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What is Functional Medicine

Updated on June 27, 2011
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Functional Medicine Principles

Functional medicine is a scientific approach to the treatment of disease that encompasses the whole person not just the treatment of a particular symptom of disease. In other words, functional medicine treats the ‘person’ who has the disease. Functional medicine treats each patient individually as no one person’s bodily make-up is exactly the same as another. In addition to genetic differences there are differences in environments, stressors, diet, exercise, and mental disposition which a practitioner will take into consideration when treating a patient for disease.

The principle behind functional medicine is the belief that the body wants to be healthy and disease is the manifestation of a blockage to the body’s ability to heal itself. If a person is displaying symptoms of high blood pressure, the practitioner of functional medicine considers this the ultimate manifestation of other issues that are preventing the body from regulating its blood pressure. The practitioner will then begin to take a complete history of the patient in order to discover where this impedance in the body’s function began. So, that could be toxic emotions; microbiological and hormonal imbalances; mitochondrial dysfunction and so on.

Scientific principles and advanced diagnostic testing are used in the functional medicine model; however, the idea is to treat the disease without the use of drugs and surgery whenever possible. Restoring balance to the body’s physiological processes is the goal for a patient’s optimal health. Medication can be helpful in acute situations where immediate attention is required in order to get the body into a survivable state; unfortunately, the medication will only treat the symptoms and if the medication is discontinued the symptoms will manifest themselves again until the root cause is discovered.

Many times the body may be exhibiting symptoms that are related to asthma and allergies, the conventional approach would be to treat those symptoms, however, it has been discovered that some patients who have been diagnosed with asthma actually have intestinal dysbiosis or ‘leaky gut’ syndrome.

Why isn't Functional Medicine more Common?


Currently, there is a large disconnect between the practitioners of functional medicine and those that practice conventional medicine. Many doctors of conventional consider the practices of functional medicine as ‘quackery’. An article written by Ben Kavoussi called ‘Exorcism and Sorcery as Health Benefits?!’ dismisses many of the alternative medical modalities as ‘magical notions of occult resonance’ and claims that their principles are not scientifically based and practiced by neo-pagans and those of the New Age movement. (Most of his criticism was of Chinese Medicine) So, one can only surmise that in our current society, functional medicine is considered ‘unreal’ and ineffective. There is also a lot of fear propaganda as is evidenced in Mr. Kavoussi’s references to functional medicine as ‘exorcism and sorcery’ and use of the word ‘occult’ would frighten anyone in mainstream America because of other misunderstandings. Anyone would be fearful of an alternative form of medicine after reading this article and many more like it.

There is also an element of politics. Who has the right to call themselves a ‘doctor’ and who has the right to claim they practice ‘medicine’ in any form? Many mainstream physicians are resentful at alternative and functional medical practitioners because in their minds they are not really ‘doctors’. Ask any Naturopath about how hard they have worked to be able to put Dr. in front of their name; it has been an uphill battle politically. Many conventional practitioners feel that the public is being mislead and that the practices of alternative therapies do not work. Many feel that their philosophies are unfounded scientifically.

Functional medicine IS scientifically based, the only difference is that a practitioner will look at all aspects of a person’s illness, not just the symptoms being manifested and in many cases there have been individuals who have experienced miraculous healing after struggling with conventional methods that have not been successful. That isn’t to say that conventional medicine doesn’t work and only functional medicine works. There have been success stories on both sides of the issue.

There has to be Power of Choice

Whether or not functional medicine is ever accepted by conventional medicine really isn’t as important as giving people the right to choose. Everyone has the right to be restored to health and they should also have the right and the freedom to choose which healing method they feel is right for them. Trying to hinder alternative medical practices based on the ‘misinformation’ theory implies that people cannot think for themselves.

In America, people are growing more and more distrustful of the medical community and in some cases with good reason. At times a prescription medication is necessary, but in today’s society it is over-used and people are learning that pharmaceutical companies may not have their best interests at heart after all. They have not come to this conclusion based on propaganda by alternative practitioners alone, but on their own experiences. Functional medicine is a collaborative model as well and that allows a patient to be interactive with their health and healing which empowers and does not dismiss a patient as not knowing any better about their own body.

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I'd never heard "natural medicine" called "Functional Medicine" until now. Glad to know this is becoming accepted as a valid field despite the efforts to dismiss it as quackery by practitioners of conventional medicine.

      By charging astronomical prices for its wares, BigPharma has done much to make people distrustful that they are actually helpful, or even necessary. By continually raising premiums while providing less and less coverage, the Health Insurance Industry has done the same. In which case, they are to be congratulated for helping make Functional Medicine the logical alternative!

      Before specialists became so ubiquitous, any good small town doctor practiced Functional Medicine on a daily basis. He usually knew his patients socially outside the practice...at church, at their children's school, etc, and therefore had a pretty good idea of the root cause of whatever symptoms a patient presented with.

      These days, fans of "House" should recognize his and his team's methods as FM. They always reach the correct diagnosis by exploring every aspect of a patient's life. Nothing "quacky" about that!

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