What is Functional Medicine?

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Answer me this: If you had a rock in your shoe would you take off your shoe to get rid of said rock or would you just take some Advil to help with the pain?

Chances are you would do the former and not the latter (I hope). Determining what has caused a problem and removing the source of that problem is a pretty basic thing that most of us learned from a pretty young age. It’s so basic that you don’t really even think about it, you just do it.

But when you think of this analogy in terms of our healthcare industry, you see that this basic premise does not apply. I like to call our healthcare system a “disease-care” system because that’s what it is. We excel when it comes to trauma care, but when it comes to long-term health and wellness, we stink. In general, Americans aren’t taking off their shoe to remove the rock and find the true source of illness and disease. Most of us just go to the doctor and get a medication to deal with the problem. A short-term fix, if you will, to get rid of the symptom. Then 20 years down the road we end up on 10 different medications and wonder how we got to where we are.

Do these fixes really address the problem? In some cases sure, but in most absolutely not, which is where I think our medical system is failing. It would be so easy to point fingers to certain groups who may have contributed to this. To the doctors who just write a prescription and don’t take the time to speak with their patients, learn about their diet and lifestyle, and try other, more holistic means to determine the source of the issue. To the lawmakers who incessantly fight over what healthcare system is best and blame each other for the mess we are in. To the insurance companies who charge premiums that are astronomical and make insurance so confusing mere mortals can’t understand it. To the pharmaceutical industry who actually benefit the most from how this all is playing out and market the sh*t out of their products to us. (On a side note, did you know we are one of only two countries in the entire world that allows drugs to be marketed directly to consumers? New Zealand is the other.)

It would be so easy. But pointless. And just plain negative and cynical, which isn’t how I roll.

I truly wish I had a solution for this problem and sincerely hope that someday we will, but I do have another option to try. It’s time to take matters into our own hands and pursue a path to health that works for each of us individually. A great place to start is with a functional medicine doctor.

So what exactly is functional medicine? It is a patient-focused form of medicine that looks at the body as a whole, not as different systems that should be treated separately. It treats the person, not an individual symptom, to address the underlying causes of disease. The patient and practitioner work together to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors influence health, with the ultimate goal being proactive, predictive, and personalized medicine (as opposed to the current state of reactive medicine where we only go to the doctor after the problem has already occurred).

I have known about the field of functional medicine for a few years now, but only started actually going to a functional medicine doctor last December. How my health has changed since then is pretty dramatic (to me at least). I’ve finally discovered the key to what may be the underlying causes for my hormonal imbalance, underactive thyroid, and digestive ailments – an imbalance in my gut. Not only am I intolerant to gluten, but I also was diagnosed with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and an intestinal parasite called giardia. Yikes! I have eliminated gluten from my diet, took medication to address the latter two issues, and how I feel now is like night and day. In the process I feel like I’ve lost about five pounds of bloating around my middle that has been nagging me for years.

I still have work to do with my doctor but I am extremely happy with how it’s gone so far. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and it took 32 years for my gut to become imbalanced (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t take a full 32 more to get it right again!).

Hippocrates did say that “all disease begins in the gut” and the more I learn about it, the more I believe this to be true. Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut and the majority of our serotonin (happy chemical) is produced in the gut. The vagus nerve links the gut and the brain, proving that what happens in one will influence what happens in the other. I’ve recently started reading The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, creator of the Live Dirty, Eat Clean diet. I promise to give you a rundown of what I learn from this book when I’m done. In the meantime, check out a past post I’ve written on gut health.

For those of you who want to dig deeper and learn more about functional medicine and the current state of our “disease-care” system, I strongly recommend this podcast. It’s a bit lengthy but totally worth it. I wish I could take credit for the brilliant rock analogy above but I heard it here first. If you are interested in functional medicine and finding a doctor near you, this website is a great place to start. Click on “Find a Practitioner” in the top right menu.

Sources:

Photo courtesy of Michael Stern on flickr

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2 thoughts on “What is Functional Medicine?

  1. Pingback: The Disconnect Between Healthcare and Public Health | Yogi ~ Foodie

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