Functional Medicine (also referred to as preventative medicine, or integrative care) is a practice of supporting the physiology of our body, and restoring its capacity to heal.
Simply put, functional medicine includes any method of health care that seeks to support, maintain, and restore the functioning of the body — as an integrated whole.
One might assume that’s what all methods of health care attempt to do. But, in actuality, the approach of functional medicine is quite different from how allopathic or conventional medicine (pharmaceutically-based and profit-driven) is practiced today.
While both conventional and functional medicine use almost the same diagnostic processes – including lab tests and a complex intake of patient information – there are some major differences between the ways they interpret the diagnostic and intake information. As well as any treatment protocols that may follow.
A different interpretation and assessment of test results and ranges are used by healthcare providers, practitioners, or researchers who work with principles of preventative medicine. As a result of using these different assessment interpretations, it may not be necessary for a patient to wait to become demonstrably sick before they receive a treatment protocol. Instead, within the models of preventative or functional medicine it’s possible to take action in response to disequilibria in test results, long before something may become pathological.
Through a functional medicine approach, problems can be identified much earlier on. Whereas in conventional medicine, those same problems can tend to be overlooked, and left untreated.
Modern medical technology offers us so much more information than ever before about biology, physiology, and human health… so why are we becoming less healthy? A significant part of this problem is that most medicine practiced today, under the watchful eye of HMO’s and insurance regulators, is profit-driven and is primarily about disease management. It’s not focused on disease prevention. And unfortunately, it’s not a model of care that consistently puts the patient’s health first.
Conventional medicine uses the pharmaceutical model to shut down, inhibit, or block processes of the body. In this model, insurance and pharmaceutical companies have a significant and influential role – they heavily influence treatment protocols, and often encourage doctors to limit the use of diagnostic tests.
We can look at a very simple hypothyroid case study, to further understand some general differences between functional medicine and conventional medicine approach:
A client comes in feeling cold, gains weight easily, hair is starting to fall out and they feel depressed. Using lab tests, we see that she is hypothyroid.
What we know about the thyroid is that between the pituitary, where signals of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are generated and sent to the thyroid, and then on to the cells where the thyroid hormones are used, there are many steps. And, one can have dysfunction anywhere along those steps.
In the conventional model of endocrinology, the question of focus will be, “is there enough thyroid hormone?” If not, a synthetic form will be prescribed. This is called the replacement model of endocrinology.
However, it’s possible that the patient might not have enough serotonin to signal TSH to be made. Or, the conversion of T4 (the unusable form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the usable form) might not be able to happen, due to a liver issue or a digestive issue.
The functional medicine approach in this case, is to discover where the dysfunction is occurring, and then support a return to homeostasis. There are actually very few instances in which we need to give someone thyroid hormones. (See https://drknews.com/why-do-i-still-have-thyroid-symptoms/ )
Another possibility, in this example, is if she had an autoimmune situation. If that were the case, most of our efforts would not be directed at her thyroid. Instead, our efforts would be turned towards her immune system. The more we can regulate her immune system, the more we reduce the chances of self-attacks or further dysfunction of her immune system (both of which could lead to more targeted issues and further autoimmunity conditions).
Unfortunately, in the conventional model of health care, it’s very rare to test whether or not someone has an autoimmune situation, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is because, within pharmaceutically-based models, there’s not much treatment that’s acknowledged, nor given, for autoimmunity conditions.
There are many institutes and places of learning for functional medicine.
Most practitioners come to functional medicine with existing licenses of other modalities. This includes chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, or MD’s who may tend to be open minded. While there are certificate programs, currently there are no functional medicine licenses that are state or Nationally certified. This means that what’s being practiced under the name of functional medicine is not yet standardized, nor the same from one practitioner to the next.
I’m enrolled in The Kharrazian Institute’s Clinical Mastership Training Program. Dr. Datis Kharrazian has a distinct and unique ability to integrate medical literature with real-life patient treatment, to develop effective clinical models. These clinical models have been successfully applied by healthcare practitioners throughout the past 20 years. Dr. Kharrazian is a pioneer in the field, and I’ve been very fortunate to be a student of his.
Some of most notable aspects of Dr. Kharrazian’s teachings, are the ways he demonstrates how the immune system, nervous system, and endocrine system are actually one whole system. He underscores both the complexity that is our human condition, while illuminating new understandings of how we can work with that complexity — in clear and measurable ways that support the physiology of our body, and capacity to heal.
I bring these methods to my clients, to treat chronic situations that were previously addressed ineffectively.