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Functional Medicine

What is Functional Medicine?

It’s a science-based, natural way to become healthy again.

Functional Medicine is patient-centered healing at its best. The axiom is treat the person not the disease.  The approach is treat individuals who may have bodily symptoms, imbalances and dysfunctions.

As the graphic of an iceberg to the left shows, named diseases such as diabetes, arthritis,  fibromyalgia, or autoimmune processes lie above the surface, but according to Functional Medicine, the causes lie under the surface as altered physiology.  Almost always, the cause of the disease and its symptoms is an underlying dysfunction and/or an imbalance of bodily systems.  Health is defined as optimum function, and therefore the approach would be to identify the malfunction(s) and influence the physiology back to better function as opposed to treating the symptom or disease.

Named diseases are just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, according to Functional Medicine, are the real causes of a patient’s health problems.

If mainstream health care treats just the tip of the iceberg, it rarely leads to long-term relief and vibrancy. Identifying and treating the underlying root cause or causes, as Functional Medicine does, has a much better chance to successfully resolve a patient’s health challenge.

Using scientific principles, advanced diagnostic testing and treatments other than drugs or surgery, Functional Medicine restores balance in the body’s primary physiological processes. The goal: the patient’s lifelong optimal health.

How Functional Medicine Heals a Key Health Care Gap

Today’s health care system is in trouble because it applies a medical management model that works well for acute health problems to chronic health problems, where it is much less successful.

If you have a heart attack, accident or sudden lung infection such as pneumonia, you certainly want a quick-thinking doctor to use all the quick-acting resources of modern medicine, such as life-saving technology, surgery and antibiotics. We are all grateful about such interventions.

However, jumping in with drugs, surgery and other acute care treatments too often does not succeed in helping those with chronic, debilitating ailments, such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Another approach is needed.

The Two-Pronged Healing Approach of Functional Medicine

To battle chronic health conditions, Functional Medicine uses two scientifically grounded principles:

  1. Add what’s lacking in the body to nudge its physiology back to a state of optimal functioning.
  2. Remove anything that impedes the body from moving toward this optimal state of physiology.

Plainly put, your body naturally wants to be healthy. But things needed by the body to function at its best might be missing, or something might be standing in the way of its best functioning. Functional Medicine first identifies the factors responsible for the malfunctioning. Then it deals with those factors in a way appropriate to the patient’s particular situation.

Very often Functional Medicine practitioners use advanced laboratory testing to identify the root cause or causes of the patient’s health problem. Old-fashioned medical diagnosis helps too, in the form of listening carefully to the patient’s history of symptoms and asking questions about his or her activities and lifestyle.

For treatment, Functional Medicine practitioners use a combination of natural agents (supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals and homeopathics), nutritional and lifestyle changes, and spiritual/emotional counseling, to prod a patient’s physiology back to an optimal state.  In addition, educating the patient about their condition empowers them to take charge of their own health, ultimately leading to greater success in treatment.

Treating Symptoms Versus Treating the Person

In the dominant health care model today, medication is used to get rid of people’s symptoms. If the patient stops taking the medication, symptoms generally return.

Functional Medicine approaches health problems differently. Instead of masking the problem, it aims at restoring the body’s natural functioning.

For example, conventional doctors would normally prescribe pharmaceuticals like Prilosec, Prevacid or Aciphex to treat acid reflux or heartburn. When the patient stops taking such drugs, the heartburn symptoms come back. In contrast, a Functional Medicine practitioner might find that a patient’s acid reflux is caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Eradicating the Helicobacter pylori might very well lead to the end of heartburn symptoms, permanently.

It’s also important to note that in Functional Medicine, treatment for similar symptoms might vary tremendously for different patients, according to their health history and results of laboratory tests.  So although two patients may come in to the office with similar symptoms, the treatment may be very different from patient to patient

The following comes from the Institute of Functional Medicine (

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease. It is a science-based field of health care that is grounded in the following principles:

• Biochemical individuality describes the importance of individual variations in metabolic function that derive from genetic and environmental differences among individuals.

• Patient-centered medicine emphasizes “patient care” rather than “disease care,” following Sir William Osler’s admonition that “It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has.”

• Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.

• Web-like interconnections of physiological factors – an abundance of research now supports the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other. For example, we now know that immunological dysfunctions can promote cardiovascular disease, that dietary imbalances can cause hormonal disturbances, and that environmental exposures can precipitate neurologic syndromes such as Parkinson’s disease.

• Health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease.

• Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance health span. Functional medicine is anchored by an examination of the core clinical imbalances that underlie various disease conditions. Those imbalances arise as environmental inputs such as diet, nutrients (including air and water), exercise, and trauma are processed by one’s body, mind, and spirit through a unique set of genetic predispositions, attitudes, and beliefs. The fundamental physiological processes include communication, both outside and inside the cell; bioenergetics, or the transformation of food into energy; replication, repair, and maintenance of structural integrity, from the cellular to the whole body level; elimination of waste; protection and defense; and transport and circulation. The core clinical imbalances that arise from malfunctions within this complex system include:

• Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances

• Oxidation-reduction imbalances and mitochondropathy • Detoxification and biotransformational imbalances

• Immune imbalances

• Inflammatory imbalances

• Digestive, absorptive, and microbiological imbalances

• Structural imbalances from cellular membrane function to the musculoskeletal system Imbalances such as these are the precursors to the signs and symptoms by which we detect and label (diagnose) organ system disease. Improving balance – in the patient’s environmental inputs and in the body’s fundamental physiological processes – is the precursor to restoring health and it involves much more than treating the symptoms. Functional medicine is dedicated to improving the management of complex, chronic disease by intervening at multiple levels to address these core clinical imbalances and to restore each patient’s functionality and health.

Functional medicine is not a unique and separate body of knowledge. It is grounded in scientific principles and information widely available in medicine today, combining research from various disciplines into highly detailed yet clinically relevant models of disease pathogenesis and effective clinical management. Functional medicine emphasizes a definable and teachable process of integrating multiple knowledge bases within a pragmatic intellectual matrix that focuses on functionality at many levels, rather than a single treatment for a single diagnosis. Functional medicine uses the patient’s story as a key tool for integrating diagnosis, signs and symptoms, and evidence of clinical imbalances into a comprehensive approach to improve both the patient’s environmental inputs and his or her physiological function. It is a clinician’s discipline, and it directly addresses the need to transform the practice of primary care.