Functional medicine is an evolution of the practice of medicine that better meets the health needs of the 21st century.
By shifting the traditional focus of disease-centered medical practice toward a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listen to their history, and examine the interactions between genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex chronic disease. Thus, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality of each individual.
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 illnesses and autoimmune diseases.
- The type of medicine practiced by most physicians in the conventional system is geared towards acute care, the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that is short-lived and requires urgent care. Unfortunately, the acute care approach of medicine lacks the appropriate methodology and tools to prevent and treat complex chronic diseases.
The Institute of Functional Medicine teaches practitioners how to assess the patient’s status for modifiable lifestyle risk factors and fundamental clinical imbalances through a careful history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. The functional medicine practitioner will consider several factors, including:
- Environmental exposure: The air you breathe and the water you drink, the particular diet you eat, the quality of food available to you, your level of physical activity, and any toxic exposures or trauma you have suffered all affect your health.
- Mind-body connections: Psychological, spiritual, and social factors can all have a profound influence on your health. Considering these areas helps the functional medicine practitioner see your health in the context of your whole person, not just your physical symptoms.
- Genetic composition: Although individual genes can make you more susceptible to certain diseases, your DNA is not an immutable blueprint for your life. Emerging research shows that your genes can be influenced by everything in your environment, as well as your experiences, attitudes and beliefs. This means that it is possible to change the way genes are activated and expressed.
Through the assessment of these underlying causes and triggers of dysfunction, the functional medicine practitioner is able to understand how key processes are affected. These are the processes of the body that keep you alive. Some occur at the cellular level and involve how cells function, repair and maintain themselves. These processes are linked to broader functions, such as:
- How your body gets rid of toxins
- Regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters
- Immune system function
- Digestion and absorption of nutrients and the health of the digestive tract
- Structural integrity
- Psychological and spiritual balance
- Energy production
- Inflammatory responses
All of these processes are influenced by environmental factors and your genetic makeup; when disturbed or out of balance, they lead to symptoms that can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied.
How is functional medicine different?
- There is a huge gap between research and physician practice. The gap between emerging basic science research and integration into medical practice is enormous – up to 50 years – especially in the area of complex chronic diseases.
- Most physicians are not sufficiently trained to assess the underlying causes of complex chronic diseases and to apply strategies such as nutrition, diet, and exercise to both treat and prevent these diseases in their patients.
- Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention and treatment of complex chronic diseases.
Characteristics of a functional medicine approach include:
- Patient-centered care. Functional medicine focuses on patient-centered care, promoting health as positive vitality, beyond the mere absence of disease.
- An integrative, science-based approach to health care. Functional medicine practitioners look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions in the patient’s history, physiology, and lifestyle that can lead to disease. Each patient’s unique genetic makeup is considered, as well as internal elements (mind, body, and spirit) and external factors (physical and social environment) that affect overall functioning.
- Integration of best medical practices. Functional medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with what is sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, emphasizing prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of laboratory tests and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or proven botanicals, supplements when needed, therapeutic diets, detox programs, or stress management techniques.
A comprehensive approach to treatment
Most functionality imbalances can be corrected; some can be completely restored to optimal functioning, and others can be significantly improved.
- Prevention is paramount. Virtually all complex chronic diseases are preceded by long-term functional disturbances that can be identified and effectively managed.
- Changing how systems work can have a major impact on patient health. The functional medicine practitioner reviews a wide range of available interventions and customizes a treatment plan, including those that have the greatest impact on underlying functionality.
- Functional medicine expands the clinician’s toolbox. Treatments may include drug combinations, proven botanicals, nutritional supplements as needed, therapeutic diets, or detox programs. They may also include advice on lifestyle, exercise, or stress management techniques.
- The patient becomes a partner. As a patient, you become an active partner of your Functional Medicine practitioner. Such a partnership allows you to be in charge of improving your own health and changing the outcome of illness.
Copyright The Institute for Functional Medicine