Functional Medicine – An Introduction

Functional medicine brings a completely new way of thinking to healthcare and wellness; a paradigm shift.  Conventional medicine frequently only offers a symptom-based, sickness-care model, where pharmaceutical intervention is the first and often only outcome on offer.  More traditional and alternative medicines sometimes can lack the science and evidence basis for their diagnoses and treatment options.  This is where functional medicine is so different, and so powerful; providing a holistic and patient-centred approach, which is both science- and data-led, whilst providing natural and lifestyle solutions in order to correct the underlying problem.

With functional medicine, we are acting like health detectives; working to piece together the different parts of the puzzle, to help understand what has brought about a certain problem with one’s health.  We are not so concerned with symptom suppression, but really work to correct the root cause of the issue.  We understand that two people with what seems like the same health complaint, can in fact have very different causes of their problems.  Where conventional medicine would have treated these two people in the same way, functional medicine’s solution may well be very different for each of them.

Conventional medicine is fantastic in so many ways, mainly through its approach to treating acute life-threatening illness and major trauma.  Where it so often fails, though, is in the treatment of chronic, lifestyle-related illness, which are becoming increasingly common.  Most of these conditions need an holistic approach, including diet and nutritional adjustments, lifestyle change and mental/emotional reframing.

Functional Medicine – A Definition

A simple yet profound definition of functional medicine, taken from the Institute of Functional Medicine goes:

Functional medicine determines how and why illness occurs, and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.”

Functional medicine is all about the WHY.  We want to understand how and why the person’s symptoms are occurring.  Conventional medicine doesn’t tend to put much emphasis on why; more WHAT the symptoms are, and HOW they can suppress them, so that the patient FEELS better in the short term.  Sure, we all want to feel better as quickly as possible, but we want this feeling to last, and we want the feeling to come from a true healing of the body, not just because a pharmaceutical is making us think we feel better, when our body is just as sick as it was before.

5 truths of Functional Medicine

  1. It is data- and science-led.  Where many alternative or traditional forms of medicine fall short is in their lack of scientific backing.  Functional medicine has an ever-increasing basis of scientific studies, and is founded on sound scientific knowledge of the body, its physiology and biochemistry.  We use detailed in-depth testing as part of our investigations, providing us with hard data on each person’s health state
  2. We are concerned with promoting health, rather than just combating disease.  Wouldn’t you agree that you’d rather be full of health and vitality, rather than just ‘not sick’?
  3. We believe in the fundamental truth that our bodies are self-healing.  Remember, as a child, when we saw a cut on our hand heal over in just a few days?  If we provide the body with enough of what it needs (nutrition, fresh air, clean water etc), and minimise what it doesn’t need (environmental toxins, negative thought patterns etc), then it is able to heal and regenerate.
  4. Functional medicine is ‘patient-centred’.  Each person is unique, has their own history, genetic tendencies and lifestyle traits.  As mentioned previously, often two people with the same medical diagnosis will in fact have very different causes for this condition, and require completely different treatment programs.  Also, understanding that the body is interconnected; your gut does not operate independently of your immune system, your nervous system is not independent of your hormonal system.  An imbalance in one system will affect the function of other systems.
  5. Probably most importantly, we work on the paradigm of something called allostatic load, or body burden.  This simply means that all stress on the body systems accumulate, and will eventually reach a threshold where health is negatively affected.  Stress comes in many forms, including physical, mental, environmental, nutritional etc.  These different forms of stress add into the total body burden, leading to loss of wellbeing, ill health and disease.  We work to reduce these forms of body burden as much as possible, whilst building the body’s resilience as much as we can.

In closing…

To me, functional medicine is the future of healthcare.  Many people still aren’t aware of what it can offer.  But this is changing.  Like with most great things in life, it is not a ‘quick-fix’.  But over time, with consistent and positive effort and change, functional medicine can bring about permanent lasting change to one’s health, wellbeing, quality of life, and, ultimately, their happiness.