An Epidemic of Chronic Illness

Matching a drug to a disease is a big part of the typical physician’s job. It works like this: You get sick. You go to the doctor. The doctor runs tests or recognizes your symptoms. You’re given a prescription to take to the drugstore. Sometimes the drug works, often, it doesn’t — particularly over the long haul, and particularly if what you are dealing with is a chronic disease or condition. And even if the drug helps, it almost always has side effects.

Over the past 70 years, this medication-centered mindset and the industry behind it have saved millions of lives, especially when it comes to infectious diseases, such as malaria and polio.

Conventional medicine is also adept at handling acute trauma. If you go to the emergency room with a heart attack or a broken leg, the doctors who treat you will know exactly what to do.

Where conventional medicine can fall short, is in the early identification and long-term management of chronic illness, including the kinds of digestive, metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular disorders in which many functional-medicine practitioners specialize.

Conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer are characterized by a series of complex, multilayered symptoms that take years to develop and can affect every biological system, including circulation, immunity, and hormonal and neurological health. By the time most people are diagnosed with a persistent condition, they need a full-scale intervention, not a 15-minute appointment and a symptom-suppressing prescription.

The Foundations of Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional Medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, Functional Medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.

How Functional Medicine Changes the Way Medicine Is Practiced:

  • Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century.
  • 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.
  • Functional Medicine enables physicians and other health professionals to practice proactive, predictive, personalized medicine and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.

Principles of Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine is guided by six core principles:

  1. An understanding of the biochemical individuality of each human being, based on the concepts of genetic and environmental uniqueness;
  2.  Awareness of the evidence that supports a patient-centered rather than a disease-centered approach to treatment;
  3. Search for a dynamic balance among the internal and external body, mind, and spirit;
  4. Interconnections of internal physiological factors;
  5. Identification of health as a positive vitality, not merely the absence of disease, and emphasizing those factors that encourage the enhancement of a vigorous physiology;
  6. Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance the health span, not just the life span, of each patient.

A patient-centered approach refers to health care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and that ensures that patient values guide all clinical decisions. Patient-centered care is the core of what Functional Medicine calls the therapeutic partnership; the relationship that forms between a patient and clinician that empowers the patient to take ownership of their own healing. The power of the therapeutic partnership comes from the idea that patients who are active participants in the development of their therapeutic plan feel more in control of their own well-being and are more likely to make sustained lifestyle changes to improve their health.

How is Functional Medicine Different?

The illustration to the right uses a tree to visually represent the core aspects of the Functional Medicine paradigm and highlight the difference between conventional medical care and Functional Medicine. In order to keep a tree healthy and allow it to flourish, you need to support the most basic and essential elements first; the foundation: the roots and soil. Similarly, if a tree is not healthy, the first place you should look for answers is those same foundational elements.

In Functional Medicine, the same approach applies to patients. The most important factors, and the ones examined first when gathering information about the patient, are the foundational lifestyle factors; sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress levels, relationships, and genetics. These are the roots and soil, which are in turn influenced by specific predisposing factors (antecedents), discrete events (triggers), and ongoing physiological processes (mediators), and may then result in fundamental imbalances at the trunk. These can eventually result in the signs and symptoms that are grouped into a diagnosable constellation also known as a disease, and represented by the branches and leaves.

Conventional medicine tends to look at the constellation of symptoms first (the branches and leaves), which usually results in a disease diagnosis. Often, this diagnosis is associated with a drug or drugs that can be prescribed to treat this constellation of symptoms, and that is the end of the story. But this approach neglects the more fundamental aspects of health that reside in the roots and the trunk of the tree. It treats all patients that present with similar symptoms the same and completely neglects both the inherent differences among patients as well as the myriad possible causes that a “disease” can have.

If you are tired of doctors spending their time in the leaves and watching as you go through the cycle of diagnosis and drugs without getting any better, Functional Medicine invites you to consider a different approach, one that starts at ground level and offers you the opportunity to regain your health and vitality.

Functional Medicine and Conventional Medicine

So how is Functional Medicine different from today’s conventional Western medical system? To begin, the focus of care is different. The goal of conventional medicine is for doctors to identify diseases by recognizing patterns of symptoms and to treat those symptoms by prescribing drug-based therapies that are similar for all patients with a given disease. Notice that the words patient and health do not appear in this description. The goal of Functional Medicine is to promote health and vitality in each patient. Practitioners examine each patient’s lifestyle and unique biochemical factors to identify the underlying causes of their disease and find treatments that help return patients to optimal health.

Functional Medicine

Conventional Medicine

Health oriented Disease oriented
Patient centered Doctor centered
Biochemical individuality Everyone is treated the same way
Holistic Specialized
Cost Effective Expensive
Looks at underlying causes of disease Diagnosis based on symptoms
Preventative approach Early detection of disease
High touch/high tech High tech

Conventional medicine separates doctors based on their specialties (e.g., neurology, gynecology, endocrinology), effectively arranging medical care into separate silos. Functional Medicine is holistic, in that one clinician looks at all aspects of the patient, instead of saying, “Oh, that sounds like a hormone problem. That’s not my department.”

Functional Medicine is highly cost effective for patients, as it focuses on prevention and health promoting lifestyle changes and sustainable treatments that address the underlying causes of dysfunction, restoring patients to health. Conventional medical treatments are often expensive medications that must be taken indefinitely and do not address the underlying problem, but merely suppress the symptoms.

Are you experiencing health issues, or do you have unmet medical needs that conventional medicine hasn’t been able to address? If so, we invite you to consider Nourish Balance Thrive, a personal wellness program we developed to not only help you regain your health and improve your quality of life, but to achieve optimal wellness.

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