WHY FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patients in the care or the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease”
– Thomas Edison 1903
With our current health system failing and the U.S. leading the way in chronic disease cases and the shortest lifespan of all the industrialized nations, many people are beginning to look toward functional medicine as a new and integrative approach to conventional medical treatments. As a functional medicine and multidisciplinary practice, we are constantly answering questions regarding what functional medicine is and how it differs from mainstream medical treatment. Here are several reasons why you should make the change and give functional medicine a try!
Functional medicine practitioners address the root, or underlying cause of disease or dysfunction
The goal of functional medicine is evaluate and treat the root cause of a disease or illness and not just the symptoms. Symptoms are a sign that there is an underlying health issue; they are not the cause! Take an individual with diabetes or high blood sugar, for example. These individuals are frequently given medications to help lower blood sugar values by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin, the hormone that lowers our blood sugar.
Functional medicine begins the investigation by asking the question of why a patient’s blood sugar is high in the first place. People do not get sick from a lack of medications. Does this particular patient have cellular insulin resistance due to diet and lifestyle habits, or a hypothalamic-pituitary -axis dysfunction causing imbalanced cortisol production or an underlying gut issue? All of which can contribute to blood sugar imbalances and insulin resistance.
In this example there is nothing wrong with the actual function of the pancreas! The use of blood sugar management medications will make their blood sugar levels look good on a lab test, but it doesn’t address the real reason why their blood sugar is high in the first place!
With concurrent treatment from your primary health provider, functional medicine can be the missing piece to the puzzle that helps you to decrease or get off medications and take your health back!
Functional medicine evaluates lab values differently
Lab values and reference ranges are established by using a bell curve average of that particular population of that particular lab. These values can vary widely by state and by geographical region. These medical lab ranges tend to be very broad and are typically used to identify an ongoing disease or disease process, generally requiring medication or medical intervention.
Regardless of if you are one point from being outside the lab range, if you are falling within it you are still classified as “normal”. Many patients become frustrated when they seek traditional medical help for their health issues because they are often told that their lab tests are “normal” and that they are fine.
Functional medicine looks at these lab ranges from a much more narrow perspective. These narrow lab ranges have been identified as the places where the body functions the best at and anything outside of these ranges are where people start to develop a disease or illness. Disease doesn’t start the moment your lab values fall into the “high” or “low” ranges. You are either heading for disease, outside the reference ranges, or your heading for health and wellness.
Functional Medicine practitioners run more extensive lab tests
Unfortunately the lab tests that traditional medicine practitioners run are very limited and are often restricted by insurance and reimbursement rates. The mainstream healthcare model is designed to diagnose a disease that corresponds to a drug treatment. The labs that are typically ordered are minimal and often times do not provide sufficient information to properly treat a patient’s health issues let alone allow them to improve the quality of their health.
We see this problem very often when evaluating a patient with a current or suspected thyroid dysfunction. Many mainstream medical practitioners will only run a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to evaluate the thyroid. Although this marker is extremely important, there are 12-15 additional markers that are hugely important in making an accurate diagnosis. Many thyroid issues are often undiagnosed or missed due to this lack of appropriate testing.
- Comprehensive lab tests are vital and provide must needed insight to establish the best, most patient centered treatment plan possible.
- Functional medicine customizes health care
- Mainstream medicine takes a standardized approach to health care or a “one size fits all”. Diagnose a disease and prescribe a medication. This methods works for some but more often than not it falls severely short, leaving patients feeling hopeless for answers and relief.
- Functional medicine looks at the patient as a whole and customizes a comprehensive healthcare plan that is specific for their individual needs and health related issues.
Functional medicine practitioners spend more time with their patients
The medical model is designed to be very effective at treating acute health issues such as a broken bone, surgery or heart attack but falls short when it comes to treating individuals with chronic health conditions. Wait times in a medical facility can exceed 1 hour, while a typical office visit lasts less than 7 minutes!
Due to the in-depth, thorough nature of functional medicine, providers spend an average of 30-45minutes with patients per office visit. Frequent office visits and follow-ups are scheduled to ensure that patients are seeing positive changes in their health issues. Many practitioners also make themselves available via cell phone, email or webcam to further address questions or problems that may arise outside normal office hours.
Functional medicine practitioners focus on natural treatments
Functional medicine is not ant-medication, but approaches treatment by asking what the most effective option is and what will provide the biggest health benefit to the patient. Sometimes medication is the most successful and appropriate treatment, but not always. There are many dietary and lifestyle changes as well as specific herbal and micronutrient supplementation and bioidentical hormone replacement therapies that are equally, if not more effective, than most pharmaceutical medications.
As with all aspects of functional medicine, treatments, even dietary and supplementation recommendations should be specific for each individual. What works for one person may not work for the next.