A couple of months ago I saw 2 patients (let’s call them Michael and Mary), who presented with very different symptoms. Michael was a young man who had lost some weight and suspected that he had diabetes, as the disease ran in his family. Mary was a middle-aged woman who suffered from fatigue, blurred vision and frequent tingling in her hands. She said she worked too much and needed something that would boost her energy. After talking extensively with each patient and conducting a couple of tests we confirmed that both of them had diabetes.
Diabetes is just one example of a disease that can have a wide range of symptoms and underlying causes. It can present itself in various forms. As a result, it makes sense that each patient will require personalized attention – one that differentiates between diabetes caused by genetic factors vs. diabetes that stems from hormonal diseases for example.
This individualized approach is at the heart of functional medicine.
What frustrates me the most is when doctors approach treating patients like it’s an assembly line: a patient comes in, lists symptoms, gets diagnosed and is prescribed a medicine that will take the pain away. As the time passes, the number of pills needed to mask different symptoms increases and by the time you are 60, you are swallowing 14 different pills that are supposed to make you feel better while your health is getting worse. To me, this is as far from “health” as it can get.
Unfortunately, a western medicine approach at times is short-sighted, oriented only on providing a quick “solution”. If the pain is gone and the symptoms are managed – they are happy with the outcome and sometimes, so are the patients, until the band aid solution is no longer enough to mask your symptoms.
Functional medicine is fundamentally against this approach.
We are driven by the root causes. We ask the most important question – why? Why are your hormones out of balance? Why is your fever consistently high? Why are you experiencing the symptoms? By asking these questions, we are able to get to the core of the problem. We need to look for the ‘blindspots’. We notice things that often go unnoticed but are crucial for finding a permanent solution. We are able to do that simply because our mindset is oriented on truly solving the puzzle of your health. Without that, you can never start a journey of true healing.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to functional medicine. The most common one is that functional medicine ignores science. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. While there are branches of medicine that rely on traditional methods of healing, functional medicine is fully based on science and relies on strong biochemical foundations. A true Functional Medicine approach is always backed by scientific evidence. The only difference is that in addition to applying scientific knowledge, we go beyond that and look at a complete patient picture including factors such as;complete patient and family medical history, diet, mental health, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure, microbiome status, environmental factors, etc.
We try to understand the person as a whole, including their living conditions and lifestyle, because all of this contributes to our physical and mental well-being. Giving a person suppressive medication for digestive issues and sending them back to the same environment, same diet, same lifestyle where they are exposed to underlying triggers is not a viable solution.
We, as functional medicine doctors, feel obligated to educate the patients, so that they avoid negative triggers and develop sustainable habits that will complement the prescribed medicine. This becomes a much more powerful combination than medicine alone.
A functional medicine approach is essentially a partnership between the patient and the doctor, where we try to bring the patient back to health by taking into account all the available data. Such level of involvement also gives the patient a sense of control and understanding that subsequently brings peace of mind before, during and after the treatment. Yes, this requires extra time, investing into your health financially, and of course an extra effort to make necessary changes – however, the results are worth it, both in the short run and long term.
Actually, one of the goals of functional medicine is to achieve not only improvement in the short term, but also long-term relief, vibrancy and well-being. Thus, it is not surprising that functional medicine often focuses on chronic conditions which usually last for life and require long-term management. It creates a plan that is tailored to you and with this proactive and hands on approach to medicine, we are able to not only fight the existing diseases, but keep new ones at bay.
In addition to that, holistic approach and emphasis on preventative behavior allows the patients to stay healthier for longer. By addressing root causes and adopting better habits, we can significantly delay aging and maintain our health for longer. This is what I call optimal aging. Let’s work with our bodies and optimize the capability to live as long with as high quality of living as possible.