As someone with health concerns, you’re likely frustrated with our healthcare system.
Your appointments last just 10 minutes, even when your symptoms have worsened. You might be told your problems are age-related or are “all in your head.” You’re referred to yet another specialist for every new symptom. You’re taking more medications than ever…spending more money on your health than ever…but you don’t seem to be getting any better.
Rest assured, the problem isn’t you – it’s our healthcare system’s reactionary approach to care.
If you’re looking for a different approach to healthcare, functional medicine can help. In this article, we’ll delve deep into what functional medicine is and how it goes beyond conventional medicine. Finally, we’ll discuss what you should look for in a functional medicine practitioner.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is “root cause” medicine.
Its practitioners seek to understand and treat the underlying cause(s) of your illness, not just to mask the symptoms with prescription medications.
The Institute for Functional Medicine defines functional medicine as “a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.”1
But what exactly is a “systems biology-based approach”?
It’s a perspective that appreciates the body as a whole.
Think about how we can’t explain an entire forest by studying individual trees. Similarly, a complex system like the human body cannot be explained simply by isolating parts of the system.
That’s why functional medicine looks at various factors that influence your health, such as:
- Your environment
- Your hormones
- Your genetics
- Your stress level
- Your toxin exposure
- Your lifestyle
The functional medicine approach is in stark contrast to the reductionist approach, which views the human body as a collection of parts. While the reductionist approach has had massive successes in modern medicine, it has its limits. Much like a mechanic who locates a defective part to fix a broken car, we’ve become accustomed to doctors who treat disease by isolating an abnormality.
Implicit in the reductionist approach is the belief that each disease has a single target for treatment.
We know such a belief couldn’t be further from the truth. You shouldn’t get the same treatment as someone who’s 30 years older or younger than you with the same condition.
And yet, that’s just what happens because the disease often becomes the central focus of conventional medicine.
How Does Functional Medicine Go Beyond Conventional Medicine?
Functional medicine practitioners take the best of conventional medicine and cutting-edge research to employ safe and effective tools that harness your body’s innate healing capacity.
Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, functional medicine realizes the importance of treating the individual patient.
That’s why functional medicine is person-centered.
A functional medicine practitioner takes the time to get to know you, your body, your history (including your family’s), your lifestyle, your genetics, and your environment. It’s not uncommon for functional medicine appointments to last at least 1 hour. Even seemingly disparate issues are taken into account as possible contributing factors to your current health concerns.
This thorough process is a crucial step to success.
Without a complete understanding of what makes you unique, functional medicine practitioners wouldn’t be able to give your body a chance at achieving true wellness.
Why Does Functional Medicine Matter?
The human body is amazing. When given the time and resources it needs, it can heal itself.
The problem is, we rarely give our bodies the opportunity to heal.
It’s not for lack of trying. The United States spends twice as much on healthcare than other developed countries, but we see worse outcomes.2
Nearly half of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.3 We have the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rates among high-income countries. Our obesity rates are skyrocketing. And our maternal and infant death rates are higher as well.4,5
The situation is even more dire than it seems. Trends show an increase in chronic diseases in years to come.3
So we’re spending more money and becoming more dependent on a system that doesn’t work.
The current healthcare model is simply unsustainable and is why functional medicine is so critical.
Functional medicine is results-oriented. Practitioners aim to balance your body’s complex systems to achieve balance and healing instead of introducing unnecessary and potentially harmful treatments. In this way, functional medicine can help you save money in the long run.
Functional medicine also focuses on prevention. Despite the disheartening statistics, many chronic diseases are preventable. Because functional medicine gives your body the tools it needs to heal, you’ll experience lasting wellness, not just freedom from symptoms for a few days.
Most importantly, functional medicine empowers you. Because you and your doctor are partners in your wellness journey, you’ll be heavily involved throughout the entire process. You’ll be able to ask questions, express concerns, and talk with your doctor about what’s working or not working.
The Functional Medicine Approach
Thanks to the personalized approach, the functional medicine experience may look different from patient to patient.
Here are some common tools used by functional medicine practitioners:
- Diagnostic tests: If needed, your doctor may run extensive diagnostic testing to help identify the root cause of your health concerns. Dysfunction at the cellular level often precedes symptoms, but catching it early can be difficult. Regular multi-dimensional testing can reveal the dysfunctions early, and we can nip them in the bud with safe interventions before they become bigger problems.
- Supplements: When used correctly, supplements can help you feel better. But with hardly any regulations, the supplement industry is filled with poor quality products. Check out our short guide to choosing the best supplements for you.
- IV therapy: If you suffer from poor gut health, it’s likely that you’re not absorbing all the necessary nutrients. IV therapy sends vital nutrients to your bloodstream, bypassing the gut and nourishing your cells directly. IV therapy is also helpful in chronic conditions in which higher doses of nutrients are needed than what can be tolerated if taken orally.
- Lifestyle counseling: Disease can occur when lifestyle factors like diet, sleep, and exercise are lacking in your life. But when you have a chronic condition, changing your lifestyle can be difficult. That’s why a functional medicine doctor will work with you to develop achievable lifestyle goals and targets so you can build confidence over time.
- Detoxification: Toxins are some of the invisible stressors that damage your body over time. You may have seen various “detox” regimens on social media. But a proper detox doesn’t consist of drinking lemon juice or going on a special “cleansing” diet. Functional medicine doctors determine exactly what needs to be removed and select the best process to remove it.
- Stress management: Stress is linked to an increased risk of many chronic diseases. The functional medicine model focuses on identifying your sources of stress and utilizing interventions like meditation and exercise. Learn a simple method for de-stressing in our article Accessible Antidotes for Stress.
- Neurofeedback therapy: Experiencing brain fog, depression, anxiety, or lack of focus? When your brain repeats a certain pattern of thinking, it can have a hard time unlearning it. Neurofeedback is a revolutionary, non-invasive method of retraining your brain to function at a higher level. Learn more about neurofeedback therapy by reading How to Change Your Brain for the Better.
- Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy: Your cells communicate through hormones. Sometimes, your hormones become unbalanced, which means your cells have a harder time communicating. If your hormone levels are a source of your health problems, your functional medicine practitioner may use various methods – pills, injections, or creams – to rebalance them.
You can read more about functional medicine’s focus on environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors in Working With a Functional Medicine Doctor.
Does Functional Medicine Work?
With any new or unfamiliar approach, a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted. After all, conventional medicine can’t be all bad, right?
You’re absolutely right. Conventional medicine has tremendous value, especially in acute injuries or illnesses.
Functional medicine doesn’t aim to be an “alternative” to conventional medicine. Instead, its purpose is to ask questions and seek understanding of the human body beyond what is typical. After all, the cause of your migraines is likely not the same as that of someone else’s. And your treatment shouldn’t be either.
In a study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, patients treated using the functional medicine approach to care exhibited significantly larger improvements in their physical and mental health than those seen in a primary care setting.6
It may take some time for you to get used to the new approach. Functional medicine requires your time and dedication. There are no shortcuts to achieving true, lasting health. But the benefits you’ll see – more energy, clearer thinking, less pain, and a better quality of life – are well worth the investment.
What Should You Look for in a Functional Medicine Practitioner?
With the increase in popularity of functional medicine, so have the number of organizations selling “functional medicine” programs.
The problem is, many of them sell inaccurate, poor-quality materials. Some “certified” professionals may not even be licensed medical practitioners.
The Institute for Functional Medicine, which coined the term “functional medicine” in 1991, trains medical practitioners on a specific, science-based approach to patient care. Functional medicine is not simply recommending supplements or dietary changes.
At MaxWell Clinic, we see patients who have seen no results for years despite spending a lot of money, time, and effort on their health care. Far too many of them come to us after seeing “functional medicine experts” who don’t even have a medical license. For further discussion on this topic, check out our blog, “Is it Functional Medicine or Functional Marketing?”
So what should you look for when choosing a functional medicine provider? Consider the following:
- What are their credentials? Are they certified? If so, through which organization did they earn their certification?
- Do they emphasize partnership with their patients?
- Do they take a comprehensive look at each patient?
- How many patients have they treated with your particular condition?
- How extensive is their diagnostic testing?
- Do they use a variety of treatments or just one or two?
MaxWell Clinic pioneered a revolutionary approach to healthcare called Personalized Systems Medicine. By combining the functional medicine approach with conventional medicine and cutting-edge research, we provide our patients with services not available under one roof anywhere else.
Take Charge of Your Health
Being sick is hard enough. Finding a doctor who’ll listen to you and help you get back to wellness shouldn’t be. A good functional medicine doctor will take the time to get to know you and offer treatment plans tailored to your unique situation.
At MaxWell Clinic, you are more than your diagnosis. And optimal health is more than the absence of disease.
Our staff is highly trained in functional medicine and dedicated to helping you achieve your health goals. If you’re in the Nashville area and are ready to address the root cause of your illness, schedule a free call with our New Patient Coordinator by clicking here.
We look forward to working with you.
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