Functional Medicine is an integrative medical model that is near and dear to my heart because that is the approach that enabled me to heal so quickly from Topical Steroid Withdrawal after using topical steroid creams for years to treat eczema. (More on my personal healing journey here.) Since it is an integrative model, it incorporates both conventional and alternative healing modalities. As with other holistic approaches, functional medicine is not concerned with a particular diagnosis. The focus is on discovering imbalances in the body and providing treatments that will bring the body back into harmony. By doing this, you enable the body to heal itself.
Functional medicine goes deep into three very specific areas to paint a picture of your current state of health and to determine the protocol for healing.
1. Your Story
Functional medicine takes a deep dive into what makes you uniquely YOU. You may not think that the way you were born (c-section vs vaginal) matters to your state of health decades later, but it might. And remember those antibiotics you took as a child for ear infections, or as a teenager for acne? Yup, all that matters.
Functional medicine also cares about your mental, emotional, and spiritual influences. What happens to the mind happens to the body, and vice versa. They cannot be separated, and the spiritual influences have an affect on both.
Functional medicine also looks at your own personal timeline of stressful or influential events in your life as it pieces together your current state of health and identifies reasons for complex patterns in your body.
Functional medicine also looks at your genetic predisposition to disease. Although this is a data point, it’s not a deciding factor for disease as you’ll see in the next section on Lifestyle Factors.
2. Lifestyle Factors
Functional medicine looks closely at your lifestyle factors. The following areas really do matter when it comes to your health:
- Sleep & Relaxation
- Exercise & Movement
Although genetic predisposition does impact one’s risk of developing a particular disease, the five lifestyle factors above are much more influential and can actually “turn on” or “turn off” certain genes, thus increasing or decreasing one’s risk of developing a particular disease when there is a genetic disposition.
3. Clinical Imbalances
Functional medicine looks at lab results through a different lens than a conventional, western-trained doctor uses. Functional medicine has its own ranges for optimal health whereas conventional medicine looks at a range for disease. For example, as I was beginning the process of Topical Steroid Withdrawal to heal from the effects of using topical steroid creams to treat eczema, my western doctor ran labs and told me I was fine because I was within range on all of my blood work. But I knew otherwise because I certainly did not feel fine. I found a functional medicine practitioner who looked at that exact same set of labs and told me I was way out of her functional range and would be in disease range soon if I did not change course.
Functional Medicine looks at the following 7 core systems when determining clinical imbalances (source):
- Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances
- Oxidation-reduction imbalances and mitochondropathy
- Detoxification and biotransformational imbalances
- Immune and inflammatory imbalances
- Digestive, absorptive, and microbiological imbalances
- Structural imbalances from cellular membrane function to the musculoskeletal system
- Mind-body / body-mind imbalances
A Personalized Approach
Functional Medicine is a personalized approach that recognizes that each of us is genetically unique and therefore each protocol is specific to a particular person. This type of approach is a partnership between the patient and the practitioner. Functional Medicine provides a science-based approach to gathering and analyzing data in a way that enables practitioners to recognize complex and unique patterns. Those trained in functional medicine understand that all the bodily systems work together and their approach to healing is like peeling back an onion – working layer by layer to bring the body back into balance.
Treatment of Chronic Conditions
Chronic conditions in particular are excellent candidates for a functional medicine approach. Whereas conventional medicine (a.k.a. western medicine) provides excellent treatment for acute conditions (heart attack, stroke, trauma, broken bones, etc.), functional medicine delves into the root cause of chronic conditions and gets to the source of the problem. Whether it’s allergies, digestive issues, neurological problems, or autoimmune diseases, functional medicine is bringing life-changing solutions to the countless people who suffer with these chronic conditions on a daily basis.
What to Expect At Your Functional Medicine Office Visit
Many of us have become accustomed to seeing our doctor for all of about 5-10 minutes during an office visit. The broken health insurance system prevents most conventional doctors from being able to spend time diving deep into someone’s personal lifestyle factors, genetics, and life history which all contain important information in compiling a comprehensive view of their health.
At a functional medicine appointment, the doctor spends much more time getting to know you and your unique situation. Since the focus of functional medicine is not on a diagnosis, there is not a rush to “name” a disease and prescribe an associated medication. Time is spent identifying the underlying causes of your symptoms and a plan is created to bring you back to a state of health.
A Body in Balance Will Heal Itself
When the body is balanced, it will heal itself. The body has an innate intelligence and wisdom. Leverage that wisdom. Our fast paced, toxin-filled lifestyles are resulting in many imbalances within our bodies and therefore that innate healing wisdom is interrupted. Bring the body into balance and watch what it can do for you.
How to Find a Functional Medicine Practitioner
The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) is a global leader in functional medicine education and resources. Visit their website at www.functionalmedicine.org to learn more about functional medicine and to find a functional medicine practitioner in your area.
Have you had a healing experience with functional medicine?
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