What Is Functional Medicine Anyway?
“Functional medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.” ~ Institute for Functional Medicine
A root-cause investigation
In functional medicine, we investigate the root cause of your ailments with the use of investigative labs. Our motto is “test, don’t guess.” Your symptoms are often a clue that something is awry on a deeper level and we want to figure it out. We aren’t fixated on masking or alleviating symptoms with no further inquiry. For example, aspirin or the herb feverfew may alleviate a headache, but we want to know why the headache is there. This is why functional medicine is called “root cause medicine.”
What are these root causes? These are imbalances or deficiencies in underlying body systems. You are not the sum of your parts, you are the sum of your dynamic interactive biological systems. Each system (whether it is digestive, endocrine, cardiovascular, etc.) is in constant interplay with all of your other systems. When one system goes awry, the effects can show up elsewhere. We know everything is connected, and in functional medicine, we strive to connect the dots for the individual.
Here are examples of a root-cause systems approach:
- Identifying and treating a gut bacteria imbalance resolves your bloating and constipation and you no longer have an IBS diagnosis.
- Improving your detoxification pathways clears up your skin, stops your PMS, and eliminates your headaches.
- Addressing your adrenal dysfunction and cortisol dysregulation nixes your perimenopausal hot flashes.
- Balancing your blood sugar and insulin solves your mysterious weight gain.
- Identifying a food intolerance brings your autoimmune disease into remission and clears your brain fog.
- Testing for nutrient deficiencies and filling in the gaps improves your energy, stamina, and immune resilience.
An epigenetic lifestyle approach
You come into the world with very unique genetics, which set the stage for future health or illness. However, it’s your environment throughout your lifetime that has the strongest influence on your health. As an adult, you can make changes in your environment and improve your health outcomes. This approach uses epigenetics, which is the ability to influence your genetic destiny by what you actually do in your life every single day. This means how you eat, sleep, find community, manage stress, move your body, and experience joy.
We take an inventory of what’s happened in your environment, from prenatal to where you are today. We examine the events in your life that may have triggered your current symptoms or condition. And we dig into what we can modify in your current day-to-day lifestyle that will have a positive epigenetic effect on your future health.
One branch, many roots. One root, many branches.
One branch, many roots: If you have a certain disease or ailment, we identify one or more “root causes” that are unique to you. This means that somebody else with the same ailment may have a different set of root causes. For example, your hormonal headaches may be due to poor liver estrogen clearance, while your friend’s hormonal headaches may be due to vitamin B deficiency, and your neighbor’s headaches may be due to a gut microbiome imbalance. One symptom (branch) with many roots.
One root, many branches: You may have a root imbalance that causes a specific symptom, yet someone else with the same root imbalance may have a different symptom presentation. For example, you may have a root imbalance of poor liver estrogen clearance, which causes hormonal headaches for you. Your friend may also have poor estrogen clearance but her symptom (branch) is heavy painful periods, and your neighbor with the same root has uterine fibroids. This is an example of one root, with many branches.
This tenet of functional medicine is my favorite because it’s identical to ancient Chinese medicinal theory. In many ways, Chinese medicine is the original functional medicine approach!
Who practices functional medicine?
This is an approach, not a medical discipline. That means that anybody with a medical license can choose to train in functional medicine. The Institute for Functional Medicine is considered the gold standard academic training and certification program, with an established curriculum and a diverse faculty. There are other programs, many of which are taught by a single educator.
This is post-secondary education for all medical practitioners. Nobody gets thorough functional medicine training within their discipline. However, there are medical disciplines that are highly compatible because they already take a holistic root-cause approach. This includes clinical nutritionists, acupuncturists, and naturopaths.
When you choose a practitioner, you can check to see if they are certified through IFM, which ensures the practitioner is licensed in a medical field and has completed a rigorous post-secondary functional medicine program. You’ll find all kinds of practitioners that are certified by IFM, including MDs. You can choose a practitioner based on their specialties, background, prices, and scope of practice.
All functional medicine practitioners partner with patients and act as coaches, counselors, and guides. We don’t take a top-down approach. It takes a partnership to help you find your unique path to healing. We just help you identify the steps to take on your journey.
Who can benefit from functional medicine?
Truth be told, everyone can benefit from working with a functional medicine practitioner. In our practice, we see people who:
- Want to maximize their health, wellness, and vitality for their lifespan.
- Seek to improve chronic health conditions beyond what conventional medicine has to offer.
- Desire to investigate root causes that are outside the conventional box.
- Want to identify negative trends that are just beginning, years or decades before they are identified as a full-blown disease in a conventional practice.
- Seek to solve puzzling symptoms that don’t have an easy answer in conventional medicine or are often shrugged off.
- Desire a therapeutic relationship with a practitioner who can spend more time and go deeper.
Do you want to start your own functional medicine journey? Book a discovery call to discuss working with our practice: