Functional Medicine offers a new approach to management and prevention of chronic disease that embodies the art and science of medicine. It integrates what we know about how the human body works with patient-centered, science-based care. Functional Medicine addresses the causes of chronic disease, which are rooted in lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic influences.
We are in the midst of an epidemic of chronic disease that threatens the health of many people and the economic well-being of economies all over the globe. Sir William Osler, one of the first professors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and later its Physician-in-Chief famously said: “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” Functional Medicine offers an answer to the current epidemic of chronic disease, with its systems-based, science-driven approach to individualized medicine, focusing on underlying causes rather than simply treating symptoms. Genetic expression can actually be changed by intervening in core functional processes in the body such as cellular metabolism, digestive function, detoxification, and oxidative stress. As cellular function is regulated, illness can be modulated.
In addition, many people who seek medical care do not have a clinically identifiable disease or pathology. Their problems are based in blockages in ‘normal physiology’ and present as dysfunctions in one or more organ system that left unchecked would ultimately lead to disease and pathology.
Simply put, your body naturally wants to be healthy and in a state of balance. However, despite our best intentions; life happens and practicing health ‘sainthood’ can fall to the wayside at times. Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century by allowing practitioners to spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, Functional Medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.
As the image (right) of a volcano shows, a named disease such as diabetes, cancer, or fibromyalgia might be visible above the surface, but using the Functional Medicine model, the real cause lies in the altered physiology caused by factors found below the surface and not easily seen. If health care treats just the tip of the iceberg, it rarely leads to long-term relief, vibrancy and well-being. Identifying and treating the underlying root cause(s), as Functional Medicine does, has a much better chance to successfully resolve a patient’s health challenge. Another way of looking at this is when your ‘check engine’ light comes on in your car. Should we simply unscrew the light bulb so the indicator light goes off? OR should we take the car in to the mechanic so they can lift the hood, run a set of detailed diagnostics uncovering the reason for the indicator – then fix it? Sadly, I think most of us take better care of our cars than we do ourselves. Functional Medicine looks at your entire health picture by addressing fundamental factors of your biochemical, physical, and emotional well-being. Each of these three components are part of your optimal health spectrum, and each of these do not stand alone but rather all work together to keep us looking, feeling and thinking our best.
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