Many of my clients keep asking me about functional medicine. Is it to be believed? Shouldn’t modern science and medicine reject functional medicine as just a gimmick?
Functional medicine is generally considered to be a form of alternative medicine. It focuses on interactions between the environment and gastrointestinal, endocrine and immune systems.
What is the Truth About Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine often encompasses some unproven or disproven methods of treatments. Individual treatment plans are developed for each person based on a variety of factors. So much so, that rarely any two plans or protocols are alike for the same symptoms in two different individuals. In a way, functional medicine comes across as a very vague form of treating individuals.
Oncologist David Gorski vehemently states that this vagueness is a deliberate tactic that facilitates the discipline's promotion, but that in general, it centers on unnecessary and expensive testing procedures performed in the name of "holistic" health care.
Gorski has described the opening of centers for functional medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and George Washington University as an "unfortunate" example of pseudoscientific quackery infiltrating medical academia. (Source)
What Do I think of Functional Medicine?
In my opinion, functional medicine is a modern way of presenting conventional medicine. I accept some of the aspects where functional medicine tries to identify and address the causes of an ailment. I also endorse the theory that the human body is one integrated system, and should be seen as a whole and not as a collection of independent organs, which are classified by modern medical specialties.
Not only this, I am against the treatment of just the symptoms, and for any ailment, want to remove the very root cause rather than nip it in the bud from time to time.
That, to me, is not living, it's merely surviving.
Mark Hyman, Mark Hyman MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author states "Functional medicines uses a systems-oriented approach to address the underlying causes of disease. It seeks to engage both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.”
Functional medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.”
Functional medicine shifts the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach. The center of attention is the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.
Patients are encouraged to share their histories and interactions between their unique genetic environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and a complex, chronic medical condition.
Do We Need Functional Medicine?
Today, more and more people suffer from complex, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illnesses. Even autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
Most physicians follow the system of acute care, diagnosis, and treatment or short-term illness, or emergency care, such as appendicitis or a fracture. Modern medicine practitioners apply specific prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat immediate problem or symptoms.
But there is a massive flaw in this approach. The acute-care approach lacks proper methodology and tools for preventing as well as treating complex or chronic illnesses.
Like our thumbprints, we all have a unique genetic makeup. Add to it the factors like environmental exposures, toxins, and our lifestyle, and we have a mix that is one-of-its-kind and only specific to us. This is the basis of an alarming rise in chronic diseases in modern Western society.
Widening Gap Between Research and Medical Practice
The time lag between emerging research in basic sciences and its integration into medical practice is as long as 50 years- specifically in the areas of complex chronic illnesses.
Most physicians may ignore the underlying causes of complex chronic diseases and fail to implement strategies like nutrition and exercise to both TREAT and PREVENT these illnesses.
What is the Functional Medicine Approach?
Functional medicine seeks to understand the origins, prevention, and treatment of a disease.
1. An Integrated, Science-based Healthcare Approach
Practitioners tend to look "upstream" to consider the complex matrix of interactions in the patient's medical and lifestyle history, physiology, and causes that can LEAD to illness. Internal factors like mind, body, and spirit and external like physical and socio-economic factors affect total functioning. The unique genetic makeup of an individual affects their susceptibility to an illness, as well as their response to a particular line of treatment.
2. Patient-centric Approach
Because the patient is treated as a unique entity, the focus of care is patient-centric than most modern medical practices. Modern medicine's "Don't fix it till it breaks" approach is discarded, and absence of disease is not considered as a benchmark for the health of an individual. The patient is encouraged to “discover” their bodies, and treatments are tailored to address their unique needs.
3. Merges Science with Time-tested Practices
Bringing the two worlds together. Functional medicine is a bridge between modern medical science and traditional medical practices. A place where techniques like latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques are used along with supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs and therapies like Optimal Breathing®. Bringing the alternative/botanical medicines to the forefront along with modern prescribed drugs to ensure a multi-pronged approach towards an illness is at the core of functional medicine.
An individual’s diagnosis could be a result of more than one cause. We have seen in so many cases that lack understanding of proper breathing techniques led to problems like snoring, sleep apnea, which led to lack of restful sleep and fatigue, which eventually contributed to sleep deprivation, stress, weight gain, hypertension and in extreme cases, even cardiovascular issues.
How can one not look at the cause of disease in such a scenario? Each symptom in the example cited above could be one of the many contributing factors to an individual's illness.
The precise manifestation of the cause of each disease depends on an individual's lifestyle, environment, and genes, and in the long run, the approaches that address the cause or causes will be the only one that will provide lasting relief beyond just symptom suppression.
A Look at the Essential Elements of Functional Medicine
|Modern Medicine Approach||Functional Medicine Approach|
|What drug will work for this disease?||Why has the function been lost?|
|What disease caused these symptoms?||Why do you have this problem in the first place?|
|Curing of symptoms leads to curing of disease||Restoring function will help the body recover from the disease|
|Standard medicines and methods are developed based on research and study over a common set of affected individuals||Each individual’s body functions, lifestyle and environmental factors are unique. An individualized approach to disease is preferred.|
|High-risk, life-altering interventions are sometimes necessary to cure a person.||Modifications on molecular and cellular levels with research in nutritional science, genomics and epigenetics are applied.|
|Past, fully cured ailments are not reflective of a person's current health||Each life event affects a person’s present status of health|
Can Functional Medicine Be Integrated with Modern Medicine?
The advantage of functional medicine is that it came to be integrated with other practices and can include a broader group of practitioners of different backgrounds. Any medical approach is not entirely fool-proof, and applying basic tools of functional medicine allows the practitioners to provide comprehensive and holistic treatments to their patients.
According to the Institute of Functional Medicine, www.IFM.org, three tools help formalize history taking and mapping symptoms to the categories of root processes that underlie illness:
Functional Medicine Matrix
This matrix is used to organize and prioritize each patient's health issues. This is similar to a web-decoder, it helps organize what seem to be disparate issues into a complete story to help the clinician gain a comprehensive perspective on the patient and then facilitate discussion of complex, chronic disease with the patient.
Patient history is essential for all medical approaches. Functional medicine timeline asks for the insights into all previous life events, and the patient's history is chronologically organized. The factors that predispose, provoke and contribute to pathological changes and dysfunctional responses in the patient. The relationship between an event and its effect on a patient isanalyzedd. These timelines help establish a connection between the whole lifespan and one's current health.
To discover the root of each patient’s dysfunction and subsequently apply individualized treatments, GOTOIT framework is brought in. GOTOIT stands for Gather, Organize, Tell, Order, Initiate, and Track. By following these steps, the practitioners are encouraged to build a relationship with their patients and propose optimum treatments and lifestyle modifications.
Functional or Fictional Medicine?
Functional medicine is no quackery, and it is indeed not a figment of someone's wild imagination.
No medical approach is a complete panacea for any disease. There have been instances where some medicine thought leaders applied new research that often brought dramatic results to patients who had previously received unsuccessful treatments.
However, since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, even modern, western medicine is now trying to find new ways to look for unifying factors at the cellular and systems levels that provide a more holistic view of a patients problems.
One example of this approach being used in modern western medicine is Immunotherapy, used for cancer patients. Today, most oncologists encourage patients undergoing chemotherapy to undergo more holistic treatments where diet, exercise, and even molecular alterations are encouraged.
In this respect, functional medicine helps in providing a platform where, instead of directly subjecting a patient to rigorous medication, a gentle, holistic approach towards his/her overall health is implemented.
Through its valuable insights, and the ability to customize according to a patient's unique body composition, habits, lifestyle, and environment, Functional Medicine can integrate seamlessly with any medical approach. It can be taught to clinicians belonging to different backgrounds, and it certainly complements all kinds of treatments.
In more ways than one, Functional Medicine helps in providing a prolonged relief from the disease, prepares the defence function of a patient's own body to kick in and recover itself.
Functional Medicine has a more common sense approach towards treating an individual since a person cannot be viewed isolated from his/her ecosystem.
Does Functional Medicine can Completely Cure All Diseases?
No, and that is true for all different medical approaches.
Functional medicine can help find the cause of the problem and can assist in targeting the right cause instead of the treatment of symptoms. The systematic approach applied in functional medicine help a clinician as well as the patient in gaining a perspective on what's going wrong, and where.
Today, functional medicine is becoming more mainstream than ever, where protagonists like Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Mark Hyman are lauding it as the future of health care.
The standard model of caring through medication works well for acute diseases, trauma, infection, and emergencies. But unfortunately, it fails miserably in the care of the chronic diseases that affect over 133 million Americans, comprising a whopping 40% of the American population.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity- WHO
Despite all this, Functional medicine receives its share of criticism because most of the treatments, practices, and concepts followed are generally not supported by medical evidence.
The fundamental principle of any line of treatment should be to help a person not fall sick in the first place and to accelerate recovery from most illnesses.
Functional medicine mostly receives flak when the practitioners merely delay the diagnosis and instead of helping people get well, they push them into endless rounds of discussions, trial, and error in the name of medicine and to make money.
There are a lot of functional medicine practitioners who provide seemingly impossible to execute programs, which are replete with contradictions that take no regard to fundamentals and are mostly used to sell stuff. None I have seen focus on Optimal Breathing.
COMPLIANCE is the hardest part of being a health professional, and since functional medicine is a mostly unorganized approach, compliance with basic rules and tenets is only customary.
After all, if a patient gets cured in only one sitting, wouldn't it be a loss of business for a practitioner? With growing health care costs and chronic dependency on the health care system, more and more Americans are trying to look beyond western medicine. And in their quest, they come across amateurs attempting to push supplements, herbs, and entrapments claiming to cure everything from common cold to cancer!
Are we at OptimalBreathing.com dealing with functional medicine?
We have integrated a few Functional Medicine aspects to help people get healthier faster, but at the same time, we are ensuring that we don't turn out to be as expensive as other courses of treatments.
At Breathing.com, we lay in the fundamentals by simplifying and letting the patients handle the rest.
So are we an alternative?
We complement all the alternatives! By providing support to the accountable functional medicine practitioners, we give them tools that make them more effective. Our purpose is to help them take action when it comes to helping an individual recover from illness, comprehensively.
After all, Optimal health is a holistic lifestyle issue, not a product issue.