Functional medicine focuses on treating the underlying, or root, cause of disease. Each patient is seen as a whole person and factors that make us unique, such as our genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, level of stress, and environment are used to make a diagnosis and form the treatment strategy.
What is Functional Medicine?
I often explain to my patients that Functional Medicine mimics the practice of Chinese Medicine with a modern twist. What do I mean by that? Obviously, there are major differences between the two schools of medicine.
The glue that binds them together though is the desire to get to the root cause of the imbalances in the body. What Chinese medical practitioners have been doing for thousands of years, Western medical practitioners are finally accepting that in order to treat the disease you need to treat the entire person.
Why is your intake form so long!?
Ok, I admit it, it is a really long intake form with questions ranging from; What do you crave when you eat, to, do your feet sweat? Believe me, every question in there has a purpose and points a health detective, such as myself to focus my diagnosis and treatment plan better.
Practitioners of Functional Medicine look to a patient’s complete medical history to identify the root causes of disease. We look at everything, so to speak. Where did you grow up? Were you exposed to certain medications over your life? What type of shampoo or make-up do you use? Are your allergies something you have had forever, or maybe, you just started not tolerating your favorite food? Did your hair turn grey early in life? Or maybe, it's hard to fall asleep or stay asleep?
What could asking all of these seemingly random questions lead us? They paint a picture of you and your story. How did you get to where you are today, and what could we change today, or down the road to get a different outcome?
See, whole-body health and wellness are simply that. The whole body, the whole picture. The concept of one pill for an ill should be put to rest and we should really be focusing on the entire scope of the individual. Rather than fighting against the body, let’s work with its innate natural healing ability and give the body what it needs, and take away what it doesn't. Working with your all of you to get the heart of the matter.
My check engine light is on!
You’re driving down the road and, bam, your check engine light comes on. Don’t panic! You can easily pull over, look for the fuse box and start pulling fuses until the light goes out. Problem solved. Well, except now your AC has stopped working, your horn doesn't blow and your windshield wipers won’t wipe. But the check engine light is off!
Now, you could have taken it to a mechanic who would have run a full diagnostic and pinpointed with pretty laser-point accuracy that your oil cap had come loose and just needed to be tightened.
It's a funny analogy, but in all honesty, this is how most way people address their own health! They care more about their car than they do themselves. When the check engine light comes on, the car gives you a signal that something is not right. You could either remove the fuses or find the problem. The same goes for our health.
Your blood pressure for instance is one of your check engine lights. High blood pressure is letting you know that something is just not right, something is up. Through the magic of Western medicine, you could now get a pill that basically shuts off your check engine light. The problem that caused the high blood pressure is definitely still there, but your check engine light is off. If you're laughing at this point, or maybe starting to question some things, it’s ok. The first time we begin to look at our body in this light it can be a little alarming.
What other signs and symptoms has my body been giving me all these years? Headaches after a meal? Tired in the morning? Cold hands and feet? Harder to see at night? Are your ears randomly ringing? Restless legs?
Every one of these is a check engine light, yelling at you that something is amiss. Do you ignore them, take a pill, or try to get to the root of why these are happening?
With all of these great medications, everyone is healthier now than they have ever been, right?
Would you think? But, sadly no. The United States spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation on earth, and yet we are the sickest. We rank highest in chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, autoimmune, and birth rates. So what’s going on?
First and foremost it’s not just one thing. It is a culmination of decades of industry manipulation, from pharmaceutical companies to agribusinesses depleting our soils and our bodies. Plastics and fake dyes, make-up, and medicines. The list is massive but what could be said is our lack of accountability for our own health and blind trust put in our medical providers.
I can remember when eggs were good for you, then they were bad, then it was ok to eat just the whites, then just the yolk, and now we come full circle, back to the complete egg. How about butter, good or bad? Red wine? Breakfast cereal? Smoothies? Cholesterol? Over the years, every one of these has been marketed as fantastic for you, then later, not so much, then a few years later, surprise, they are suitable for you.
The problem arises because there is so much information out there. Some are rooted in actual science, and some are rooted in the pockets of the companies paying for the science.
True health and wellness look different for everyone, but what remains a constant is we as a society have been getting sicker with each passing year. People do not get sick from a lack of medications. They get sick because there is an imbalance in the system.
Ok, you’ve depressed me, now what?
There’s hope! Modern technology and medicine can be used to benefit us when utilized properly. Just as there shouldn't be a reliance on acupuncture there shouldn't be one for Western medicine either. Functional and Chinese medicine is based on the science of prevention. Yes, both work really well with chronic disease, but what if we could stop the disease before it manifested? Could that be done with the right nutrition, mindset, exercise, or supplement?
How about that human check engine light we have? What could we do about high blood pressure? Rip out the fuze to get rid of the light? Take one, maybe two pills to stop the heart from beating so fast. Wouldn’t that slow blood flow to our brain? Make us tired? Slowly degrade our immune system?
What if we actually looked for a reason why our blood pressure was high? If we figured out the reason, the cause of the symptom, maybe we could fix the root issue and solve our check engine light.
This is where a trained practitioner that works like a detective comes in handy. This is why my intake is quite long. Patterns begin to emerge that tell a story, and if you know how to interpret the readings, you would be surprised at the outcome.
How could you benefit from Functional Medicine?
Functional as well as Chinese medicine work hand in hand with conventional medicine and therapy. As a practitioner of medicine, I appreciate all forms of healing. I have personally made several trips to the ER over the years. Trust me, I am not going to my acupuncturist after breaking my arm putting up Christmas lights, I’m headed to the ER first. There is a time and place for acute and chronic medicine and the various modalities at our disposal.
Western medicine is fantastic at acute-level care, even having the ability to give you a new lung if you need one, how cool is that? Functional and Chinese medicine excels at chronic disease, mental-emotional, autoimmune, and preventative care for instance.
What makes Functional medical practitioners different is not only the paradigm in which we see the human body, but we have the time to really listen and know our patients. Whereas a patient may see their General Practitioner for 5 to 10 minutes, after waiting an hour or more in the reception room. My initial intakes are two hours and my follow-ups are a full hour. We have the ability to offer that to our patients because we are not part of the Western medical establishment and do not take insurance. We are free to see our patients how we see fit.
Functional medicine is:
The patient is an active participant in their own health
The doctor is a teacher, not a savior
Cost-effective long term
Integrative, science-based methodology
Seeks the root cause of disease
Uses the latest laboratory testing and diagnostic techniques
Focus on prevention, health, and wellness