You are sitting at the doctor’s office, not feeling well. You and your doctor are conversing in a 7-minute chat on what ails you. You are handed a prescription slip, shakes your hand, walks you out the door, and gives you the bill. Does this approach make you feel any better? A short visit without really addressing every aspect of your well-being to find the root cause to your problem? The simple answer is no. No worries! Functional Medicine is here to the rescue. It’s a health-centered, patient-focused partnership in which the patient and doctor work together to dig deep to find the real cause of disease and illness. Want to learn more on how functional medicine can make a difference in your life? Read on!
What is Functional Medicine?
Although functional medicine is becoming more mainstream thanks to famous voices such as Dr. Oz and Dr. Mark Hyman, it’s still unknown to the general public. Functional medicine, refers to a different type of health care than what we are used to known as traditional medicine or standard care. To understand what functional medicine is completely, we have to see what makes it different from conventional medicine. Let’s get started.
Functional Medicine vs Traditional Medicine
One of the biggest questions many patients would ask is that, “How does functional medicine address and assess my overall health and health concerns differently than traditional medicine?”
Traditional Medicine Approach
When you make an appointment to visit your primary care doctor, you are handed a clip board with a pen to complete generic forms that ask many questions about your medical history, current health, pre-existing medical conditions, medications, family history, hospitalizations, allergies, etc. is the first step. When you take some time to really look at your forms, you realize majority of these questions talk about illness, not your lifestyle (1).
You would complete the forms alone in the waiting room (or online), giving the healthcare practitioner consent as they walk into the examining room to see you for your appointment. The doctor may or may not briefly go over these forms and ask a question or two mostly focused on your chief complaints. After the visit, you maybe wondering why you had to fill out so many forms for such a brief visit (1)!
Once the doctor examines and gives you a diagnosis, drugs or hormones are prescribed as therapeutic tools to deal with medical conditions. For chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, standard of care is generally the same and a cookie-cutter approach. Your healthcare practitioner can decide to treat you or refer you to a specialist. Both your doctor and specialist have access to the same tools to diagnose a disease and match that condition with a drug. Traditional medicine works best for acute cases such as infection, emergencies, and trauma. As for chronic cases, affecting over 130 million Americans a year, it falls short (1).
Functional Medicine Approach
During a functional medicine visit, you are provided with relevant and detailed lifestyle intake forms which include much of the questions in a traditional medical intake, but additional extensive list of questions about your medical history in relation to the potential cause of your health concerns and other aspects of your lifestyle including but not limited to:
Diet and diet diary
Water, caffeine, alcohol intake
The visit takes up to 60 minutes to collect and complete all information needed, but rest assured it is all essential (and well worth it in the end!). The purpose to a long intake is to see the bigger picture of your entire health history, as this will provide clues into what maybe the main cause to your problem that has gone on unnoticed for years (2).
For example, while it may seem insignificant to share your dental work with your doctor and whether you have silver fillings or a root canal, this information can be extremely valuable in understanding the root of specific and seeing how this ties into low thyroid or neurological function.
Once you’ve complete the intake form, it will be reviewed by a healthcare practitioner in detail (You’ve read correct. Detail!) along with your lab work and additional submitted information (2).
5 Functional Medicine Principles
- Functional Medicine views us all as being different; genetically and biochemically unique. This personalized health care treats the individual, not the disease. It supports the normal healing mechanisms of the body, naturally, rather than attacking disease directly (3).
- Functional Medicine is deeply science-based. The latest research shows us that what happens within us is connected in a complicated network or web of relationships. Understanding those relationships allows us to see deep into the functioning of the body (3).
- Your body is intelligent and has the capacity for self-regulation, which expresses itself through a dynamic balance of all your body systems (3).
- Your body has the ability to heal itself and prevent nearly all the diseases of aging (3).
- Health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of immense vitality (3).
Instead of asking “What medication matches up with my health concern?” Functional Medicine asks important questions that very few traditional doctors ask such as “What are your sleep habits?” and “Do you have mercury or porcelain fillings?”. In other words, functional medicine looks to find the root of the matter and addressing aspects of your well-being so you can achieve optimum health.
1. Jones, D. S. (2010). Textbook of functional medicine. Institute for functional medicine.
2. Jones, D. S., & Quinn, S. (2016). Introduction to functional medicine. Gig Harbor, WA: The Institute for Functional Medicine.
3. Vasquez, A. (2016). Textbook of Clinical Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Vol. 1: Essential Knowledge for Safe Action and Effective Treatment.