Functional Medicine is a patient-centered approach to medical healing.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is focused on the patient’s overall health by using personalized and system-oriented medical care. Its aim is to address the underlying causes of a patient’s symptoms. Many diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, mental illness and autism spectrum disorders are on the rise across Western societies. Modern medical practitioners are usually geared towards short-term treatment of illnesses or emergency healthcare. It is not possible to ignore factors such as stress, diet and toxins in the patient, as well as their unique genetic properties, because they can influence chronic diseases.
Functional medicine can be a more cost-effective solution for most patients due to the aim of preventing the possible illnesses and promoting good mental and physical health through lifestyles changes. This removes the likelihood of many diseases or illnesses with drug-based solutions in the future.
What Are the Principles of Functional Medicine?
The Institute for Functional Medicine lists 6 different principles of functional medicine;
- Each human being is different and their biochemical individuality (based on their genetics and surroundings) should be understood
- The treatment should focus on the patient rather than on the disease
- There should be a balance between the body, mind and spirit
- Realizing that the body works by interconnecting internal physiological factors
- Health is more than not being ill, a way of life that encourages vitality is of great importance
- Patients are meant to keep their organs in good shape to extend their health span, not just their life span
Lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise routines, diet, genes and even stress levels and relationships are information that can help determine the way that a practitioner would treat their patient. They may also indicate any underlying problems that can lead to a set of symptoms. These different factors represent the roots and soil, the ongoing health of the patient as the trunk of a tree and any diseases or symptoms representing branches and leaves. In conventional medicine, practitioners focus on healing the branches and leaves, largely ignoring the more important trunk and roots. It treats everyone with the same symptoms equally even though the underlying problem can be vastly different between each patient.
What Is the Evidence That Functional Medicine Works?
It can be difficult to test how functional medicine works using the standard randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled (RDBPC) clinical trials that are common for medications, but that does not mean that there is no scientific basis for it. 70% of all the money directed towards research in the U.S. is offered by pharmaceutical companies 1 and preventative medicine is rarely funded to the same extent.
Not ignoring the personal opinions and experiences of a patient can help find the source of a patient’s issues and help find solutions and build an appropriate, personalized plan that the patient will be able to work with. There is a lot of scientific support for functional medicine covering areas such as the importance of diet and nutrition, 2,3 vitamins and minerals, 4 stress management, 5 exercise, 6 and even techniques that focus on the mind and body, such as meditation and biofeedback. 7,8
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- Ames BN, et al. High-dose vitamin therapy stimulates variant enzymes with decreased coenzyme binding affinity (increased Km. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75:616-58)
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- McArdle WD, Katch EI, Katch VL. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2001.
- Xiong GL, Doraiswamy PM. Does meditation enhance cognition and brain plasticity? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009;1172:63-9.
- Hölzel BK, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry 2011; 30;191(1):36-43. Epub 2010 Nov 10