I was introduced to Functional Medicine a few years ago when I was seeking alternative therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had spent years visiting conventional Doctors, and using the standard immune-suppressing pharmaceutical therapies to treat the symptoms, but nothing was really working well for me and I felt very disillusioned, not to mention unwell. The Doctors I saw were all friendly and wanted to help but they each said the same thing - that there wasn't much I could do other than take the medications they offered, for the rest of my life, in order to keep RA under control.
Fortunately my intuition told me that there had to be another way so, against the advice of my Doctors, I kept looking at alternatives and playing around with my diet in the hopes of riding myself of the symptoms.
My relentless research led me to the practice of Functional Medicine and I started reading books on it, listening to podcasts and finding out all I could about the Doctors, protocols and the philosophy behind this alternative to conventional Western Medicine. With the help of natural therapies and the advice of a functional practitioner I was able to get off all medications and reclaim my health. It changed my life completely.
So what is Functional Medicine? Here are 5 things to know about this practice and how it can help you overcome many chronic health issues.
1. What Is Functional Medicine?
The approach taken by Functional Medicine Doctors is to seek out the root cause of disfunctions in the body using modern labs and diagnostic testing, and then to use nutrition, supplementation, herbal supports and lifestyle adjustments as the main ways in which to support the patient in healing. The goal is to heal from illness and fix any imbalances in order to obtain, and maintain, optimal wellness.
Functional Medicine practitioners often draw from a wealth of modern and historical knowledge, from Traditional Chinese Medicine to Ayurveda, Homeopathy to Herbalism and more.
2. How Is Functional Medicine different to conventional, Western Medicine?
Modern Western Medicine tends to separate the body into individual areas, organs and diseases, with Doctors becoming specialists in certain areas - an Oncologist to treat cancer, a Rheumatologist to treat Arthritis etc. Usually the approach to treating illness is via health screenings, pharmaceuticals and surgery with a minimal focus on nutrition and lifestyle changes. This type of medicine is very new and has become the mainstay of how we treat health and disease only over the past 100 years.
Functional Medicine practitioners look at the body, mind and spirit as one interconnected eco-system, knowing that disturbances in any one area can cause symptoms and issues in another. They draw on modern medicine but also on ancient and historical health wisdom to find the right tools to treat an individual. They believe that each person has the capacity to heal and flourish in their body given the necessary support to do so.
They look at all aspects of a patient's life, from their diet to their mother's pregnancy with them, through to their current and past relationships, spirituality, personal beliefs, home environment, possible toxic exposure and more to find the root causes of any issues. They take detailed health histories and often do extensive lab testing (bloods, stool samples, urine samples etc) to uncover the reasons why a person might be experiencing less than optimal health and then they will help the patient put together a plan to help them heal.
3. Who is it for? Can it help me with chronic issues?
If you are in a car crash, or you have a heart attack, Modern Medicine will offer you emergency care that could save your life. In this kind of situation it's best to be in a hospital setting. However, when it comes to chronic long term health issues - Chronic Fatigue, Obesity, Depression, Anxiety, Rheumatoid Arthritis, IBS, Diabetes, Autism, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Endometriosis etc. than a Functional Medicine practitioner can be a fantastic option to help you get to the bottom of these issues and begin the journey of healing.
If you are in a situation where your health isn't improving, despite treatment and conventional approaches, or if you feel your health concerns aren't been validated or taken seriously, or you just feel lousy and desperately want to feel happy and energetic again, than it's worth exploring the field of Functional Medicine.
These Doctors work from the basis of bio-individuality, bearing in mind that each patient has very unique needs and that no two patient cases are alike. What works for one patient in terms of diet and lifestyle won't necessarily work for the next patient, even if their symptoms are the same.
At the core of Functional Medicine is the concept that all chronic illness, even when it presents very differently in different people, is caused by a handful of common imbalances in our human physiology - inflammation, insulin resistance, mitochondria dysfunction, methylation issues, hormonal problems, toxicity (from mould, heavy metals etc) and gut imbalances are often present in those suffering from chronic illness, to varying degrees and combinations, and are often brought on by poor nutritional choices, lack of vitamins and minerals, stress, lack of sleep, environmental toxins and other lifestyle factors.
4. What does a Functional Medicine consultation entail?
A Functional Medicine practitioner will take a very detailed health history, going right back to before you were born, and spend a lot of time investigating every aspect of your physical, mental and emotional health in order to find the cause of any underlying problem. They will meet you where you are at, provide positive support and treat the body as a whole, rather than breaking it down into parts or systems. They work off the basis that everything is interconnected - where a breakdown in one area of the body (mind or spirit) can cause issues in another (for example, gut issues can be at the root cause of mental impairments such as anxiety or depression).
While Functional Medicine practitioners do sometimes use pharmaceutical therapies, usually they will work to use the most natural and safe treatment option possible for the condition, utilising diet, supplements and herbal supports which have little to no side effects and are safe to treat a variety of illnesses. They are usually extremely knowledgeable of ancient healing remedies such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and will look to what has been deemed as safe and effective methods to treat illness for thousands of years. They will also take a preventative approach to healthcare, encouraging patients to use "Food as Medicine" in order to avoid disease and increase longevity, and they will also be keen to implement lifestyle changes that suit the individual to set them up for success and so that they can become lifelong habits to adopt.
They listen to the patient and empower them to be in charge of their own healing, knowing that true and deep healing comes from within. They don't dismiss a patient's intuition, which is so important especially for women who might have vague or hard to pinpoint issues and symptoms.
5. How can I get started?
Functional Medicine offers a path to restore health and vitality, and a way to challenge and overcome the chronic health issues that so many of us are dealing with in this over-processed, crazy World - from diabetes to autoimmune issues, obesity to autism, cancer to hormone imbalances. These Doctors offer tailored health support so that patients can heal and regain their vitality and wellbeing, even at times when Conventional Medicine has said that is not possible.
If you are interested in finding out more about Functional Medicine, and open minded about the process of healing, here are some links to top practitioners in the field get you started. Start reading books and blogs on functional medicine, listen to some of the amazing podcasts that these Doctors have, and just keep researching, researching, researching. The answers you are seeking for you, or a loved one, might be just around the corner.
I wish you every success and happiness on your healing journey!
Institute of Functional Medicine's Website where you can look up practitioners in your area - what is functional medicine - Ecosia (ifm.org)
Dr. Mark Hyman - Dr. Mark Hyman (drhyman.com)
Dr. Alejandro Junger - Dr. Junger | Home (drjunger.com)
Dr. Andrew Weil - Andrew Weil, M.D. | DrWeil.com | Integrative Medicine & Healthy Living
Dr. Lissa Rankin - Lissa Rankin | New York Times Bestselling Author
Dr. Bradley Campbell - Health Assurance Movement
This article is solely based on the writer's opinion and is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any health or medical questions please consult a qualified practitioner.