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Functional Medicine

FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE is the future of health care. The body is viewed as one integrated system, where the root causes of dysfunction are identified and supported on a personalized and individual basis.

Dr. Mark Hyman M.D. describes it as follows:

* Functional Medicine … for the first time allows treatment of the underlying causes of disease, instead of managing or masking the symptoms as conventional medicine does, never treating the actual cause.

Functional Medicine is comprehensive & personalized

By taking into consideration your body, your medical, family, environmental and social history, as well as your genes.
For example:

3 people come in complaining of headaches.  A pain reliever such as ibuprophen could relieve all three headaches temporarily, (additional doses will likely be required indefinitely).
The source of the headaches was never considered or investigated – yet the SYMPTOM was “treated”.
With the functional medicine approach each person would be evaluated with a comprehensive exam and specific lab testing, if necessary, in order to determine the likely CAUSE of the headache.  In this example, one person’s headache may be due to hormone imbalance, the second person’s because of inflammation, and the third perhaps as a result of dehydration.  Each of these underlying causes have a unique origin, but the same symptom, so the underlying mechanism must be addressed in order to truly help heal the person and reduce the occurrence of the headaches.

Functional medicine blends traditional medicine with complementary / adjunct therapies and focuses on lifestyle and nutritional changes to target and prevent illness and disease.

Our bodies are complex systems, but often operate on one guiding principle – survival.  If our bodies experience excessive stress (emotional, chemical, structural, physical) they switch to emergency / survival mode and “logical” operating no longer occurs.  We must determine the stresses or imbalances on an individual’s body (environmental, hormonal, nutritional, biochemical) in order to understand the underlying mechanisms of the dysfunction.

Traditionally we have viewed “symptoms” of dysfunction as separate “disease processes”, however we now know, and can investigate the more foundational metabolic / physiological disorders underlying the multiple “disease processes”.

For example:  An underlying inflammatory process can lead to “heart disease”, “high blood pressure” ,”diabetes”, “irritable bowel”, “arthritis”, “headaches” etc.  Treating each “disease” may reduce the symptoms but certainly has not addressed the inflammation.  The inflammatory process is free to continue within the body and will likely manifest as new “diseases” with additional symptoms that will need to be “managed”.

Changing the way we look at illness and disease will allow us to have a greater effect on more “symptoms” by addressing one or two underlying processes.

What is Functional Medicine – The “fathers” of Functional Medicine – Dr. Jeff Bland MD, Dr. Mark Hyman, MD with Dr. Frank Lipman MD (with a great South African accent :)) discuss the details of the future of medicine.


Link to Urban Zen

The table below summarizes the differences between functional and conventional medicine.

Functional Medicine Is… Conventional Medicine Is…
Investigative. It treats symptoms by addressing underlying cause of the problem, which leads to more profound and longer lasting results. Superficial. Masks or suppresses symptoms, but does not address underlying cause, which creates “patients for life”.

. Treats the body as an interconnected whole, and recognizes the importance of these connections in health and disease.
Dualistic. Views the body as a collection of separate parts, each of which has its own doctor (i.e. cardiologist, podiatrist, etc.)

. Treatments have mild or no side effects, and other unrelated complaints often improve spontaneously.
Dangerous. Treatments often have serious side effects and complications, including death.
Patient-centered. Treats the patient, not the disease. Treatments are highly individualized based on patient needs. Disease-centered. Treats the disease, not the patient. Patients with the same disease get the same treatment, regardless of their differences.
Participatory. Patient is respected, empowered, educated and encouraged to play active role in healing process. Autocratic. Patient’s opinion is often discounted or ignored, little time is spent on education, and patient may be discouraged from playing active role.

. Combines the best of both modern and traditional medicines and emphasizes importance of diet and lifestyle.
Limited. Relies almost exclusively on drugs and surgery, in spite of their risks and complications.

. Tests and treatments designed to promote optimal function, prevent and reverse disease, and improve quality of life.
Palliative. Tests and treatments designed to prevent death and manage serious disease, without dealing with the underlying cause.

. Guided by the ancient Chinese saying, “The superb physician treats disease before it occurs.”
Reactive. Focused on managing disease after it has already reached an irreversible state..

. Based on the latest research from peer-reviewed medical journals, and uncorrupted by corporate and political interests.
Profit-driven. Based on outdated research and heavily influenced by profit-driven pharmaceutical and insurance companies..