What Is Functional Medicine?
A move towards holistic medicine— a form of healing that considers the whole person, including the mind and spirit, not just the body, has sparked a rise in alternative, complementary, and integrative medicine practices across the country. In fact, as of 2015, according to studies from the National Institute of Health, about a third of Americans use alternative medicine. Another kind of approach to holistic health is functional medicine. Invented in the 1990s by a chemist named Jeffrey Bland, functional medicine started as a patient-centered approach focused on identifying the root causes of diseases, instead of treating the symptoms alone. While the relatively new approach has received backlash from science-focused skeptics for its vague definitions and for becoming essentially a “rebranding of conventional medicine,” some believe it offers a more comprehensive scope to a patient’s health history and outcomes. Today, we’ll explore everything you should know about functional medicine.
What is functional medicine?
Functional medicine, as defined by the Institute For Functional Medicine, is a “systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease.”
Systems biology may be a term you aren’t familiar with. At its core, it is a concept based on an understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Systems biology is inspecting the interactions and behaviors of the components of biological entities, like cells and organs, and using theses pieces of the human system to understand the larger picture.
Functional medicine focuses on a patient-individualized approach to disease causes while incorporating aspects of traditional medicine, nutrition, behavioral therapy, and alternative medicine. It looks at the environmental and lifestyle factors that influence a person’s health.
In a journal article by the medicine’s founder, Jeffrey Bland poses that it was designed to create a medicine system that incorporates the human’s biological system derived from the interaction of the human genome (or entire set of genetic material) with its environment and lifestyle. The goal was to create a system more focused on physiological function rather than anatomical pathology.
The structure of functional medicine
Functional medicine addresses a disease’s root causes with low-risk interventions, after an in-depth review of a patient’s health issues and history. This comprehensive questionnaire is called a matrix. The matrix helps practitioners organize a patient’s health issues by examining not just medical history, but personal, family, and social history as well. The matrix helps create a complete ‘health story’ for a patient. It outlines a patient’s clinical imbalances in seven specific biological systems called nodes, which affect functions in the body like digestion, metabolism, hormones, and blood systems. The nodes are listed below.
• Defense and repair
• biotransformation and elimination
• structural integrity
Functional medicine seeks to reverse these clinical imbalances after identifying the underlying drivers of chronic diseases. The matrix allows for practitioners to track and examine a patient’s antecedents and triggering events, as well as lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress, and relationships.
A timeline is another tool used to track a patient’s history chronologically and give patients insight on previous life events. It is used to identify factors that contribute to a patient’s pathological changes and dysfunctional responses.
A framework named “GOTOIT” is then used to discover the root of a patient’s dysfunction. This framework is an acronym that stands for: Gather, Organize, Tell, Order, Initiate and Track. It provides tools to identify unhealthy patterns and create treatment and lifestyle modifications.
A treatment plan is developed based on each individual patient’s needs and can include other health practitioners such as other doctors, nutritionists, health coaches, and behavioral health specialists. The goal is to get the body back in balance with a variety of supports.
What can functional medicine help treat?
Functional medicine can help treat many chronic illnesses including arthritis, diabetes, depression, fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune diseases. It can help serve people that can’t find relief from regular medicine.
It can also be used for disease prevention and maintaining overall health.
Functional medicine vs. integrative medicine
While functional medicine may sometimes get confused with integrative medicine, the two are different. Functional medicine may use some integrative practices, such as nutritional supplements or acupuncture, but it exists separately from integrative medicine. It delves deeper into the causes of the disease a person has.
Ready to try it for yourself? Find a functional medicine practitioner near me.