What Is Functional Medicine?
Recently, I began to notice unusual symptoms occurring with my twelve year old car. I spoke to my husband about these sounds and he proceeded to “ops check,” as he calls it, the car. After inspection he told me that the car needed a new timing belt, and other engine tuning. “Ugh,” I thought. “How much is that going to cost?” I moaned. Calling a local auto repair center, I found out the total cost for this maintenance repair averaged between $500.00 and $700.00. I cringed when I heard this. But when I realized that the work was to extend the life of the car, I realized that $700.00 now is cheaper than a new car and better than not having a car.
How does this scenario relate to Functional Medicine? It does in several ways. When it comes to auto maintenance, we tend to accept the cost because we can’t be without a car. Do we accept the cost of physical maintenance if it will extend the life of our bodies? If one has health insurance the answer might very well be, yes. We have auto insurance that pays for accidents and injuries, but not for regular maintenance. Yet in order to extend the life of the car we are willing to pay to keep it running. In contrast, we have conventional medicine health insurance that pays for accidents, injuries, hospitalization, doctors, and regular maintenance called “wellness check-ups” which consists of tests such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and yearly physicals, to name a few. When the body breaks down the traditional, conventional, or allopathic method consists of one symptom, one drug treatment, and the doctor reports that the treatment will cost x,y,z amount of dollars which the prescribed drug will treat. We don’t cringe at the cost because it is paid for by insurance. This approach is more of a drug centered/disease oriented method of healthcare familiar in America. Chronic fatigue, arthritis, fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines, dermatitis, thyroiditis, dementia, infections, heart disease, Lupus, asthma, and numerous other diseases recorded are commonly diagnosed. Frequently, the same diagnosis is given the same treatment. For example, statins are given for a disease called high cholesterol, and calcium channel blockers are given for hypertension . The quick diagnosis and treatment for acute conditions is greatly needed for emergency situations and I am personally thankful for the doctors in my life for whom I have required for this purpose.
Functional Medicine, or Functional Diagnostic Medicine, on the other hand is patient-centered healthcare. The doctor, practitioner, or professional looks at underlying biochemical causes with objective testing to find the root causes. Just like an auto mechanic who uses a variety of diagnostics to find the root cause of the problem which is indicated by unfamiliar sounds or red engine warning light flashing, so the Functional Medicine doctor or professional uses a variety of tools for assessments to find the root cause of the illness indicated by symptoms. I liken this to a tree with the top of the branches the names of diseases or all the multitude of symptoms, and the trunk and roots of the tree are all the imbalances that could be associated with the diseases or symptoms. Instead of asking “What is the pathology?” Functional Medicine professionals ask “What cellular processes are involved in these symptoms?” Are there metabolic indicators? Hormonal aspects? Cellular biochemical disruptions? Emotional factors? Digestive or malabsorption interferences? Structural imbalances? Detoxification pathway imbalances? Oxidative stress? Although not usually covered under traditional healthcare insurance and initially more out of pocket expenses, comparatively, it is more cost effective than conventional medicine. No one wakes up one morning with a disease. Disease process typically takes time. Similar to a car that has warning lights or sounds when something is out of balance, our bodies give a signal that something is out of balance with symptoms. However, just because the body isn’t manifesting symptoms, we cannot assume that nothing is wrong or out of balance. The imbalance could be emerging long before symptoms are ever expressed. This is why Functional Medicine doctors and professionals view assessments through a functional perspective. Most of these chronic degenerative states listed above have a root cause; a primary nutritional imbalance. Dis-ease is a manifestation of a long-term imbalance left untreated. If the root of a tree is not well nourished the trunk and the leaves will not be well nourished. As the tree grows, so do the branches. If the car is not well maintained, eventually it will give out. An auto mechanic takes great care in making sure you have a safe car that will give you continued mileage with age. So too does the Functional Medicine Professional who takes great care in making sure you have a healthy body that will give you continued mileage with age using natural remedies.
The benefits of Functional Medicine are:
- Improved quality of health care
- Reduced costs—less time of missed work
- Reduced suffering—less time of missed work
- Increased likelihood of overall wellness—less time of missed work
- Reduced incidence of mortality
The overall goal in healing is to use natural therapies, and fundamental approaches to balance the whole body- not specific diseases. This is done at the cellular, emotional, mental, and physical levels. Urine, blood, stool, or saliva tests may be required to evaluate toxins, hormones, vitamin/ mineral status, fats, or organic acids so that the practitioner can assess the person’s true health and be able to implement an effective therapeutic program. When combined with lifestyle changes, taking into account genetics, environment, personality, specific or individualized dietary recommendations, and supplementation, recovery is enhanced with chronic health conditions, but not overnight or with one pill. Just like it takes time for a diseased tree to recover with intervention, it takes time and is a process to nourish and extend the life of our bodies.