Treating the result rather than the cause has left many to “get by” and “manage their illness” rather than live healthy lives. Instead of dealing with conditions and diseases only when they get out of hand, wouldn’t it be better if we could prevent them and resolve the issues reducing one’s quality of life? Functional medicine is focused on doing just that. There are fundamental differences between traditional medicine and functional medicine that produce distinctly different outcomes regarding patient health and happiness.
Where Traditional Medicine Falls Short
Most medical practitioners have been taught to resolve symptoms rather than the source of the problem. This method is not effective for many people. Chronic conditions such as autoimmune dysfunction, chronic fatigue, diabetes, and thyroid conditions, are multi-faceted and complex, requiring more than resolution of symptoms. Unfortunately, standardized treatment is ineffective when it comes to dealing with the unique qualities of these and other chronic conditions. Many have had a poor medical experience because they have been subjected to a “one-size-fits-all” method of treatment. Although treatment of this variety may aid in relieving symptoms and helping one feel better for a short time, their quality of life is usually not at its highest potential.
The Benefits of Functional Medicine
One of the cornerstones of functional medicine is that their practitioners are patient focused. Rather than viewing people as experiencing randomly occurring sickness that needs to be cured, practitioners of functional medicine understand that each person is unique and has an equally unique medical history, genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and environment. Factors such as these can be influential in long-term health and play a role in complex diseases and chronic conditions.
Important background information is gleaned through mutual interaction and partnership between doctor and patient. Functional medicine promotes this kind of relationship. Not only do these interactions emphasize the humanity of patients, but it also informs doctors of cofactors that may be contributing to the patient’s condition. With this wealth of information, practitioners are better able to analyze the situation and see patterns that may direct them to optimal treatment methods. Being able to organize this data in a meaningful way can highlight issues that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Analyzing one’s health is much like a puzzle; you can’t see the full picture unless you have all the pieces. Instead of picking and choosing elements to treat, functional medicine views patients as an entire system rather than a cluster of disconnected fragments.
In the traditional medical field, there is a standardized means of testing. Much like treatment, it is important to properly test for conditions to understand the full depth of the situation. Unfortunately, for those with difficult to diagnose conditions such as Lyme disease, or thyroid disorders, standard tests are often not sufficient. It is common that individuals only receive one or two tests to diagnose conditions like those mentioned above. This is incredibly detrimental to a patient’s health as many of the common testing methods for these diseases do not recognize their presence in one’s system.
For example, a comprehensive thyroid exam includes testing levels of T4, T3, Reverse T3, TSH, and other elements. However, most doctors only test for TSH, which is considered by many thyroid professionals to be near useless when analyzing one’s thyroid health. Those who practice functional medicine are committed to running the gamut of tests necessary to be fully informed of one’s condition.
Treating Disease not the Symptoms
At the core of functional medicine is a drive to understand “why is there a problem” rather than “what is the problem.” This mentality promotes resolving the source of the issue instead of combatting the outcome of it. In contrast to most Western medical education, where the focus is on containing and treating symptoms, the approach of functional medicine reduces the chance of relapse and recurring conditions.
Those trained in functional medicine have a greater understanding of the underlying causes of chronic disease such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diabetes, and others. Training also includes information that allows practitioners to suggest helpful lifestyle changes such as supplementation, exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits that can help resolve co-factors of illness. Patient lifestyle and habits play an important role in not only diagnosing but also resolving chronic conditions. With greater understanding of the contributing factors of disease, doctors who practice functional medicine are more capable of helping patients achieve better health.
Prevention not Reaction
Many think that functional medicine is some sort of alternative pseudo-science that is not based on facts and medical reasoning. This could not be farther from the truth. Functional medicine consists of systemic assessment, treatment, and prevention to keep their patients healthy. Additionally, this group is open to implementing the latest in genetic science and systems biology to better improve treatment. By employing the ideology of functional medicine, treating the source of the condition rather than the symptoms, one is more capable of preventing conditions from developing instead of reacting to urgent and debilitating symptoms as they present themselves. It is far better to live with optimized health by resolving diseases at their core rather than being a slave to the symptoms they produce.