What is Functional Medicine?

Posted on 24 March 2019

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional whenever I have heard the word used in a medical context means that someone has an unexplained disorder. A functional gut disorder would be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, where people have symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, constipation but no cause is identified. Oftentimes where people have unexplained symptoms labelled as ‘functional’, that is code for that person is crazy and/or they are faking it. Unfortunately, nothing can or will be done for them.

Functional Medicine, on the other hand, is something totally different and much more empowering. While modern allopathic medicine has strived to look for specific micro-level or molecular causes of disease or symptoms for drugs to target, Functional Medicine looks at the body as a whole. In doing so, Functional Medicine identifies whole functions that occur across the body that when dysfunctional can lead to disease. By normalising and optimising these functions, we deal with the root cause of disease leading to reversal and enhanced vitality.

Root causes of disease are wide-ranging: inflammation, hormones, digestion, detoxification, immunity and toxins; which when they go awry can manifest as a number of chronic illnesses, from autoimmune disease to diabetes to cancer. By focussing on unrooting the causes of these diseases, reversal becomes much more of a possibility rather than reliance on medications just to keep diseases controlled. What is particularly empowering about Functional Medicine is that each person is considered individually in a biochemical and genetic sense but also as an individual person. Moreover, Functional Medicine acknowledges the role of your daily lifestyle in precipitating and perpetuating long term illness and leverages how you eat, move, think and sleep in order to better manage and potentially unroot your ailments.

People often ask about the science behind Functional Medicine. It is totally scientific in origin in that it leverages our understanding of the body’s biochemistry to inform what interventions are worthwhile. Most importantly these interventions are safe and the lifestyle changes are without side effects. Frustratingly, you will not find a large scale research trial comparing outcomes of patients using Functional Medicine versus those using more conventional approaches. There are several reasons for this: given how individual Functional Medicine interventions are, it is very difficult to design a large scale trial for its effectiveness; Functional Medicine is often lumped in with other complementary therapies rather than being considered in its own right; and there is not necessarily the finance available to fund such research.

The two are not at odds with each other as most people think, though. I am not at all against conventional medicine, allopathic medicine, modern medicine, whatever you want to call it. It was designed for managing acute illness which it does very well: you break a bone you get surgery and a cast; you have a severe infection you get antibiotics; and the list goes on. Where it struggles is with long term illness, where it controls things well in the short term but rarely weans people off medications, which all have side effects, especially over time. Take diabetes as an example, medications look to control blood glucose levels rather than address the nutritional causes of the rise in blood glucose. In autoimmune conditions, we dampen the immune system so it stops attacking the body, meanwhile making it more susceptible to infection; but where did the inflammation come from, and why is the immune system attacking the body? That’s where Functional Medicine steps in. It addresses the root causes of disease and optimises the body’s functions making disease reversal a possibility. Even for those for whom they can never fully reverse their illness, there is still plenty to gain in terms of vitality.

If you’d like to explore this approach further, arrange a free initial consultation call with me.