What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine addresses the underlying or root causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is evolutionary in the practice of medicine which is intended to better address current healthcare requirements.
This new approach shifts the traditional disease-centred focus of conventional medical practice to a more patient-centred approach, by addressing the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.
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 needs of each person.
How Functional Medicine Changes Everything
Functional Medicine is a personalised, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working together to address the underlying and root uses of disease.
Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models of the 20th century.
Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and understanding of how environmental and lifestyle factors influence the emergence and progression of disease.
Functional Medicine enables health professionals to practice proactive, predictive, personalised medicine and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.
The 6 Core Principles of Functional Medicine
A patient-centred approach refers to health care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and that ensures that patient values guide all clinical decisions. The power of the therapeutic partnership comes from the idea that patients who are active participants in the development of their therapeutic plan feel more in control of their own well-being and are more likely to make sustained lifestyle changes to improve their health.
Enhance the Health Span-Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance the health span, not just the life span, of each and every patient
Positive Vitality-Identification of health as a positive vitality, not merely the absence of disease, and emphasising those factors that encourage the enhancement of a vigorous physiology
Patient Centred Approach-Awareness of the evidence that supports a patient-centred rather than a disease-centred approach to treatment
Biochemical Individuality- An understanding of the biochemical individuality of each human being, based on the concepts of genetic and environmental uniqueness
Dynamic Balance - Search for a dynamic balance among the internal and external body, mind, and spirit
Interconnections - Interconnections of internal physiological factors
The Functional Medicine Tree
The illustration below uses a tree to visually represent the core aspects of the Functional Medicine paradigm and highlight the difference between conventional medical care and Functional Medicine.
The graphic itself has undergone some changes through the years, but its essence remains the same. In order to keep a tree healthy and allow it to flourish, you need to support the most basic and essential elements first; the foundation: the roots and soil. Similarly, if a tree is not healthy, the first place we should look for answers is those same foundational elements.
In Functional Medicine, the same approach applies to patients. The most important factors, and the ones we examine first when gathering information about the patient, are the foundational lifestyle factors; sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress levels, relationships, and genetics. These are the roots and soil, which are in turn influenced by specific predisposing factors (antecedents), discrete events (triggers), and ongoing physiological processes (mediators), and may then result in fundamental imbalances at the trunk. These can eventually result in the signs and symptoms that are grouped into a diagnosable constellation that we call disease, represented by the branches and leaves.
Conventional medicine tends to look at the constellation of symptoms first (the branches and leaves), which usually results in a disease diagnosis. Often, this diagnosis is associated with medication that can be prescribed to treat this constellation of symptoms, and that is the end of the story. But this approach neglects the more fundamental aspects of health that reside in the roots and the trunk of the tree. It treats all patients that present with similar symptoms in the same manner and completely neglects both the inherent differences among patients as well as the myriad possible causes that a “disease” can have.
If you are tired of spending your time in the leaves and watching as your symptoms go through the cycle of diagnosis and drugs without getting any better, we invite you to climb down from the canopy and join us at ground level. We will provide you with the tools to make your patients better, without ever needing to climb any trees.
What to expect from working with a functional medicine practitioner?
When you visit a Functional Medicine practitioner, you can expect to spend a lot more time with them than you would with a conventional provider. You can also expect to do a lot of talking, as a big part of Functional Medicine is exploring your detailed personal and family history, the circumstances around your first symptoms, and the experiences you may have had with other health care providers.
Functional medicine practitioners are trained in how to uncover the underlying causes of your health problems through careful history taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing:
In addition to doing a lot of talking about your history, the practitioner will ask about your mental well-being, spiritual health, and social factors. Considering these areas helps the Functional Medicine practitioner see your health in the context of you as a whole person, not just in terms of your physical symptoms.
The Functional Medicine provider may do a detailed examination of your body to see if there are any visible signs that provide clues to what is going on under the surface.
They may also suggest that you submit samples for laboratory testing; some of these tests are the same ones used by conventional clinicians, but others are specialised tests that can help determine the causes of your illness. This might include genetic testing, which can show if the genes you inherited from your parents may make your more susceptible to certain types of health problems.
Once the practitioner has all the results from your tests, they will ask for your help in designing a treatment plan. The good news is that most health issues can be successfully treated as long as the right causes are identified. Some people can be completely restored to optimum function,
while others can see substantial improvement in their condition. You can also take steps to help prevent your disease from worsening.
The treatment plan you help design will usually include making some changes in your lifestyle:
what you eat, your physical activity, how you deal with stress, your exposure to potentially toxic substances, and other factors. The point of these changes is that your genetic makeup, the genes that you inherited from your parents, are designed to work well in a specific environment.
Sometimes, when genes are exposed to the wrong environment, they don’t work as they should, and this can lead to health problems. The good news is that, although individual genes may make you more susceptible to some diseases, your genes may be influenced by everything in your
environment, as well as your experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. That means it is possible to change the way genes work in your body. So, changing your environment can make the genes work the way they were designed to, returning you to health.
In addition to lifestyle changes, Functional Medicine treatments may include combinations of drugs, botanical medicines, nutritional supplements, therapeutic diets, or detoxification programs. But you will always have a big role in choosing those treatments because, as a patient
of a Functional Medicine practitioner, you become an active partner in the design of your own treatment plan. This allows you take charge of improving your own health and changing the outcome of disease.