Diseases don’t exist. Not in the way we think they do. Just like the world looks flat and it isn’t. Functional Medicine is a way of practicing medicine that focuses on the mechanisms that are affected by our environment washing over our genes, creating downstream effects that we call “disease.”
When I am asked what kind of medicine do I practice, I say “functional medicine.” Of course the next question is, “What is functional medicine?” Well, it’s the opposite of dysfunctional medicine. And we have all experienced that.
Functional Medicine is a new way of navigating through the landscape of illness. Based on mechanisms and causes, not symptoms and diseases, Functional Medicine is personalized medicine. It is the medicine of connectivity. Functional medicine is the medicine of WHY.
The Future of Healthcare
Rather than being super specialist, functional medicine doctors are “super generalist.” We examine everything about how things connect. How do we do this? We use a comprehensive medical history, conventional testing, as well as various biomarkers and functional tests to understand the landscape of illness and genomics, and to make decisions that address the mechanisms and underlying cause of disease.
This is a fundamental paradigm shift that forces us to redefine disease. Functional medicine applies advances in systems biology in a practical comprehensive personal approach to illness. It addresses the underlying causes and the mechanisms that are common to all diseases. This is the future of healthcare for the treatment of chronic disease.
I know this because I was sick. I had debilitating fatigue, joint aches, recurrent injuries, and brain fog. I couldn’t think, was experiencing hot flashes, and I could barely get out of bed, let alone get through the day. I was no longer able to tolerate any stress. I was irritable, and although I tried to continue exercising, I would soon experience nausea and dizziness. I was slowly gaining weight, losing muscle and stamina, having feelings of depression, and felt I was headed for a meltdown. I lost all drive and ambition. Everything took effort. But If you saw me, you would think I was fine.
I knew something was seriously wrong. But I knew going to a conventional doctor was going to end in a prescription. I had to figure out what was wrong for myself. I started searching. Then I ran across information on functional medicine. I started studying functional medicine and nutrition. I began to understand what was going on with my health. Through time and education, I was able to recover from my health issues by applying functional medicine to my own body.
Functional Medicine is not magic—it’s a method. Functional medicine is not a new treatment modality, specialty or technique. It’s not integrative or alternative. It is molecular biology. Functional medicine applies the most advanced science in a practical clinical method in the service of health care. It is a new way of thinking about the puzzle of chronic disease. A new way of organizing information in an operating system, based not on the specialties of medicine but on systems and networks.
Functional Medicine is the medicine of WHY. Conventional medicine is the medicine of WHAT: what disease do you have, and what drug should I give you. Functional medicine is often called “root cause medicine.” It seeks to identify the underlying cause/reason for a person’s health challenges. It’s answering the question of WHY: Why are you not well? Why has your physiology or metabolism changed to allow you to manifest these symptoms?
The names of diseases become irrelevant as we understand their cause. One factor can cause dozens of diseases. Like Celiac’s disease from eating gluten, which can show up in the body as rheumatoid arthritis, or irritable bowel disease, or depression, or even autism. One disease like dementia can have many causes, from B-12 deficiency, or insulin resistance, or heavy metal toxicity. Instead of asking what disease a patient has, functional medicine practitioners ask: Why the patient is experiencing this constellation of symptoms?
Treating Underlying Causes of Illness
We all believe once we are diagnosed with a disease, we know what is wrong. But a disease is just a label we give to a collection of symptoms that tells us nothing of why we might have these symptoms. For example: You go to the doctor and say you have no energy (like I did), and you feel sad, helpless, and hopeless. Your doctor will say, “I know what’s wrong with you. You have depression and you need an anti-depressant.” But depression is just a label we give to that collection of symptoms. It tells you nothing about what caused these symptoms. It could be an emotional trauma, an auto-immune reaction to gluten causing low thyroid function, or a B-12 deficiency because you’re taking an acid blocker that prevents B-12 absorption, or vitamin D deficiency because you live in an area with predominantly cloudy weather, or inflammation from taking to many antibiotics that have killed all the good bacteria in your gut, or a high body burden of mercury because you love fish, or omega-3 fat deficiency because you hate fish, or insulin resistance because you eat too much sugar. And the diagnosis and treatment of each of these causes is very, very different.
This is how we have to change our way of thinking about disease. The doctors of the future will be super-generalists, not super-specialists. They will understand that everything is connected. Functional medicine is personalized medicine. This is the medicine of connectivity. Our current system of diagnosing and treating chronic disease is like driving a model A on the 405 freeway. There is a better way.
This is a medical revolution—we have a choice. We can keep taking the red pill and the blue one, going to a never-ending series of specialists when we get sick. Or we can step into the 21st century, and seek medical care that incorporates the laws of biology and what that means for health and disease. We can connect the dots. Functional medicine is a disruptive technology that will overthrow the tyranny of the diagnosis.
Applying functional medicine, we can reverse the exponential rise in chronic disease, and the economic burden of traditional medical care that is suffocating our country and our world.