Functional Medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that provides better tools to address the healthcare needs of the 21st century.
Read on to understand 3 ways that Functional Medicine is the future of healthcare:
1. Through genomic and network-biology research, we understand that diseases are interconnected on the root-cause level, sharing common genetic and biologic pathways.Functional Medicine addresses health at this deeper level. The conventional method of viewing diseases as isolated "silos," and treating each condition with individual medications that only address symptoms, is outdated.
How about an example? Through genetic research, we know that the over-stimulation of inflammation gene NF-κB is involved in asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. We also know that many toxic features of our modern life directly activate NF-κB, and targeted lifestyle interventions can effectively quell it. Functional Medicine links symptoms and conditions from a root cause perspective, using targeted, advanced lab testing to assess physiologic dysfunction, and harnessing effective and natural therapies to nudge these pathways in the right direction.
2. We know that many causes can lead to one disease, and one disease can have many causes."One size fits all" treatment is ineffective and inefficient, and needs to be more personalized. Functional Medicine uses a patient-centered, precision approach to understand biochemical individuality.
How about an example? Let's look at depression. "Depression" is a term that we use to describe a set of diagnostic symptoms. Conveniently, in the conventional model, once that label is selected, we can reflexively prescribe an anti-depressant. But depression is not the underlying cause of the symptoms, and an anti-depressant doesn't cure, it just manages downstream symptoms. Through a Functional Medicine perspective, we recognize that research shows us that the root cause of the symptoms of depression can be from a B12 deficiency, a vitamin D deficiency, altered gut flora from antibiotic use, hypothyroidism, pre-diabetes, sleep deprivation, mercury poisoning, or omega-3 deficiency, in addition to other physiologic imbalances. Through this lens, it is not surprising that antidepressants only improve symptoms in about 10-20% of patients who take them. With a detailed Functional Medicine history and exam, and use of advanced lab testing, we can identify the root cause of dysfunction and treat in a personalized way that can lead to true healing and cure.
3. Functional Medicine aims to understand the patient as a whole person, appreciating that all systems of the body are constantly in conversation with each other and the external environment. With our understanding of systems-biology, the conventional, fragmented specialty care system falls short.
How about an example? In a systems biology model of sickle cell anemia (above), the primary genetic mutation (pink) is in constant conversation with disease-modifying genes (grey), environmental determinants (green), physiologic disease processes (yellow), and disease outcomes (blue). A Functional Medicine approach works on the modifiable aspects of this model with straightforward interventions, such as utilizing nutritional interventions, modulation of physical activity, mind-body therapy, and supplements to modulate environmental determinants (green), gene expression (grey), and the immune response (yellow).