01 Apr Functional Medicine- Treating the CAUSE and Not the Symptoms
In reading my past columns, most have probably caught on to the fact that I am a huge advocate of utilizing natural resources for preventing and managing many of today’s common and chronic health conditions. This is the reason that I actively promote the Paleo Lifestyle and it is the reason I’ve pursued my post-doctorate education through the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Functional Medicine is a relatively new medical practice that combines the ancient traditional health beliefs and diets of our primitive ancestors with the benefits of modern science. This form of “up-stream medicine” is being implemented by all disciplines of healthcare including medical, naturopathic, chiropractic, osteopathic, dentistry, psychology, and nutrition. While practitioners of Traditional (or Conventional) Medicine tend to practice with a tunnel-vision approach by focusing only on the symptoms of modern day health conditions; Functional Medicine practitioners address the healthcare needs of the 21st century by focusing on prevention while seeking to uncover and remove the underlying causes of serious chronic disease.
I believe many share my sentiment when I say IT’S ABOUT TIME that we have a wellness model that deals with the root causes of disease with less emphasis on making a diagnosis and more attention given to the actual mechanisms of the disease process. This patient-centered approach emphasizes “patient care” rather than “disease care” following Sir William Osler’s admonition that “It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has.”
Functional Medicine Commonly Addresses:
- Oxidative Stress
- Nutritional Imbalances
- Gastrointestinal Dysfunction
- Immune/Inflammatory Imbalances
- Hormone Imbalances
- Cardiometabolic Function
- Musculoskeletal Imbalances
By implementing Functional Medicine into my own practice, I’ve expanded my knowledge and treatment approaches to bring relief to a wide variety of patients and symptoms. When dealing with chronic conditions, it is imperative to understand that the body works as a whole; thus when one system begins to malfunction, it is not uncommon for a number of (often seemingly unrelated conditions) to emerge. Thus, (for example) in addressing one patient’s gastrointestinal dysfunction it is common for their fibromyalgia, anxiety, and insomnia to also improve while treating another patient’s adrenal fatigue can greatly improve their mental clarity, energy levels, libido, and insomnia. In explaining this relationship to patients, I often suggest picturing a bicycle wheel with 36 spokes. When even one spoke breaks, the whole wheel is thrown out of balance forcing the other spokes to malfunction under the additional stress. In a short time, the wheel will become so warped that it will no longer fit between the forks, making the entire bike useless.
While conventional medicine offers “Preventative care” in the form of pap smears, cholesterol and blood pressure screening, and cancer testing for the early detection of disease Functional Medicine takes preventative care a step further by promoting complete prevention of disease. Thus, while conventional medicine treats these abnormal blood pressure and cholesterol results with prescription medicines, Functional Medicine treats through a prescription of lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as nutritional support to address the inflammatory responses of the immune, nervous, digestive, hormonal, and/or cardiovascular systems. In addition, many Functional Medicine practitioners, including myself, often utilize a variety of lab tests to dig even deeper by examining blood, stool, urine, breath or even saliva to address nutritional status, digestive function, food and environmental allergies, amino acid balance, energy metabolism function, and hormonal imbalances.
Ironically, as modern-day man has continued to “evolve” with newer technologies, innovative medicines, and an ever-expanding array of food options; we have simultaneously made ourselves sicker, fatter, and generally unhealthier. As the concepts of Functional Medicine and Primal Living continue to spread, I foresee great improvements in health in those willing to consider and apply these tools. However, unless Conventional Medicine keeps up with the advancing research and studies and realizes just how damaging current dietary recommendations and treatment protocols are to the public’s health, we will continue to see our country become sicker, cancer rates climb, and the obesity epidemic continue to rise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, once again it seems that primitive man was ahead of the game when it came to achieving optimal health.
The next time you get a “check-up”, just keep in mind that the absence of disease is NOT health!
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS