Why Functional Medicine Is The Future Of Health
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease." Thomas Edison uttered these wise words more than 100 years ago at the start of the 20th century, the century that would become the expansion of the conventional medical system we know today.
Sadly, the last century was in many ways a complete departure from Edison's words. Away from looking at the foods we eat and prevention and toward pharmacy, sick care system: diagnose a disease and match it with a corresponding drug. Despite spending more on health care than the next 10 top-spending countries combined, the U.S. has the most chronic disease and shortest life span of all industrialized nations.
According to a comprehensive study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, American men ranked last in life expectancy, and women were ranked second to last. When it comes to the health of a pregnant mother or her child, the U.S. has the highest mortality rate among all developed nations. The U.S. also has the third-worst mortality rate from nutritional deficiencies, and the highest absolute age-adjusted mortality rate among all developed nations!
Despite the amazing advancements in life saving surgeries and emergency care, when it comes to chronic health conditions and longevity we are doing something abysmally wrong. Seeing the darkness surrounding the conventional health care system, functional medicine is attempting to offer a sustainable health solution.
When I first started writing for MindBodyGreen, many people hadn't heard about functional medicine. Now, with the Cleveland Clinic opening up a functional medicine center, we're at the birth of a new age of health.
Yet even today, many people don't fully understand what functional medicine is, or why they should try it. Well, here are six compelling reasons to give functional medicine a try:
1. Functional medicine interprets labs differently.
On your labs there's typically a reference range that tells you what is considered "normal." Anything outside of this reference range is typically labeled as "high" or "low" in bold font. That reference range is determined by a statistical bell curve average of the population of that particular lab.
If your lab is one number away from being outside of the reference range, you're still classified as "normal." But disease doesn't start as soon as you go outside of that range. You're either trending toward disease, outside of the reference range, or you're trending toward optimal health.
There are a lot of people who go to their doctor to find out why they're struggling with health issues, and their labs come back "normal." They're told there is nothing wrong with them and left with no answers or solutions. A functional medicine lab analysis really sheds light on unanswered health questions that fall through the cracks of the standard model of care.
2. Functional medicine practitioners often run more extensive labs.
In addition to interpreting the labs that mainstream medical practitioners run, functional medicine goes beyond the label of the disease to look at the full scope of a patient's physiology. Typically the labs in the standard model of care diagnose a disease so that it can be matched with a corresponding pharmaceutical drug. The labs your doctor runs are adequate if he's just prescribing medications, but they're very much incomplete from a functional medicine perspective.
Comprehensive labs to look at underlying deficiencies, imbalances, infections and dysfunctions, give amazing insight into these often overlooked pieces of your health puzzle.
3. Functional medicine practitioners customize health care.
Once you're labeled with a disease in mainstream medicine, you're given the same medications everyone else with that disease is given. This cookie cutter approach works sometimes, but more often than not, it fails miserably. Functional medicine takes into account that we're all designed a little differently, so what works for one person isn't necessarily best for you. A tailored, comprehensive health program addresses you as the unique individual that you are.
4. Functional medicine practitioners spend more one-on-one time with patients.
Mainstream medicine is really bogged down with symptom care. That is why every six months you typically wait an hour at your doctor's office for a five-minute visit. This system is failing millions of Americans suffering from chronic health conditions.
In terms of crisis care, emergencies and surgeries, we have one of the best health care systems in the world, but when it comes to chronic health care, the U.S. is one of the worst industrialized health care systems in the world.
5. Functional medicine practitioners address underlying dysfunctions.
While mainstream medicine is structured to manage symptoms, functional medicine is primarily concerned with addressing the underlying dysfunctions of the body that give rise to symptoms. For example, if someone has high blood sugar, he's typically given medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, which brings the blood sugar down.
Functional medicine asks why a patient has high blood sugar in the first place. Very rarely is someone sick from a medication deficiency. They may have cellular insulin resistance, brain-adrenal axis dysfunctions causing high cortisol and a chronic gut infection, all contributing to their high blood sugar!
In this example there is nothing actually wrong with the pancreas, so while the medication will make their blood sugar numbers look nicer on a lab, it doesn't address the reasons they're high in the first place. So, in conjunction with your primary care physician, functional medicine can be the missing link to getting off medications and getting healthy!
6. Functional medicine practitioners don't shy away from natural treatments.
Functional medicine is not anti-medication, but asks what the patient's most effective option is, and what causes the fewest side effects. If a medication fits that criteria, it maybe the best option. But it often isn't.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said thousands of years ago, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food," and functional medicine agrees. Food is used as medicine in a condition specific way. Herbal and micronutrient medicines are used to address the underlying dysfunctions found on the labs to support normal healthy function.
It's important to remember, though, that even with natural options and foods, what works for one person may not for the next. We need to tailor the program for the individual instead of being the alternative version of mainstream medicine, with its magic pills and "one-size-fits-all" approach.
This new age of evidence-based natural health care is offering hope for many. Thanks to technology, webcam consultations with people all around the world give me the unique opportunity to share functional medicine everywhere. Edison's words are coming true. Let the future begin.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.