Our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. The system of medicine practiced by most physicians is oriented toward acute care, the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that is of short duration and in need of urgent attention, such as appendicitis or a broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom.
People go to the doctor when they’re sick. They get medication to treat their symptoms. If it doesn’t work, they go back and get another medication or they increase the medication. If you experience a side effect, they may decrease or add another medication. Hardly ever does anyone look for the root cause of your symptoms. By the time most people reach 55 or 60, they have a full arsenal of medications that treat various illnesses, all from different doctors.
This acute-care approach to medicine lacks the proper methodology and tools for preventing and treating complex, chronic disease. In most cases it does not take into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual or factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and the aspects of today’s lifestyle that have a direct influence on the rise in chronic disease.
There’s a huge gap between research and the way doctors practice. The gap between emerging research in basic sciences and integration into medical practice is enormous—as long as 50 years—particularly in the area of complex, chronic illness. Most physicians don’t assess the underlying causes of complex, chronic disease like nutrition, diet, and exercise to both treat or apply them to prevent illnesses in their patients.
How is Functional Medicine Different?
Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease. Hallmarks of a functional medicine approach include:
Patient-centered care – The focus of functional medicine is on patient-centered care, promoting health and positive vitality, not just the absence of disease. By listening to the patient’s story, the practitioner brings the patient into the discovery process and tailors treatments that address the individual’s unique needs.
An integrative, science-based healthcare approach – Functional medicine practitioners look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions that lead to illness. The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with both internal and environmental factors that affect total functioning. Functional medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with “integrative” medicine, focusing on prevention through nutrition, diet and exercise. It uses the latest diagnostic techniques and prescribed combinations of medicines, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs and wellness management plans.
Functional medicine is proactive and preventative care rather than reactive treatments. It encompasses wellness so it looks at everything. At the Institute for Personalized Medicine, we don’t consider what we do alternative or naturopathic medicine. We just consider it good medicine. When people come to us and they don’t feel good, we want to find out why.
We practice functional medicine because it meets the need of the patient rather than making the patient fit the model. It works and it’s been proven. But to make sure what we’re doing is what works, we study functional medicine avidly, continuing our education and tuning into what people do at prominent medical schools. Medicine is changing rapidly and we are changing with it.