The term "functional medicine" may be new to you. It's the basis of what I do, so it's important that I introduce what it is. I like to keep things "simple," (as it were) , so let me just list the most important aspects below.
- First, it is usually NOT conventional medicine (sometimes referred to as "allopathic" medicine). Conventional medicine is all about treating disease and excels at acute – or immediate – problems. In other words, if you lop off a finger, you want acute care. Go to the emergency room. I will be useless to you other than to help stop the bleeding perhaps and dial 9-1-1.
- Conventional medicine is more likely to treat symptoms, while functional medicine is more oriented to determining the root cause of your medical issues. If you have a bad bacterial infection, a conventionally-trained physician is often correct in prescribing antibiotics (in many cases, they can be life-saving or at the least very beneficial). If you have high blood pressure, however, a more chronic (or long-term) condition, you're also likely to be prescribed medication. Millions who begin blood pressure medication don't get off them. Similarly, if you‘ve been dealing with depression for a while, you might end up with a prescription for an antidepressant. Again, medication may be helpful, but it's not the typical functional medicine approach. Functional medicine practitioners ask "Why do you have high blood pressure and what approaches can help lower it naturally over the long haul so you don't have to be on medication for the rest of your life?" Or: "What is causing the depression?" (It may not be what you think!)
- Functional medicine tends to be more preventative in nature. If you've been getting annual blood tests and your blood glucose is creeping up slowly, a conventional doctor may not say anything if the value is "normal." Functional medicine practitioners, however, will spot the trend and have a conversation with you about what you can do to reverse the trend – hopefully well before it even threatens you with long-term implications (such as prediabetes or diabetes, for instance). A conventional approach is generally to wait until your blood sugar becomes a problem; then and only then can you be assigned a diagnostic code and given some suggestions or some "treatment." And if the facts be known, many suggestions may not be very helpful in the short or long haul.
- Functional medicine uses a whole systems approach; conventional medicine likes to use a "specialist" approach. If you feel anxious, your skin is dry, and you're constipated, you may end up being treated for a brain thing, a skin thing and a gut thing. That could mean being referred to three specialists. We, on the other hand, are trained to look at the whole picture. Perhaps one multi-pronged approach might return you to much more balanced health – without medication at all! It happens all the time.
- Functional medicine practitioners have a lot of tools at their disposal that may be outside what is called the "standard of care." You may need special tests that doctors – especially PCPs – have no idea about. Blood tests and other kinds of examinations are often critical and likely to be covered by insurance in a conventional practice. As a nutritionist, I can only request that a medical professional order the tests I might want. But other tests might be available to you outside the traditional insurance model.
- Functional medicine practitioners will spend a lot of time with you – often hours in the first month or two. In addition, we will discuss diet, exercise, supplementation, stress reduction and other modalities that might help, such as chiropractic and acupuncture, for example. Imagine having the time to tell your whole story so that your health picture can come into focus and you can see how the different body systems are in fact intricately connected.
Here is an example of a case that clearly shows the difference between a conventional medicine vs. a functional medicine approach. It's less than two minutes long. Enjoy!