What is Functional Medicine?

What is Functional Medicine? Functional Medicine is the science of health as defined by Mark Hyman, the Chairman of The Institute for Functional Medicine. I, Dr. Vanessa Gourdine,  like to refer to Functional Medicine as the science of creating health. Health is a process that you are either moving towards or away from at any given point in your lifetime.

What does the science of health mean? It is a substantial departure from the perception of medicine in general as health being the focus of medical practice. In fact, there is widespread disillusionment and frustration with traditional medicine. Health is not the focus of traditional medical practice, disease is the focus. If you have a diagnosed disease then you need traditional medical treatment.  For those who want to achieve optimal health (with or without a diagnosed disease), functional medicine, which is the science of health, is the best way to achieve this goal.

Traditional medical training is about identifying diseases as specific entities affecting one system in your body. Separate and distinct systems are formed in medical training for each specialty area of practice. On the surface, it seems like a great idea: train practitioners to be highly focused on one system in the body so that they become experts in their knowledge and practice. The flaw in this thinking is that all systems are affected by one disease regardless of the disease. As such treatments are designed to treat the disease and not the whole person.

The science of health has a completely different focus. When health is the focus, the whole person is examined in the context of their lives and the environment in which they are influenced. The whole person has one complete system for which the mind, body, and self are affected. The focus is not on treating one disease as though it were an isolated system creating havoc in only one compartment of the body, but instead, the whole body and mind are examined to determine what is the best way to restore health—the best state of health you can achieve with the resources available to us. The best way is to illustrate how functional medicine or the science of health is applied is to give a real-world example. The following vignettes are actual cases and all identifying information has been redacted to protect confidentiality.

JW is a young man who has been to several doctors following repeated episodes of lethargy and lack of drive to do anything productive. He verbalizes he wants to be productive and that he is not depressed. He is given multiple standard lab tests by his physician and ultimately his doctor throws up his hands and says that there is nothing wrong with him. “There is no diagnosis”, he states. He refers him to psychiatry believing that he is depressed (he presents like a depressed person) and that he is in denial about it because, as the doctor thinks: who wants to admit there is something wrong with his brain. JW arrives at the facility stating that “I know I am not depressed”. Because Functional Medicine practitioners are good listeners we accept what the client is saying about their internal state. He continues to express how these periods of lethargy come over him and he feels sickly. In reality, he wants to perform and do his normal routines but lacks the energy to follow through. He loses his appetite and his sleep is disturbed. JW is given an in-depth assessment of his history and diagnosing him with depression doesn’t seem appropriate given his history and onset of symptoms. He seems weak and always the symptoms seem to come on when he is more likely exposed to pathogens, like during flu season. He is given several lab tests which include an assessment of his immune system and gut health. There are several anomalies discovered and he is given the proper support to his immune system to improve his status. His immune system is supported with the right nutrients and his gut health is improved with the removal of offending organisms and re-inoculation with beneficial probiotics. Within a month or two, he reports feeling like a new person and that his symptoms are relieved. JW is no longer “depressed”.

AT is a young female who has been treated for bipolar disorder for 15 years starting as a young teen. She presented with mood issues and behavioral changes as a teen that seemed to fit the criteria for bipolar disorder. During the 15 year period of treatment, she was put on and taken off at least 10 different medications. She reports gaining weight and although calmer on most medications, her mood was never improved and she began to feel that the medications themselves were making her sick. AT was provided with an in-depth history taking, nutritional evaluation, family history, and genetic testing for methylation and pharmacogenetic testing all of which indicated methylation anomalies and several medications that were likely to produce adverse reactions. In fact, she was on two of the medications that genetically we’re a very poor match for this client. She was taken off the two medications creating adverse reactions and provided with support for the methylation deficits and a very strong nutritional routine with supplements. After several months of treatment, her mood stabilized and she was able to function well. She said, “I feel like myself. I feel like someone I had almost forgotten in the haze of medications. I can’t thank you enough for restoring me.”

In each case, there are clear signs and symptoms, some of which are diagnosed in a neat category while others are not diagnosable. Functional Medicine is less concerned about the label and more concerned about assessing the person and their status in all aspects of their functioning. Most people wait until they are really sick to see a doctor or at least until they cannot function in their daily routines. This is the traditional medicine model. See the doctor when you are sick. See a functional medicine practitioner establish and maintain health. For this very important reason, you don’t wait until you are really sick to see a functional medicine practitioner. If you are acutely ill, traditional medicine is for you. If you are generally unwell or, even well and want to maintain health and learn about your functional status and genetic weaknesses to prevent disease, then see a functional medicine practitioner now.

The clients discussed are typical outcomes as the focus was not on the disease, but on the person. When the focus is on the disease there is a recipe or formula to follow for a specific medication. Traditional medicine doesn’t sway from the specific formula despite the fact that it is not working because the treatment has to match the disease and not the person. This is a key difference between Functional and Traditional Medicine. If in fact, you have a disease with clear and definitive data to support that diagnosis, then traditional medicine will in fact help you or even save your life. But, if you have a general feeling of not being well or your mind/brain is not functioning optimally, then you likely have something that doesn’t fit neatly into a specific diagnosis or criteria. If you do fit the criteria for a specific chronic disease such as depression, diabetes, infection, or other disorder, functional medicine can help minimize your need for ongoing treatment in most cases by focusing on what will restore your body’s best level of functioning.

To further illustrate the importance of environmental influences: most diseases are caused by lifestyle, nutritional deficits, infections, and environmental toxins and their effects on your genetics. Identical twins do not have the same diseases. Most people are unaware of this fact. One of the identical twins can have schizophrenia while the other does not. One twin can have diabetes and the other not. Metcalfe (2001) conducted a study and tried to identify the gene(s) for diabetes and when a specific gene was identified the concordance rate increased. Nonetheless, it is not 100%. The point is that genes are not destiny. The take-home hopeful message is that even if you do have genetic weaknesses, there is much that you can do to alter the expression of that gene. Functional medicine takes into account your present metabolic processes and your genetic background either through testing or through family history.

Our aim at FxMed Centers is to help our clients on their journey to health. Begin your journey with a team of professionals trained in the science of health.

To receive a highly confidential consult directly with me, Dr. Gourdine you may contact us at 855-693-9633 (855-MYFXMED) or services@fxmedcenters.com or click on the link on any page “Register for Services”.

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