Functional Medicine provides a new road map for collecting and organizing medical information. Rather than asking what is wrong with our patient we direct our investigation to determining why things have gone wrong. Functional medicine allows us to understand the landscape of illness not through the diagnosis of disease but by understanding the mechanisms of disease; what has gone wrong and how to fix it. Functional medicine practitioners are the “super-generalists” of medicine, who bring to diagnosis the understanding of how it is all connected; the pattern disturbances and systems imbalances that eventually lead to what we call disease.
Although the concept may be alien to the way most of us think, there is an emerging school of thought that believes that illnesses don’t really exist. They are simply a vestige of a system of medical knowledge that was organized and developed based on organ systems. This led to the rise of medical specialties that view problems as separate conditions. In reality, illness is systemic and based on underlying imbalances, Conventional medicine actually acknowledges this concept when it speaks of co-morbid conditions – illnesses like diabetes having co-morbidity like heart and vascular disease, kidney disease and neurological disorders. Doesn’t it make more sense to look further “upstream” for the common underlying mechanisms and treat these rather than the end result. One can even make the case that what we call “disease” is in fact an intelligent and appropriate response by our bodies to dealing with an imbalance or dysfunction.
For example, if someone has rheumatoid arthritis the Rheumatologist will select from a number of anti-inflammatory medications a drug that will suppress inflammation. The functional practitioner asks why inflammation exists in that particular patient and searches for the triggers that cause the inflammation. These triggers could include microbes, chronic infections, stress- physical and emotional, inflammatory foods, heavy metals, environmental toxins and chemical sensitivities.
Listening to all the details of a patient’s story provides the opportunity to see links and associations that may have gone unrecognized. Retelling the story becomes a powerful tool for educating the patient and helping them develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of what is wrong. Patients find this experience helps them to demystify what has been happening to them while also empowering them to manage their care more effectively.
When dealing with complex, long standing medical problems, one needs to go beyond the diagnosis to uncover the underlying causes, triggers and drivers of a particular illness. Exploring an individual’s condition in this way opens the door to a wide array of potential solutions. Thus, although my training and expertise is based on the allopathic (drug/surgical) approach to treatment, my interest and study of natural medicine and alternative approaches gives me the ability to offer my patients a wider array of solutions. I believe that all of us have a birthright to optimal health and that the model of functional medicine as a diagnostic and teaching tool helps me provide the best possible care to my patients.