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Functional Medicine (the Why)

Functional Medicine (the Why)

We have all heard of Functional medicine, but what is it exactly?  In a nutshell, it is a holistic approach to treating patients that focuses on identifying and treating the root cause of the symptoms exhibited. Think of it as “the why.”

Finding the “Why”

Let’s look at an example of an illness that has a root cause. A patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure, but what is driving it? Could it be an issue in the kidneys or elsewhere in the body? Maybe it’s lack of exercise or sleep apnea. Traditional medicine would likely try to medicate the high blood pressure without consideration of the cause. Functional medicine would seek to identify the why, and in treating the root cause, hope to eliminate the high blood pressure and need for high blood pressure interventions altogether.

How it Works

Functional medicine approaches healthcare and chronic illness from a bodily systems perspective by building a detailed history of the patient, identifying imbalances within the systems and creating an individualized plan to restore balance, and thus optimal health for the patient. The approach focuses on creating a collaborative relationship between the practitioner and the patient to maximize outcomes. Many consider functional medicine to be “real world medicine.”

A comprehensive snapshot of the patient is one of the key elements of functional medicine. Functional medicine doctors use a systemic uniform framework to create a complete picture of the patient to identify factors that are contributing to the ailment. Social, family, personal and medical history, environment, lifestyle, lab work and physical examination are all components considered.

The Basics of Pharmaceuticals vs. Natural Supplements and Remedies

Both pharmaceuticals and natural supplements are substances, taken either internally or topically, intended to change or enhance the biological function of living beings. 

Pharmaceuticals are chemicals manufactured to be used as medication to treat or cure ailments, illness or other undesirable conditions. They are man-made and are produced in laboratories and/or factories. Pharmaceuticals- also called medicine- require a prescription from a physician. 

Natural supplements, on the other hand, are often derived from plants, animals, fungi, and algae found in nature. They have been used for centuries and can take many forms: tea, oil, capsule, liquid extract and ointments. Aloe vera is a good example of a natural remedy. The salve from the aloe vera succulent plant can be applied directly to wounds and burns to soothe and heal. Likewise, aloe vera gel is often used to treat sunburns. Aloe juice may be used to help with digestive issues and constipation. 

The standard American diet (SAD Diet) is filled with processed food. Our produce is often low in nutritional value due to being grown in nutrient-depleted, chemically damaged soil. The SAD Diet is heavy on carbs, sugar, and muscle meat. Because of this, the average person likely has gaps or voids in their diet. This is where natural supplements come in. Knowing exactly where you are deficient is key to achieving optimal health. Blood panels performed by a functional health practitioner can identify those deficiencies.  

It’s important to remember if the lining of your gut is not properly sealed, the supplements will not be absorbed, so gut health should still be front and center. Though natural supplements have a reputation for being plant-based and herbal, that’s not always the case. They can be made from plants or animals and many times both. For example, an animal-based supplement like ox bile helps the liver digest fats from food and fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D, E and K. It has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Our ancestors likely would have had it in their diets due to eating the whole animal aka nose-to-tail. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on introducing animal organs. 

Both pharmaceuticals and natural supplements come with risks and potential side effects. It is important to do your research and to speak with experts to figure out if the benefits outweigh the risks. For a much more detailed dive into supplements, we are working on another blog post with all sorts of info and tips, stay tuned!

Lifestyle Changes for Restoring Your Health

Functional medicine often includes a combination of interventions to address the issue of restoring health. Next steps in functional medicine can include an array of things like lifestyle changes (altering diet, starting exercise, quitting unhealthy habits) from nutraceuticals to acupuncture to mind-body therapies. “Food first” is a large component of functional medicine, as the role of nutrition in one’s health is crucial. Food is often a first line of defense against disease, and diet can have a big impact on our bodies. Likewise, the importance of sleep, stress management and exercise can’t be understated. 

It is important to note that not all interventions are natural. The medical community has seen numerous exciting progressive technologies that can be used to work with our bodies to help identify how it is not functioning properly or to help us reach optimal health. One example of this is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Individuals being treated with this therapy enter a chamber where they breathe in pure oxygen in air pressure levels double to triple higher than average. The goal is to flood the blood with oxygen, thereby allowing the body to repair cells and tissue. It is used for a variety of ailments from scuba divers with decompression sickness to cancer. It is often covered by insurance.     

Healthcare costs are rising daily, it seems, and we are becoming more reliant on the healthcare system and medications. Functional medicine offers a viable alternative to traditional medicine and may prove to be more cost effective in the end.     

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