What Is Functional Medicine

Nutrition counseling, lifestyle changes and targeted supplementation

Functional medicine is a method of dealing with complex and chronic groups of symptoms. These symptoms might manifest as high cholesterol or chronically high blood pressure, autoimmunity or high blood sugar, chronic fatigue or thyroid disorders. Functional medicine practitioners seek to find out what led to these issues and understand why you are manifesting these symptoms. The paragraphs that follow represent some fundamental principles of functional medicine.

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You are NOT your genetics!

We used to think that genetics was simply a gamble and you either ‘had’ something or you didn’t. Getting a disease was a spin of the genetic roulette wheel before you were even born. This just isn’t the case. There is a new field of genetics called, ‘epigenetics’ (literally, ‘outside the genetics’) and it is now widely acknowledged that you are not doomed to the tyranny of the genes you inherited! Epigenetics is a study of the outside influences that determine whether or not a gene will be expressed or suppressed. Your genes are part of an extremely complex system of ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches. Genes are the blueprint for proteins and certain proteins can cause or even suppress disease. Epigenetics are those things that tell your body to either read the gene code and make the protein or ignore the gene code and don’t make the protein. Dietary inputs, environmental inputs and cognitive or emotional inputs can all affect your epigenetics.

A Systems Biology Approach

Functional Medicine looks at the body as a whole, functioning organism rather than separate parts that function independently of each other. Conventional thinking has reduced the body to separate organ systems or tissues and it treats them separately, often without consideration of what is happening system-wide. Functional medicine looks at the entirety of the system. It looks ‘upstream’ to the molecular cause of events or symptoms that we eventually see ‘downstream’. It also considers the downstream effects of interventions to get the best possible, systemic results.

Root Cause Not Managing Symptoms

The goal of functional medicine is to treat the person that has the disease rather than treat the disease that has the person. Fundamental to functional medicine is the bioindividuality of each patient. The understanding that while two patients may have the same collection of symptoms, they most likely arrived there via very different molecular mechanisms. It is the job of the functional medicine practitioner to find out why the symptoms are manifesting in a particular patient and counsel the patient on how to reverse the biology that caused them. This is in stark contrast to our current system that simply masks symptoms and often does nothing to slow the march of disease. Not to mention the unwanted side effects from medications interacting with each other in a body that is not functioning optimally. Conversely, the positive effects of functional medicine interventions are both far reaching and long lasting! If side effects exist they are minimal and transient.

Partnership Not Dictatorship

A true functional medicine relationship between practitioner and patient cannot occur without input from both sides. The patient brings their story; the history, events and experiences that make you who you are. The functional medicine practitioner (FMP) brings a wealth of tools and training and perhaps most important, a burning curiosity and an ability to ask the right questions and listen for the answers. An FMP is a detective, of sorts, trying to hunt down the pieces of the puzzle that led to your illness. However, this cannot be done without earnest and sincere input from the patient.

This is why functional medicine forms are so long to fill out. Page after page of what may seem to be completely unrelated or irrelevant information. However, each question has meaning and the answer helps to paint a more thorough picture for the FMP. Often initial appointments are quite long as well, generally ranging from 50 to 90 minutes in length.

For more information, the Institute for Functional Medicine provides a great page that helps to illuminate principles of functional medicine. You can read more here.

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