There’s a lot of confusion about what functional medicine is and what it is not, even within the medical community.
By definition, functional medicine seeks to identify and address the root cause of health conditions.
In practice, it’s patient-centered and biology-centered (rather than disease-centered), meaning the focus is on the origin of underlying health specific to that individual patient and his or her life experiences.
Technically considered a form of alternative medicine, functional medicine is unique because it is often practiced by physicians who are primarily trained in Western conventional medicine.
That means they have the same rigorous education and training, certifications, credentials, and licensing as any other medical doctor. They are trained in recognizing all kinds of disease states, both acute and chronic; and they are trained in conventional diagnostics and treatments.
However, a functional medicine provider will have additional training to address root causes, with a focus on physiology and how the body functions as an integrated system.
Part of this training includes treatment options that are not commonly used in a more conventional approach. Functional medicine is investigative, by nature, and the process begins with listening to the patient’s complete health story. Since this requires a lot of time, appointments are longer, with more face to face time with the doctor.
Another unique feature of functional medicine is its expanded approach to diagnosis and treatment. Rather than focusing on alleviating symptoms, root causes are considered, and diagnostic testing not typically available in the conventional setting can be pursued to bring clarity to the diagnostic process.
Nutritional evaluation and genetics testing are a few common examples. Treatments may or may not include pharmaceuticals, but always attempts to find and fix the underlying issues that are causing the problem.
Functional medicine practitioners are trained in the most current medical literature, using a more up-to-date science-based approach, and they are also trained in the art of medicine, recognizing the high value of trust and authenticity in the patient-doctor relationship.
Perhaps the greatest benefit from a functional medicine approach is the actual fixing of health problems instead of masking symptoms or even creating new ones.
A common example is using repeated courses of antibiotics and steroids to treat recurrent eczema, asthma, and respiratory infections when perhaps a detailed history and targeted lab test can uncover an exposure, food allergy, or nutrient deficiency causing the problem.
Even if you’re not experiencing an acute health crisis or chronic condition, it does not mean you can’t benefit from restorative healing and health maintenance characterized by the functional medicine approach. In fact, true prevention is a major component of treatment.
Often, especially when we’re young, we experience minor health problems that we recover from or learn to live with. Sometimes we don’t even notice the symptoms because it simply becomes a “new normal” for us. But once those symptoms magnify or become unbearable, often in middle age, people take notice and either take action to see a healthcare provider or have a major event.
Many times, these issues are related to previous exposures and daily habits that the body can no longer compensate for. Cumulative damage, so to speak. Then it seems like the floodgates open and the suffering begins. Even if you haven’t experienced this yourself, you probably know someone who has.
Functional medicine embraces the fact that your body has the innate ability to heal itself if given the proper environment for health restoration.
It’s important to work with a practitioner who can support you as you pursue optimal health, even if you feel good today. And if you don’t feel good today, then what are you waiting for?