If you’re willing to entertain the idea that there’s more than one way to address your health, you’ve likely heard of the term “functional medicine.” More than just a buzzword, this form of healthcare is gaining popularity across the country because it offers something that standard treatment options are often missing- a personalized, detailed analysis of the cause of your health problems, and strategies to fix them.
But what is functional medicine, and how do you know if you’re ready for a functional medicine approach regarding your health? In just a few paragraphs, I will answer these questions for you.
What is Functional Medicine?
No one wants to deal with medical jargon, so let’s keep the definition simple. Functional medicine is a systems-oriented model that provides personalized solutions to your health problems. In other words, functional medicine focuses on identifying the causes of your health concerns and provides a system for determining the best treatment option for your situation.
And, rather than viewing your health problem through the lens of a cluster of symptoms, functional medicine focuses on treating the entire individual. The attention is on the functioning of the whole organism, not only individual organs. In this way, functional medicine separates diseases from their underlying causes, like in the image below.
An easy way to envision functional medicine is to understand that it looks “beneath the volcano.” In this analogy, your health is the volcano, and chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are lava spewing out from the surface. A traditional approach might focus on blocking the volcano to stop its flow, but this proves ineffective because you haven’t prevented the lava from forming in the first place. Functional medicine, in contrast, looks under the volcano to cut the lava off at the source. This produces a better chance that treatment will resolve your health challenges and leave you healed AND without symptoms.
Here’s another analogy. Think of illness as a “check engine” light for your body. When the light turns on, how should you address the problem? One option is to deactivate the light so it turns off (addressing the symptom). The other approach is to take your body to the “mechanics” so they can run detailed diagnostic tests to determine what triggered the light to go on in the first place- thus changing the situation so it turns off. That’s the functional medicine approach.
Why Modern Medicine Isn’t Suited for Chronic Disease
Don’t all doctors want to cure you? True as this is, functional medicine takes this principle one step further by focusing on quality diagnostic tools that get to the cause of your health problems. As famed Canadian physician Sir. William Osler once said, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”
To understand the disparity between modern medicine’s goals and the real-world results, it’s important to consider the types of conditions it was designed to treat. Modern medicine gained momentum in the 19th century, a time when diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia were the most life-threatening. These acute conditions killed people quickly, so treatment focused on alleviating their symptoms by destroying germs.
Today, people are more likely to die from a heart attack or diabetes than a bout of the flu. Now our health problems are chronic issues that develop over the years (even over decades), and they won’t go away unless you address the underlying causes responsible for them. While conventional medicine might offer you Glynase pills to lower your blood sugar and offer dietary advice on the side, a functional medicine practitioner will make it a priority to determine what is preventing your body from processing glucose and develop diet and lifestyle goals that address the problem.
Diagnostic Tests That Dig Deeper
From my experience, many patients first consider visiting a functional medicine practitioner after they have completed standard testing with their doctor (blood work, X-rays, etc.). The majority of the time, their results return within the “normal” range and they do not receive any real answers pertaining to their health problems.
Functional medicine, in contrast, digs deeper to determine the underlying problem. Symptoms are looked at collectively (not individually) so that functional medicine practitioners get a complete picture of the problem and can develop a personalized treatment option.
At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, we collaborate with world-class laboratories to offer patients a broad range of diagnostic options. For us, these tests are merely the starting point for determining the best strategy for your health. We treat your body as an interconnected system and carefully examine your environmental, lifestyle, genetic, and dietary factors that might be the cause of your symptoms. In this way, we will work with you to set you up for optimal long-term health.
Benefits of Functional Medicine
There’s a reason why functional medicine is increasing in popularity around the world today- this innovative approach to healthcare offers something that most others don’t. Below are some of the most significant benefits of functional medicine.
Fewer Side Effects
Functional medicine focuses on long-term health solutions, not quick prescription drug fixes. This means that medication and surgery are only prescribed when proven necessary, and significant effort is put into finding lifestyle changes that can reduce your exposure to adverse side effects.
Empowers Patients to Control Their Health
A functional medicine approach believes that many health problems are the result of dangerous lifestyle choices. This means that patients can become part of the solution for their health by improving their diet, getting more sleep, and exercising regularly. In this way, patients take ownership of their health, rather than leaving it in the hands of a specialist.
Personal Connection with Your Doctor
Functional medicine practitioners strive to understand you as a whole, not just your symptoms. They will spend more time per visit, and each visit tends to be comfortable and unrushed, so it offers the opportunity to look at the problems from a comprehensive standpoint.
Interprets Lab Results Differently
When you take a standard medical test, your results will be understood within the context of an accepted spectrum to determine whether you are within the“normal” range or not. However, results that are even one data point within this range are considered normal, which leaves little room for personal interpretation. Functional medicine, in contrast, prioritizes looking at lab results within the context of your greater health. This makes it easier to address growing health concerns before they become a problem and prevents conditions from going unaddressed.
Customizes Health Care
When you’re diagnosed with a disease in a standard medical system, the chances are good that you’ll be prescribed the same medication as everyone else with the condition. While this “cookie cutter” approach is appropriate in some instances, sometimes it can lead to unexpected complications. Functional medicine accepts that everyone has a different health situation, so there’s less expectation that the same treatment will work for everyone.
Embraces Evidence-based Natural Treatments
Functional medicine isn’t anti-medication, but doctors who are board-certified in functional medicine are more likely to be open to natural medications. Doctors will take side effects into account before administering medication, and natural remedies often have fewer ill effects on your health.
Who Should Consider Functional Medicine?
If you’re tired of visiting your regular doctor and leaving more confused than when you arrived, or are sick of feeling like the side effects of your medication are worse than the condition itself, it might be time to consider functional medicine. Certain conditions are especially well-suited to this comprehensive approach, including the following:
Muscle pain throughout the body is often a sign of fibromyalgia, and functional medicine understands that inflammation causes the condition. This medical approach will look for the trigger point of this inflammation, which can be caused by any number of health conditions.
Approximately six percent of Canadians take antidepressants regularly, but these medications can lead to unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, low sex drive, insomnia and more. Functional medicine can address the causes of depression by shedding light on micronutrient imbalances, enzyme and neurotransmitter deficiencies, undiagnosed infections, and sources of inflammation that can trigger its mental effects. Likewise, this holistic medical approach prioritizes healthy eating and exercise- two proven ways to manage depression symptoms naturally.
Autoimmune disorders are often a sign of immune system problems, and immune-suppressing medications will do little to address any underlying problems that cause inflammation. A functional medicine approach is more likely to sort through probable causes of the condition so that they can be treated directly.
Traditional medicine offers few solutions for addressing this debilitating condition, but functional medicine will peer beneath the surface to see whether the fatigue is triggered by adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalances, unaddressed chronic infections, food sensitivities or something else.
Type II diabetes is a lifestyle disease, which means that there are plenty of day-to-day changes that can make a difference in the progression of the disease. Functional medicine approaches diabetes from a holistic perspective, with the end goal of getting glucose levels stabilized to the point that you no longer need to take medication.
Struggling to find relief from period problems is a chronic concern for many women, and most treatments do little more than temporarily fix symptoms like mood swings, cramping, and fatigue. A functional medicine approach provides more options for keeping your period manageable so that it doesn’t excessively impact your life.
Obesity is a global epidemic that shows little sign of slowing down, which means that more people than ever are seeking advice from their doctor for achieving their weight goals. A functional medicine approach will go beyond a quick fix to take a holistic look at your lifestyle and weight goals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses underlying health problems in the process.
Restore Your Health at The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine
Are you ready to “get under the hood” and face the underlying causes of your health problems? Then it’s time to consider booking an appointment with a functional medicine practitioner. The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, services patients throughout the Toronto area and beyond.
I am pleased to offer a Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session for all potential patients. This session can take place over the phone or at the clinic in person. It provides an opportunity for you to learn more about the services I offer and how they can benefit you.
Please schedule an appointment today! Your best health awaits.
Dr. John Dempster, ND
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine