WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?
Functional Medicine involves understanding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease. It is an integrative, science-based healthcare approach that treats illness and promotes wellness by focusing assessment on the biochemically unique aspects of each patient, and then individually tailoring interventions to restore physiological, psychological, and structural balance.
Seven basic principles influence the functional medicine approach:
Science-based medicine that connects research to clinical practice.
Biochemical individuality based on genetic and environmental uniqueness.
Patient-centered care rather than disease-focused.
Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.
Web-like interconnections of physiological processes.
Health as a positive vitality, not merely the absence of disease.
Promotion of organ reserve, health span.
Using these principles, functional medicine practitioners focus on understanding the fundamental physiological processes, the environmental inputs, and the genetic predispositions that influence every patient’s experience of health and disease.
Environmental inputs include the air and water in your community, the particular diet you eat, the quality of the food available to you, physical exercise, psychosocial factors, and toxic exposures or traumas you may have experienced.
Genetic predisposition is not an unavoidable outcome for your life; your genes may be influenced by everything in your environment, plus your experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. That means it is possible to change the way genes are expressed (activated and experienced).
Fundamental physiological processes keep us alive. They involve cellular nutrition; cellular communication; energy transformation; replication, repair, and maintenance; waste elimination; protection/defense and transport/circulation. These processes are influenced by environment and by genes, and when they are disturbed or imbalanced, they lead to symptoms, which can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied. Most imbalances in functionality can be addressed; some can be completely restored to optimum function and others can be substantially improved. Virtually every complex, chronic disease is preceded by long-term disturbances in functionality that need to be identified and effectively managed—the earlier the better.
The Functional Medicine practitioner assess the patient’s fundamental clinical imbalances through careful history-taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing, organized around the eight elements of the Functional Medicine Matrix:
Detoxification and biotransformation
Hormonal and neurotransmitter regulation
Psychological and spiritual equilibrium
Digestion, absorption, and barrier integrity
Once an assessment has been made by the healthcare team, the functional medicine doctor examines a wide array of interventions and selects those with the most impact on underlying functionality. Changing how the system(s) function can have a major impact on the patient’s health.
Lifestyle is a major factor; research estimates that 70-90% of chronic disease risk is attributable to lifestyle. What you eat, how you exercise, what your spiritual practices are, how much stress you live with (and how you handle it) are all elements that must be addressed in a comprehensive approach.
Working with a trained functional medicine healthcare team, patients make dietary and activity changes that, when combined with nutrients targeted to specific functional needs, allow them to really be in charge of improving their own health and changing the outcome of disease.
Within the scope of practice of their own particular disciplines, functional medicine practitioners may also prescribe botanical medicines or other nutraceuticals; they may suggest a dietary plan, a detoxification protocol, a physical medicine intervention, or a stress-management procedure. The good news is: when you look at functionality, you uncover many different ways of attacking problems—you are not limited to the “drug of choice for condition X.”