Treating the Whole Person
Conventional or Orthodox Medicine centers around addressing a person’s symptoms, whereas Functional Medicine also focuses on why those symptoms exist in the first place.
Functional Medicine is a type of holistic medicine (used by MD’s as well as Natural Therapists) geared toward understanding the underlying cause of ill health.
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” ~ Thomas Edison
Functional vs. Conventional Medicine
Conventional and Functional Medicine differ in several significant ways.
- A conventional medicine focus involves using symptoms to make a diagnosis, then devising a treatment plan for the illness that has been diagnosed
- Conventional medicine focuses on sickness; it is trauma-based and disease-centric
- Conventional Physicians are geared to treat the immediate problem, whether it be a broken bone or virus
- Conventional Medicine works well for acute injuries, but not so well for diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses and conditions
- Most Conventional Medicine doctors are not well trained to determine causes of chronic disease
- Furthermore, they are generally not instructed on how to use nutritional or exercise strategies as part of a treatment plan to prevent chronic illness. Instead, the go-to remedies are typically medication or even surgery
The Holistic Approach to Healthcare
Functional medicine is a new approach.
This relatively new field has been specially designed to address the ‘why’ to get to the root cause underlying a disease. Functional medicine is a much more comprehensive approach that generally delves further— beyond the prevailing symptoms.
Conventional medicine is more centered on the disease. The patient gets a diagnosis of ‘x’ disease; then the treatment plan focuses on ‘x’ disease.
By contrast, Functional Medicine focuses on the patient – the ‘whole person,’ including:
- Family history
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Stress level
- Energy level
- Exercise regime
- Sleep patterns
This patient-focused approach is what the Institute for Functional Medicine calls a systems-level approach. The Institute describes this approach as an ‘evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.’
A Genetic Example of Functional Medicine
Functional medicine is built on the premise that many aspects of our current, conventional medical practices are based on outdated and inadequate models for modern patient care.
Use the human genome as one example. Humans were once thought by doctors to be ‘hardwired’ genetically for disease. You either had the gene for a particular disease, or you didn’t. After decoding the human genome, we now know differently–that genes are expressed or not expressed. This expression means that a disease will (or will not) present itself based on factors like environment, stress, lifestyle, and diet.
The Functional Medicine Practitioner
Because Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, practitioners look for interactions between systems rather than looking at a set of isolated systems.
A Functional Medicine practitioner might look at interactions between genetics and lifestyle, or genetics and the environment.
The premise of this form of medicine is that everything is interrelated. When grouped, all of these factors play a role in determining whether (and why) a chronic disease will be present in a person.
Functional Medicine Approach to Health –
Based on Three Principles:
- Patient-centered care: Practitioners listen to the patient and learn about the whole person—physical and emotional–mind, body, and spirit
- Integrative approach: Body systems exist in an interconnected, complex web of interactions
- Best practices: the best practices of Western medicine are utilized in addition to nutrition, diet, and other techniques like stress management and detoxification
All Body Systems Are Connected
Conventional Medicine generally operates in silos – specialist roles. You see a Cardiologist for a heart problem and an Orthopedic Practitioner for a bone problem. A different doctor is consulted depending on which body system has current presenting symptoms because conventional medicine can view organ systems as independent of each other.
Functional Medicine is founded on the principle of the interconnections between the body’s organs, systems, and functions. Chronic diseases are believed to occur because multiple organ systems are involved – all contributing to the disease state. If you have poor digestion, your intestines are not functioning correctly and that can affect your immunity, mental state and much more.
All People are Unique
People are not ‘one size fits all,’ and neither are their diseases.
A functional medicine practitioner treats every patient as a unique and complex system. Something that works for one patient may not work for another patient with the same disease. Each of us has an allostatic load – a personal threshold of what the body can handle before it breaks down. Outward signs like joint pain, skin outbreaks, weight gain, and decreased sex drive are signs of a breakdown in the allostatic load.
The Health Continuum
The functional medicine view of health is viewed on a spectrum. Health is a relative state, with vitality at the optimum end, and disease and death at the other end. Body systems fluctuate on that spectrum given fluctuations in the allostatic load. Therefore a person’s state can vary between optimum health and illness.
The Promise of Functional Medicine
Chronic diseases like cancer and autoimmune diseases have sharply increased around the globe. Conventional medicine has made great strides in the treatment of those diseases, however, for many people, there is no known cure.
Diabetes is at epidemic proportions. Obesity is the primary indicator that a person will develop diabetes. Nearly one-third of all American adults are obese (with similar statistics elsewhere in the western world), and the number of overweight children has tripled in the last four decades. Diabetes is connected to immune issues, nerve problems, and sleep disturbances.
Functional Medicine is promising a new and different approach specifically designed to prevent diseases like Diabetes as well as ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Auto-Immune Disease and many more.
Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the cause of disease for every individual.
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- Institute of Functional Medicine. https://www.ifm.org/
- Cole W. Why Functional Medicine Is The Future Of Health. MindBodyGreen. October 20, 2014. [Accessed 14 Feb 2018]
- Chyu L, Upchurch DM. A Longitudinal Analysis of Allostatic Load among a Multi-Ethnic Sample of Midlife Women: Findings from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Women’s Health Issues. 2017 Dec 8.