According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, the world’s leading educational resource for both patients and practitioners.
Functional Medicine involves understanding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease. It is an integrative, science-based healthcare approach that treats illness and promotes wellness by focusing assessment on the biochemically unique aspects of each patient, and then individually tailoring interventions to restore physiological, psychological and structural balance.
There are seven basic principles underlying the functional medicine approach:
- Science-based medicine that connects the emerging research base to clinical practice.
- Biochemical individuality. Each person is genetically and environmentally unique, which affects how she or he expresses both health and disease.
- Patient-centered care (rather than disease-centered) means that the person is the focus of care, not the diagnosis.
- Dynamic balance describes the ever-changing relationship between internal (mind, body and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning.
- Web-like interconnections among the body’s physiological processes also affect every aspect of your functionality. Diabetes, for example, affects the heart and hormone systems (and is affected by them).
- Health as a positive vitality. The functional medicine practitioner wants to know: Do you feel really well, full of vitality and zest for life?
- Promotion of organ reserve. Your heart, your lungs, your glands, and everything in your body can achieve greater stamina, better recovery from illness, and a longer “health span,” not just a longer “life span.”
Using these principles, functional medicine practitioners focus on understanding the fundamental physiological processes, the environmental inputs, and the genetic predispositions that influence every patient’s experience of health and disease.
Environmental inputs include the air and water in your community, the particular diet you eat, the quality of the food available to you, physical exercise, psychosocial factors, and toxic exposures or traumas you may have experienced.
Genetic predisposition is not an unavoidable outcome for your life; your genes may be influenced by everything in your environment, plus your experiences, attitudes and beliefs. That means it is possible to change the way genes are expressed (activated and experienced).
Fundamental physiological processes keep us alive. They involve cellular communication; energy transformation; replication, repair, and maintenance; waste elimination; protection/defense; and transport/circulation. These processes are influenced by environment and by genes, and when they are disturbed or imbalanced, they lead to symptoms, which can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied.
Most imbalances in functionality can be addressed; some can be completely restored to optimum function and others can be substantially improved. Virtually every complex, chronic disease is preceded by long-term disturbances in functionality that need to be identified and effectively managed — the earlier the better.
The Institute for Functional Medicine teaches practitioners how to assess the patient’s fundamental clinical imbalances through careful history-taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing. Course attendees are taught to evaluate:
- Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances
- Redox imbalances, including oxidative stress and mitochondropathy
- Detoxification, biotransformation and excretory imbalances
- Immune imbalances
- Inflammatory imbalances
- Digestive, absorptive and microbiological imbalances
- Structural imbalances at the cellular and whole body levels
- Nutritional and dietary imbalances
- Mind/body imbalances, including stress
Once an assessment has been made, the functional medicine doctor examines a wide array of interventions and selects those with the most impact on underlying functionality. Changing how the system(s) function(s) can have a major impact on the patient’s health.
Lifestyle is a very big factor; research estimates that 70-90% of the risk of chronic disease is attributable to lifestyle. That means what you eat, how you exercise, what your spiritual practices are, how much stress you live with (and how you handle it) are all elements that must be addressed in a comprehensive approach. So you, the patient, become an active partner with your functional medicine practitioner. You may be asked to make dietary and activity changes that, when combined with nutrients targeted to specific functional needs, will allow you to really be in charge of improving your own health and changing the outcome of disease.
Functional medicine practitioners represent all the major healthcare disciplines – you will find doctors such as MDs and DOs, NDs and DCs with functional medicine training; there are nurses, dietitians, nutritionists, acupuncturists and other disciplines represented in the functional medicine community. Within the scope of practice of their own particular disciplines, functional medicine practitioners may also prescribe drugs or botanical medicines or other nutraceuticals. They may suggest a special diet, a detoxification protocol, a physical medicine intervention, or a stress-management procedure. The good news is: when you look at functionality, you uncover many different ways of attacking problems — you are not limited to the “drug of choice for condition X.”
The following quotations exemplify some of the points made above:
“…we have been able to identify modifiable behavioral factors, including specific aspects of diet, overweight, inactivity, and smoking that account for over 70% of stroke and colon cancer, over 80% of coronary heart disease, and over 90% of adult-onset diabetes.” [Willett, WC. Science, 2002:296, 695-697]
“…that a disease is complex or multifactorial does not imply that simple solutions cannot be found or that clinical advance following insight cannot be swift.” [Rees, J. Science, 2002; 296:698-701]
“Inherited genetic factors make a minor contribution to susceptibility to most types of neoplasms. This finding indicates that the environment has the principal role in causing sporadic cancer.” [Lichtenstein, P et al. NEJM, 2000; 343:2, 78-85]΄
Acupuncture is safe, effective, and natural, it has been used very effectively for thousands of years by literally billions of people worldwide for a variety of disorders.