is personalized. You become actively involved in your healing
Why do we need Functional Medicine?
There is some debate over who coined the phrase: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Some say it was Albert Einstein, while others suggest Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin. Regardless of its origin, there’s no doubt that whomever came up with it was a very wise person. And while this isn’t the technical definition of insanity, the quote provides a great lens with which to look at the world, the systems we’ve built and our actions within it. On a more specific level, I think it applies perfectly to conventional medicine as it’s practiced today.
You know how it goes:
- We habitually fill our bodies with unhealthy foods.
- We become sedentary – not allowing our bodies to move the way they are supposed to.
- We don’t get enough sleep and do nothing to relieve our daily stress.
- We repeat these practices day in and day out.
- Then, we get sick.
We start to feel awful.
And It’s at this point we begin to seek care and the treatment is always the same – pharmaceuticals, surgeries or some other quick fix. These treatments certainly clear up the symptoms, but not the underlying cause, which tends to be, more often not, the diet and lifestyle choices we’ve made over a number of years. Maybe there are even some other nasty side effects that start to come on after we’ve been on the medication we were prescribed for a while.
Because our symptoms have cleared up temporarily, we don’t learn our lesson and we continue on with our unhealthy lifestyles. We become even sicker without even noticing. Until new symptoms pop up or the original symptoms become even worse. And so we go back and are prescribed more medication.
Rinse, and repeat.
It really is madness.
There is, however, another way. Something that allows us to break free from this sick-until-we-die insanity that conventional medicine allows and encourages us to operate within. That way is functional medicine. I’ll highlight some more of the key distinctions that set functional medicine apart from conventional medicine below. These distinctions are somewhat interrelated and overlap with one another. Before we dive into the details, know that the major benefits of functional medicine compared to conventional medicine is that it is:
- More cost-effective
- Takes a long view of your health
- Puts the patient above the doctor in the hierarchy of care
- Focuses on prevention
Keep reading and let’s flesh these out a bit more.
Holistic vs. Specialized
Functional medicine is holistic. That is, it takes into account your entire body; all of its parts and all the systems within it. Functional medicine also accounts for your diet and exercise habits. That is, the inputs into your body. In this way, functional medicine treats your body as an interconnected whole within a larger environment.
The holistic nature of functional medicine contrasts starkly with conventional medicine where there’s a doctor focused on every part of your body: Cardiologists for your heart, gastroenterologists for the digestive system, neurologists for the brain and nervous system, podiatrists for your feet, and ophthalmologists for your eyes, etc.,. Due to this limited focus, conventional medicine focuses on individual body systems and not at the whole person to understand the interrelated causes underlying disease and chronic illness. Rather, it looks at symptoms so that it can name a disease and find a corresponding drug.
The benefit of the holistic nature of functional medicine is that it recognizes that in order to treat one part of the body, all other parts must be considered. In doing so, functional medicine breaks apart the artificial divisions of the body defined in conventional medicine. Functional medicine examines underlying phenomena that occur across conventional medicine’s specialties in order to determine the root cause of disease and find the right tools, at the right time, individualized for each person.
Health Oriented vs. Disease Oriented
In functional medicine, we focus on a patient’s overall health, not just a symptom. While some patients might seek out a functional medicine doctor to treat a specific symptom or disease, we dive much deeper to examine other underlying causes of that symptom, including the patient’s diet and lifestyle. We also seek to suggest changes or treatments that can prevent the disease or symptom of concern and others that we think may arise based on what we know of the patient’s entire body and diet and lifestyle habits.
Compare this to conventional medicine, where the doctor is only concerned about diagnosing the symptom or disease with regard for little else. Once the disease is named, the conventional doctor can then prescribe a drug and be on to the next patient. The problem here is that the root cause of the symptom or disease is never addressed. Not only that, the effect of the drug on other systems within the body isn’t usually taken into account.
The real benefit of a health oriented approach is that it takes both a short term and long term view at getting and staying healthy. Disease oriented approaches are a short-term fix meant to make you feel better now, and only now.
Take for example, a patient complaining of a cold. The functional doctor will not only suggest natural treatments to ease the symptoms of the actual cold but also examine why the patient’s immunity may be in a lowered state and prescribe lifestyle changes that will help the patient avoid the next cold. Things like diet, sleep patterns and stress.
The conventional doctor will prescribe some cold medicine and be on his or her way. Cold prevention in the future won’t be considered for a second.
Which method do you think is the better deal for you and your health in the long run?
Patient Centered vs. Doctor Centered
Functional medicine is holistic, and by its very nature is patient centered. Since the functional doctor looks at your health holistically, rather than just on your disease, it follows then that we are focused on the entire patient which puts them first and foremost in the treatment process. Compare that to conventional medicine which shifts focus to the individual doctor and his or her specialty.
Think about it: You go into a conventional general practitioner with an ear ache. They prescribe you some drugs which don’t really seem to be working to ease your symptoms. So you call around to find an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor that has some availability and fits with your insurance plan. Three weeks later you visit the doctor and he recommends a surgery.
But do you really need the surgery? Or is the ENT doctor suggesting it because that’s all he knows and does?
My point in this example isn’t that all surgeries recommended by conventional doctors are unnecessary, but that the major drawback of the way conventional medicine is segmented makes it very easy for a specialist to recommend something only within his or her area of expertise. In this way, conventional medicine is almost completely doctor-oriented, oftentimes at the expense of the patient.
As an analogy, it’s like if you take your car in to a tire shop because it’s running rough on the road. The tire specialist is going to suggest your problem is your tires and recommend that you replace them. If you take it to a transmission shop, they’ll suggest it’s an issue with the transmission and tell you need a new transmission. They are operating with incomplete information on the rest of the automobile and only know how to apply solutions to the particular system of the car they have expertise in. In this example, the functional medicine practitioner is like your friendly neighborhood mechanic who knows everything about cars and is able to diagnose your problem by looking at the whole car and all its systems holistically.
Which mechanic or doctor would you take your car or body to? The one who looks at the problem holistically? Or the one who looks only to service those areas in which they are an expert?
Biochemical Individuality vs. Standard Treatment For All
From a biochemical perspective, no two people are the same. Yes, relatively speaking, we have much in common with one another but the differences in biochemical individuality require at least some consideration when it comes to your health. A functional medicine practitioner realizes the importance of these differences and uses it to guide his or her treatments for you. A conventional medical practitioner, on the other hand, doesn’t consider this.
A conventional practitioner would prescribe the same medication, for the same ailment to the 85 year old woman who walks 5 miles a day and eats a vegan diet and a 19 year old man that smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and never leaves his dorm room. These individuals will have vastly different biochemical profiles – but because the conventional practitioner is treating the disease and NOT the person – they’ll get the same treatment.
For some ailments, this might be OK, but for others you can see where the problems might lie. You need to ensure that your medical treatments are exactly right for YOU, not your grandmother or your neighbor. It boils down to common sense, really.
Disease Prevention vs. Damage Mitigation
Functional practitioners focus on disease prevention. This is, I think, a much more reasonable approach to medicine and the way YOU invest in your health. Conventional practitioners, on the other hand, only focus on curing you AFTER they’re diagnosed your disease. Therefore, it’s logical for them then to detect your disease early so that whatever you’re afflicted with has a higher chance of being treated. I say, why let yourself get sick in the first place?
Imagine your body is a house.
The conventional practitioner will tell you to install smoke alarms so that that if a fire breaks out, you’ll be warned immediately. They’d also tell you to put 9-1-1 on speed dial so that once you’re warned, the fire department can get to your house quickly and extinguish the fire. That is, after your house is already on fire.
The functional practitioner will tell you to not only install smoke alarms and put 9-1-1 on speed dial, but will help you choose fire proof materials to build the house out of, and practices to employ and precautions to take to prevent the fire from breaking out. Things like locking away your matches and storing flammable liquids outside. That is, practices and precautions to make sure a fire never starts in the first place.
Which do you think is the better advice? I think it’s plain to see – in the conventional medical example the fire has already started and has caused damage – costing you money and putting your life in danger. In the functional example, we do our very best to make sure the fire never even starts so that no lives or property are threatened or damaged.
The analogy applies to your health. It’s much more practical and cost-effective to focus on prevention rather than damage mitigation.
To summarize, the main distinctions we’ve explored between functional and medicine include:
- Holistic vs. Specialized
- Health Oriented vs. Disease Oriented
- Patient Centered vs. Doctor Centered
- Biochemical Individuality vs. Standard Treatment For All
- Disease Prevention vs. Damage Mitigation
Benefits for you, the patient, stemming from the very nature of functional medicine means that you can take control of your health NOW and work with us to take control of your health so you never get sick in the first place.
A cheaper, easier, more common-sense approach that you can get started on today and break out of the cycle of madness that conventional medicine has most of us trapped in.