Functional Medicine 101

The good physician treats the disease;

 the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.

~ Sir William Osler, former Physician-in-Chief,

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

In my practice, we place emphasis on the Functional Medicine approach to patient care in combination with Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s important my patients understand what Functional Medicine (FM) is, and why it is an extremely effective method for managing your health.

Functional Medicine 101

Functional Medicine is patient-centered medical healing at its best. Instead of looking at and treating health problems as isolated diseases, it treats individuals who may have bodily symptoms, imbalances, and dysfunctions.

Consider the iceberg graphic. A named disease such as diabetes, cancer, or fibromyalgia might be visible above the surface at the tip, but according to Functional Medicine, the real causes of a patient’s health problems lie in the altered physiology below the surface; their symptoms are an underlying dysfunction or an imbalance of bodily systems.

If health care treats just the tip of the iceberg, it rarely leads to long-term relief and vibrancy. Using scientific principles, advanced diagnostic testing, and treatments other than drugs or surgery, FM restores balance in the body’s primary physiological processes. By identifying and treating the underlying root cause or causes, a patient’s health challenge has a much better chance to resolve successfully.

The Two-Pronged Healing Approach of Functional Medicine

To battle chronic health conditions, Functional Medicine uses two scientifically grounded principles:

1. Add what’s lacking in the body to nudge its physiology back to a state of optimal functioning.

2. Remove anything that impedes the body from moving toward this optimal state of physiology.

Plainly put, your body naturally wants to be healthy. Functional Medicine first identifies the factors responsible for the malfunctioning. Then it deals with those factors in a way appropriate to the patient’s particular situation.

FM practitioners often use advanced laboratory testing to identify the root cause or causes of the patient’s health problem. Old-fashioned medical diagnosis helps too, in the form of listening carefully to the patient’s history of symptoms and asking questions about his or her activities and lifestyle.

For treatment, FM practitioners use a combination of natural agents (supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals, and homeopathics), nutritional and lifestyle changes, spiritual/ emotional counseling, and pharmaceuticals, if necessary, to prod a patient’s physiology back to an optimal state. In addition, educating patients about their conditions empowers them to take charge of their own health, ultimately leading to greater success in treatment.

Treating Symptoms Versus Treating the Person

In the dominant health care model today, medication is used to get rid of people’s symptoms. If the patient stops taking the medication, symptoms generally return. Although Functional Medicine practitioners may prescribe pharmaceuticals, they use medications to nudge the patient’s physiology gently in a positive direction so the patient will no longer need them.

For example, conventional doctors would normally prescribe pharmaceuticals like Prilosec, Prevacid, or Aciphex to treat acid reflux or heartburn. When the patient stops taking such drugs, the heartburn symptoms can reoccur. In contrast, a FM practitioner might find Helicobacter pylori bacteria cause a patient’s acid reflux. Eradicating the H-pylori increases the chance of ending heartburn symptoms permanently.

It’s also important to note that with a FM approach, treatment for similar symptoms might vary tremendously for different patients, according to their medical histories, a comprehensive physical examination, and results of laboratory tests. Factors that can come into play in producing the same symptoms include toxic chemicals, pathogenic bacteria, parasites, chronic viral pathogens, emotional poisons like anger, greed or envy, and structural factors such as tumors or cysts.

After diagnosis and treatment, a Functional Medicine patient can expect his or her symptoms to diminish in severity, and to experience a renewed sense of well-being and significant increase in health and vitality. The goal is the patient’s lifelong optimal health.

Functional Medicine and Acupuncture: Partners in Healing

The use of acupuncture with Functional Medicine methods is a particularly powerful treatment combination for helping to advance positive health outcomes. Acupuncture is an important partner for testing, symptom relief and long-term treatment for any number of conditions.

As a tool for initial testing, acupuncture is used to check the status of meridians and organs to determine if further additional testing is needed. For example, if a meridian test reveals low thyroid or adrenal readings, then further hormonal tests should be run. Or if the small intestine and stomach meridians are weak, a SIBO test can be conducted to identify small intestine issues.

Acupuncture also assists with the second FM principle of removing anything that impedes the body from moving toward its optimal physiological state. By administering acupuncture, we can help detox and regenerate cells of major organs like the pancreas, kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs, colon and more. Furthermore, by checking organs/meridians throughout the treatment process, it allows for small corrections and adjustments to be made, as well as providing for precise organ detoxification and support. The overall benefit is the whole treatment duration takes much less time.

Finally, acupuncture helps to reduce what is known as the “healing crisis,” i.e., pain. By easing the side effects of a healing body, such as aches, pains, headaches, rashes, wheezing, insomnia, digestion and emotional stress, acupuncture allows for a smooth and speedy recovery with less discomfort.

Adapted with permission from What is Functional Medicine? by Ronald Grisanti, DC, D.A.B.C.O., D.A.C.B.N., MS

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