Functional medicine is an individualized, holistic approach to healthcare based on prevention and identification of the underlying causes of disease, rather than on symptoms. Functional medicine is based on the following principles:
- Every patient has a unique biochemical profile. While we all share certain biochemical processes, there are significant individual variations in our metabolic functioning due to genetics and environment.
- The focus is on patient care rather than disease care.
- There is a web of interconnections between physiological factors. Our biological systems function more like a network than like individual, autonomous processes. We now know that every organ and system can affect every other organ and system in the network, so the whole person needs to be treated rather than only the diseased part.
- Good health is more than the absence of disease.
Conventional medicine compartmentalizes the body into specialties, such as cardiology, rheumatology, dermatology, and digestive disorders. Functional medicine sees the body as an integrated system rather than a collection of independent organs. The approach uses principles of systems biology, which involve analyzing how all components of human biology interact with each other and with the environment.
Imbalances in environmental inputs and physiological processes can cause the signs and symptoms of the disease. Environmental inputs include diet, exercise, air quality, water quality, and trauma. Physiological processes include cell-cell communication, the transformation of food into energy; cell, organ and system replication, repair and maintenance; elimination of waste; defenses, transport, and circulation. Malfunctions in these systems can affect all other systems in the body and may cause imbalances in hormonal function, cell replication, immune response, inflammatory response, digestion, and structural integrity.
Practitioners of functional medicine focus on the core imbalances that underlie medical conditions. Their goal is to intervene at multiple levels in order to restore balance, manage the complex chronic disease, and return patients to good health. Most medical conditions are complex and don’t necessarily fall into simple, easy-to-treat categories. For example, digestive disorders often involve inflammation, immune response, digestive system function, psychological issues, and energy transformation issues. Each practitioner uses the patient’s unique physiological, mental, and emotional story as the basis for diagnosing illness.
A comprehensive and individualized treatment approach is then devised to improve the patient’s physiological function and environmental inputs, rather than focusing simply on symptom relief. Treatment may include typical medical approaches such as genetics, endocrinology, gastroenterology, psychology, and immunology, as well as non-mainstream treatments and drugs such as homeopathy, orthomolecular medicine, and detoxification.
Rather than simply diagnose a condition and prescribe a pill for symptom relief, a functional medicine specialist will search for the root cause of disease and provide a multi-pronged approach to restoring balance and, ultimately, good patient health.
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