What is Functional Medicine? Is it alternative medicine? Is it complementary medicine?
It’s none of the above.
It is an evolution in the practice of medicine, born out of the need to address complex, chronic diseases for which the simple, single pill diagnosis no longer works. Created by Dr. Jeffrey Bland in 1990, Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and understanding of how environmental and lifestyle factors influence the emergence and progression of disease (Institute for Functional Medicine, 2015).
The World Health Organization reports that chronic diseases are the leading cause of mortality worldwide, representing 60% of all deaths (World Health Organization, 2015). This staggering statistic alone demands a better way to treat disease and promote health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014)! Functional Medicine does this in several effective ways:
1) Systems-Oriented Approach vs. Single Systems Approach
Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. It views a diagnosis as a beginning point, not as an endpoint where a pharmaceutical drug is used to squash or manage symptoms.
Functional Medicine focuses getting to the root of the problem and achieving balance in the body’s systems. That’s why in Europe, it is also called “systems biology,” because everything in the body works together.
2) Patient-Centered Approach vs. Disease-Centered Approach
As the Institute for Functional Medicine states, “Functional Medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the underlying causes of disease.”
Functional Medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listen to their symptoms and histories, and collaborate on the best methods of treatment. Looking at the patient from all angles is vital to uncovering clues to the root cause(s) of disease, including how the patient has interacted with his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual environments. For example, some questions that might be asked include:
-When did the patient’s symptoms start?
-What conditions were present at the time symptoms were triggered?
-Does the patient have any food sensitivities that might be contributing to symptoms?
-What might be other sources of inflammation contributing to the condition?
-What is the patient’s current diet and lifestyle?
3) A Focus on Thriving vs. Surviving
Rather than viewing health as the absence of disease, Functional Medicine aims to promote a state of thriving. It utilizes nutritional, exercise, environmental, lifestyle, structural, cognitive, emotional, and nutraceutical/pharmaceutical therapies to help the patient thrive, not just survive.
It’s important to remember that Functional Medicine is a science-based method using all current clinical research from the most prestigious journals. Certified practitioners of The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) have passed a rigorous certification program, including a foundational training program, 6 Advanced Practice Modules, and a case study and written test. Practitioners, schools and hospitals worldwide, including the renowned Cleveland Clinic, have and will continue to embrace Functional Medicine as an effective way of addressing the underlying causes of disease and promoting the highest expression of health.
Functional Medicine is simply the best 21st century medicine, and will hopefully be adopted as the new standard of care!
Chronic diseases and health promotion. 2015. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/chp/en/.
About Functional Medicine. Institute for Functional Medicine. https://www.functionalmedicine.org/What_is_Functional_Medicine/AboutFM/