Our bodies face numerous challenges on a daily basis. Many of these challenges come directly from our environment. Pesticides, fumes, synthetic materials, cigarette smoke, caffeine, preservatives, and medications contribute to our toxic world. In addition to these environmental pollutants, our bodies produce waste by-products as a result of normal metabolism. If these toxins are not neutralized and eliminated, the result can be poor health and toxic-related illnesses and conditions.
Think for a moment. Do you:
*eat processed foods, non-organic fruits and vegetables, or hormone-laced meats and poultry?
*use artificial sweeteners?
*drink coffee, soda, or alcoholic beverages?
*consume foods that have preservatives, additives, dyes, or sweeteners added?
*eat fast foods and or eat out regularly?
*drink fewer than 6-8 glasses of water daily?
If the majority of your answers are yes, then your diet alone likely contributes significantly to an influx of potential toxins in your system. Poor diet meshed with everyday exposure to environmental toxic substances and stress can result in you feeling less than your best. Not only might you experience toxic headaches, fatigue, and general overall poor health, but your symptoms might lead to poor digestion, food cravings, reduced mental clarity, PMS, low libido, and increased stress.
I’ve learned that every patient is in a different place in his or her quest for better health. Their level of personal fitness, health challenges, and ultimate goals may vary. By working together using state-of-the-art diagnostic and nutritional assessments, they can benefit from following programs tailored to their needs. Whether it’s a detoxification program or specific modifications in health management, patients who work with a functional medicine practitioner and use specialized tests and approaches have experienced tremendous results. Specifically, they’ve experienced increased energy and improved stamina, better
digestion, weight reduction, less bloating, fewer food addictions, improved elimination, and reduced symptoms of PMS. Some unexpected side benefits include shinier hair, clearer skin, and improved physical appearance.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine combines traditional healthcare of years gone by with modern science. It is a field that focuses on improving physical, mental, and emotional functions. This approach views disease, not as an enemy, but as an opportunity for change and growth.
In older systems of medicine, practitioners believed that the body was self-regulating, thus disease occurred when this self-regulation became disrupted. In more contemporary terms, we speak of feedback loops. When these feedback mechanisms get stuck or disrupted, imbalance and disharmony can occur. We call this being “sick. Therefore, functional medicine aims to help a person’s body return to proper alignment and function.
Functional medicine focuses not on an endpoint or pathological state, but on the processes that underlie and precede it. While acknowledging the existence of pathology as well as a need to understand it, functional medicine focuses on the underlying processes and seeks a path of therapy that engages these underlying events. Functional medicine combines with contemporary medicine for the best possible approach—the best of both worlds.
Functional medicine is holistic rather than specialized. It approaches the body as web-like and holographic. While contemporary medicine compartmentalizes the body into specialties: liver doctors, heart doctors, mind doctors, and so on, functional medicine links all systems and identifies patterns among them.
As mentioned earlier, functional diagnostic medicine:
*Is patient-centered, based on each person’s unique needs.
*Aims to balance the patient’s functional systems.
*Integrates physical, mental, and emotional health.
*Uses scientific laboratory and diagnostic tests to pinpoint underlying causes.
*Focuses on outcomes versus controlling or suppressing symptoms.
*Emphasizes lifestyle changes, benchmark and follow-up testing.
In today’s world, people want to seek medical care that complements their own lifestyle and values. Many people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine because they feel listened to and treated as a whole person.
Functional medicine looks at how you are doing and feeling. You won’t be told, “It’s all in your head. Functional medicine addresses all of you—your life, your well-being, what you eat, your work environment, your relationships and communication with others, how you relax and play, what medications you take, how well your digestive system functions, and what chemicals you’ve been exposed to. In hearing about your life, practitioners gather significant clues and information to assist you in feeling better.
You can change the way you feel and function! Rather than naming a specific disease, the functional medicine approach seeks to find underlying causes in context of your life choices. As a result, your treatment program will reflect your needs.
Who Can Benefit from Functional Medicine?
Many people today have health problems that don’t fit into simple categories. Often they have complex health problems involving inflammatory responses or immune, nervous, digestive, energy, and/or cardiovascular systems. These people are best helped by a functional approach to medicine. Typical patients include those with various auto-immune diseases, fatigue of unknown origin, and/or digestive complaints. Often they’ve visited several physicians without effective treatments or improvement.
Functional medicine is also for people who are interested in preventive healthcare. They want to take an active role in their own well-being and the health of their family members. Therefore, they seek functional medicine practitioners to guide their continued good health.
How Functional Medicine Differs from Conventional Medicine
Suffering with pain, discomfort, or reoccurring health complaints is your body’s way of getting you to pay attention. Rather than taking a pain medication each time you get a headache, backache, or stomachache, ask yourself “why you’re experiencing the pain in the first place. The answer to the cause of these conditions may be simple or complex.
For example, chronic constipation or diarrhea could be from a bug you picked up years ago in a foreign country, or you could be reacting negatively to certain foods you’re eating. This approach obviously takes more work than just writing a prescription for an antibiotic; it takes specialized testing along with the knowledge of being able to interpret those tests and making the appropriate recommendations for treatment as well as follow-up testing to make sure that the irritant has been removed.
The following chart demonstrates a simplified comparison of functional diagnostic medicine versus conventional medicine.
Common Categories of Functional Imbalance
Roger Williams, MD, coined the term “biochemical individuality. Just as each of us has a unique face, fingerprint, and personality, our biochemistry is also unique. There are a wide variety of “normal values found. For example, research has found that some babies require four times the vitamin B6 as others, and ranges of serum amino acids in healthy young men varied fourfold on average.
Identifying your unique biochemical needs provides a foundation for functional medicine.
The 4-R Approach to Improving Health
The 4-R approach forms the basis of improving the health of an individual in functional diagnostic medicine and provides the basic treatment philosophy. Although it’s a simple concept, it provides an effective way to resolve difficult and undefined illnesses. The 4-Rs refer to Remove, Re-inoculate, Replace, and Repair. Remove implies the elimination of anything that may be in your body or diet that contributes to your poor health. This can include foods, pesticides, food additives, environmental toxins, invasive bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Often, you may need sophisticated and specialized lab tests to determine the root cause of your illness. However, this is not typically the type of test you would find in a conventional medical office such as a simple blood study or urinalysis; rather, you’d find it in a specialty laboratory where microscopic examinations or cultures of stool samples may be performed looking for not-so-obvious problems.
Re-inoculate refers to the use of supplements containing lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacteria, and other friendly flora, also known as probiotics or the “good bacteria. These “good bacteria can repel harmful microbes and “bad bacteria by repopulating the gut with the healthy organisms. Good bacteria are easily disrupted and destroyed by using antibiotics, which not only kill off the bad bacteria but the good bacteria as well.
Replace refers to correcting your diet and/or adding supplementation to support a poor digestive system that’s been destroyed by a disease process or invasion of bacteria, parasites, fungus, or virus.
Repair is the final step in the 4-R process. It supports rebuilding and regenerating the damaged tissue. This may require you to modify your diet and/or supplementation as well as increase the amount of sleep you get. Oil In some cases, nutritional support may be required indefinitely if the body has been too far damaged by a long-term disease or condition. For example, if people with diabetes can no longer produce insulin, they may have to supplement with insulin indefinitely, but perhaps a lesser amount once their diets have been regulated.
Can you see the difference? Traditionally trained medical doctors are taught to evaluate symptoms as indicators of diseases. They then order diagnostic laboratory tests to confirm their diagnoses and start treating the symptoms of the disease while functional diagnostic healthcare practitioners probe for underlying causes.
An Equal Partnership
Your relationship with your functional medicine physician is an equal partnership and therefore rewarding for both of you. You may find your practitioner spends more time with you than a traditional doctor, asking you to fill out extensive questionnaires about your medical history, work history, diet, exercise patterns, stress level, hobbies, use of supplements and medication, and home and work environment. As a result, a program that’s specific to your individual needs and lifestyle will be developed.
As part of the program, you may be asked to:
make changes in food choices and eating patterns
take nutritional, homeopathic or herbal supplements
undertake an acceptable exercise program
go through a detoxification program
see a counselor about life issues
join a support group
get massages or other body-work
Types of Lab Testing
Evaluating organ “function versus organ “pathology is one of the principles of functional medicine. Many labs have developed a number of assessment tools that allow practitioners to understand a patient’s functional status. These tests complement the usual tests that physicians use and can detect problems long before more traditional tests locate anything amiss.
Tests may examine blood, hair, stool, urine, breath, and/or saliva. These common tests check nutritional status, digestive function, food and environmental allergies, amino acid balance, energy metabolism function, hormones balance, and more. Using this approach, your functional medicine doctor is able to determine why your body is out of balance.
For example, food allergy testing can be used in a wide variety of instances. Common ones include:
children with learning or behavior problems
people with migraines, skin problems, depression, digestive complaints, and foggy thinking.
If exposure to heavy metals or mal-absorption of minerals were suspected, practitioners would use hair analysis testing. Innovative saliva testing can measure levels of hormones such as DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogens. Stool testing is used to measure overall digestive function and determine if there is enough good bacteria in the gut. It also determines if certain bacteria, fungus, or parasites are interfering with good health.
Michael L. Dansinger provides articles about health medicine.Our bodies face numerous challenges on a daily basis. Many of these challenges come directly from our environment.