4 Reasons Why Functional Medicine May Be Right For You
Throughout my years of pharmacy school and clerkship, I have never heard the term “Functional Medicine.” Sure, there are many branches under the umbrella of alternative medicine such as homeopathy, traditional chinese medicine, chiropractic and acupuncture, all of which I am familiar with to some degree. It was only 2 years ago that I have come to learn about Functional Medicine as I started to work under my dad and attended the first Advancing Functional Medicine (AFM) Conference by The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) in Southeast Asia.
The term “Functional Medicine” seemed rather ambiguous to me at that time. I have learned the concept of root causes, biochemical individuality and holistic healing from my Father as this was and is still his way of helping his patients but never heard of Functional Medicine. As I read more about this, I became more intrigued on how more and more doctors are shifting their practice because it is completely different from what we know as conventional medicine which is the standard model of care. At the same time, I became interested to learn about this because of its similarities with the method my Father has taught me..
To help you understand what Functional Medicine is and how it is different, let me walk you through a narration. We are not stating that this happens all the time, but a common encounter nonetheless.
You walk into the clinic with various symptoms such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath and weight gain. The doctor does the usual physical examination and perhaps recommends some blood works. Upon interpreting the blood test, the doctor gives you a diagnosis- a name behind your symptoms. In this case, let us put it as Obesity and Hypercholesterolemia. The GP can either decide to treat you or refer you to another specialist. But both have access to the same basic tool which is medication. He gives you a drug to lower your cholesterol- a statin and suggests you to limit intake of food, eat more veggies and exercise more often. You go home hoping that the drug will work so that you can get your life back. The drug works but you experience new symptoms. Weeks after, you go back for another appointment feeling muscle pain, more fatigue, brain fog, numbness in the fingers and difficulty sleeping. Blood works show that your cholesterol is being managed well by statin. But the doctor gives another diagnosis- Diabetes Type II, so giving you another drug to manage blood sugar. He tells you to keep limiting food intake especially sweets, limit salt and engage in more aerobic activity. Despite you trying your best to limit food intake, you feel like it is going nowhere, you’re unable to live life as you hope and you are feeling worse than before.
(Note: Some of the common side effects of statins are muscle pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, neuropathy and brain fog.)
As you have noticed here, the training in the standard model of care is to diagnose a disease and match it with a drug. This works very well for urgent situations such as trauma, emergencies, infection and acute diseases but not for prevention and support for chronic diseases such as digestive, metabolic, hormonal and neurological problems which more and more people suffer from in a daily basis. Depending on the patient’s case, both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical can be used as needed. Drugs do have a place in healthcare and may serve as an immediate and temporary relief. However, this band aid approach for the symptom in the long run will less likely address the root cause. As one drug creates a variety of side effects, another drug will be given to address new symptoms leading to your next drug prescribed- a vicious cycle.
Now, how is Functional Medicine different from this method? Why should you consider this?
Here are 4 reasons why:
1- It’s a root cause approach
Functional Medicine aims to understand and focus on the root causes that lead to the patient’s symptoms, imbalances and dysfunctions. Through integrative approaches, it supports your body towards optimal function so that there is less need for drugs and procedures. A FM practitioner goes beyond the diagnosis of a disease and does not wait for emergencies or severe symptoms before doing active bodily support. Because it addresses overall health, you feel your best and look your best not just for the short term but for a longer and more sustainable healthy life. And because our bodies are so smart it has the capacity to self-regulate and find balance by involving all bodily systems if we protect and support it the right way
2- It’s personalized
Functional Medicine views each human being as biochemically and genetically unique hence the need for a personalized health care approach. The one-size-fits-all approach of conventional medicine does not work for everyone. The FM approach supports the innate and normal healing mechanism of the body rather than attacking the disease directly. Instead of asking “What drug should you take for your disease,” a FM practitioner will ask questions such as “What have you been eating for the past days?”, “What can possibly be the reason you have this problem in the first place?”, “Is there a reason behind the uncontrolled behavior?”, “What can we do to restore your body back to good health?” These questions are asked to examine your body, your lifestyle and your habits and analyze what changes need to happen for you to reach your health goals. In other words, they are like your “personal medical detectives!”
3- It’s science based and evidence driven
Functional medicine is not quackery; it is actually deeply science based and evidence driven. It incorporates the latest studies in genetic science and systems biology. It also incorporates the understanding on how environmental and lifestyle factors affect the emergence and progression of a disease and symptom. There’s a lot of research that shows the complex interconnection within the body. For our bodies to function optimally, it is important to understand this web of relationships.
4- It teaches you how to be healthy and stay that way
Ultimately, the goal of Functional Medicine is to empower you to take charge of your own health as you support inner healing. Throughout your health journey with a FM practitioner, you will be educated about your body and needs to equip you for a long term healthy eating habits and lifestyle. You are not left on your own but instead it is a collaborative effort between you and the healthcare practitioners. The reality is we will get sick at some points in our lives. There are many things that are out of our control such as the toxic air we breathe, the chemicals loaded in food and other products, the contraction of bacteria, virus and parasites and the stresses we encounter. We are all exposed to many stressors in today’s world. However, there are many things that we can control and improve on to support our health. Functional medicine helps you see health in this perspective as you prevent chronic illnesses and deal with acute symptoms in a more natural and balanced way that does less harm to the body. Moreover, because it is a collaborative effort between the practitioner and the patient, it allows patients to truly be in control of improving their health and reaching optimal wellness.
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