Some people have the idea that functional medicine is simply a lifestyle-based medicine but in actuality it is a systems-oriented, science-based approach. This approach involves taking a patient’s physiology, biochemistry, genetics, and environmental exposures into account when searching for the cause of a set of symptoms or a specific medical issue.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS
Matching a medicine to a specific illness is a big part of the typical physician’s job and most people will go to the doctor as soon as they see symptoms of a cold or illness. The doctor will run one or multiple tests or will recognize your symptoms, which then they write you a prescription for a drug and you go to the drug store to fill it. Sometimes the drug works wonders, but often, it doesn’t — especially long term, and particularly if the patient is dealing with a chronic disease or condition. However, more often than not the drug has side effects.
Over the last 70 years, the medication-centered mindset and the industry behind it have saved millions of lives, especially when it comes to infectious diseases. However, conventional medicine can fall short with the early identification and long-term management of chronic illness. These long term chronic illnesses include the kinds of digestive, metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular disorders in which many functional-medicine doctors specialize.
Conditions like cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes are characterized by a series of multilayered and complex symptoms that usually take years to develop. These illnesses can affect every system in the human body, including immunity, circulatory, hormonal and neurological health. The time when most people are diagnosed with a condition, they need a full-scale intervention, not a 15-minute appointment and a symptom-suppressing prescription.
In 2011, the United States spent almost 18 percent of its total gross domestic product on healthcare and experts predict the cost of treating chronic illnesses could eventually bankrupt the country. That belief is based on part on the data: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in two adults (133 million Americans) has at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, or arthritis. Chronic illness is now linked to be the rising cause of death in the United States bringing the numbers to seven out of every 10 deaths are related to a chronic illness.
Say, for instance, that you suffer from migraines, an appointment with a usual conventional doctor would likely be short and end with a prescription for pharmaceuticals. In comparison, with a functional-medicine practitioner, you first fill out an extensive questionnaire about possible triggers of the migraines, including your diet; your digestive and your sleep and stress levels; elimination patterns; and your exercise and lifestyle choices, like smoking and alcohol use. A functional-medicine doctor will then order a multitude of tests to explore any and all issues the health history turned up.
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE TESTS
To see how well the body is doing its job, a doctor will test it by looking at your blood, urine, and sometimes stool to get more data points to get an idea of what is happening in the body. A functional-medicine workup will often include the basic tests like cholesterol, screening, lipid panel, white blood cell count and several more.
Most functional-medicine practitioners use a handful of labs that are usually considered out-of-network by insurance companies. However, the good thing about functional medicine offices is that patients pay up front and in full. Afterward, a patient can submit a claim to their insurance company in hopes of full or partial coverage. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a health savings account may be used to pay for lab fees if they are considered part of medical care. So, if your functional-medicine practitioner is a licensed physician, you might go this route.
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE FAQS
What’s the biggest difference between conventional and functional medicine?
Conventional medical schools train doctors to diagnose a disease and then assign a drug or surgery to correct it. For instance, many patients with heart disease have narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. A common approach is to insert stents in the arteries to open them to regain and maintain blood flow.
The same issue, if approached by someone trained in functional medicine, would likely instigate a conversation with the patient about what environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors may be contributing to a narrowing of the arteries. Numerous reasons such as poor diet, inactivity, hormonal imbalances, chronic inflammation and many more can all have an impact on blood flow to the heart and overall health.
What’s the difference between functional and integrative medicine?
The difference between functional medicine and integrative medicine is meaningful but subtle. While all functional medicine is integrative (meaning it’s open to integrating both conventional and alternative methods), not all integrative medicine or healthcare practices are functional.
An integrative doctor may be a family practitioner with an interest in Chinese medicine or an osteopath who incorporates homeopathy into his practice. That’s fine, but it’s not functional medicine. David Jones, MD, president of the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), who resembles this to the distinction toa computer: Functional medicine would be the operating system running in the background, while integrative approaches, like acupuncture and homeopathy, are like specific apps running in the foreground without an operating system connecting them.
Why haven’t most people heard of functional medicine?
Most people have not heard of functional medicine because integrating functional medicine into todays society would be a shift from conventional medicine. Since conventional medicine has been around longer than functional, the shift will take time, but it is currently happening.
Functional medicine started in the early 1990s as an idea of a few doctors frustrated with a medical system that expected them to treat chronic disease with just pills and surgeries. Now, functional medicine has its own epicenter, the IFM. So far, more than 100,000 practitioners from 73 countries have been introduced to the principles and practices of functional medicine.
Faculties from 30 percent of all medical schools in the United States have enrolled in continuing-education courses. One of the group’s many goals is to incorporate functional medicine into medical-school curricula so that the next generation of doctors will be able to treat chronic diseases more successfully.