About Functional Medicine

What is the difference between Integrative and Functional medicine?

Integrative medicine is an excellent model of medicine that integrates the alternative modalities such as nutrition, Chinese medicine and Homeopathy into conventional medicine so that patients have the opportunity to receive all these potential therapies when appropriate. It means that patients can get acupuncture or herbs along with their drugs or surgery.

However; integrative medicine still uses the basic ideas of conventional medicine as a base, in that it still needs the physicians to name a disease and then find the drug or treatment for that disease, albeit a complementary alternative solution. It works well for acute diseases such as trauma, infection, and emergencies, but unfortunately, it falls into the realm of naming the disease and treating the symptoms, whereas Functional medicine seeks to find the cause of the patients imbalances and treats the patient as a whole.

How Functional Medicine changes the way we do medicine?

Functional Medicine is patient-centered medical healing at its best. Instead of looking at and treating health problems as isolated diseases, it treats individuals who may have bodily symptoms, imbalances and dysfunctions.

If you think of health being similar to an iceberg; a named disease such as diabetes, cancer, or fibromyalgia might be the tip of the iceberg, visible above the surface, but according to Functional Medicine, the cause of that disease or symptom is the altered physiology, the larger piece of the iceberg that lies below the surface. Almost always, the cause of the disease and its symptoms is an underlying dysfunction or an imbalance of bodily systems. If health care treats just the tip of the iceberg, it rarely leads to long-term relief and vibrancy. Identifying and treating the underlying root cause or causes, as Functional Medicine does, has a much better chance to successfully resolve a patient's health challenge.

A doctor trained in Functional Medicine uses scientific principles, advanced diagnostic testing such as DNA tests, hair analysis and other advanced lab test and treatments to treat the patient as a whole. Functional Medicine aims to restore balance in the body's primary physiological processes with the goal being the patient's lifelong optimal health.

The traditional health care system is in trouble because it applies a medical management model that works well for acute health problems, to chronic health problems, where unfortunately it is much less successful. In the acute medicine model used by general practitioners today, medication is used to get rid of people's symptoms. If the patient stops taking the medication, symptoms generally return.

If you have a heart attack or severe lung infection such as pneumonia, you certainly want a quick-thinking doctor to use all the quick-acting resources of modern medicine, such as life-saving technology, surgery and antibiotics. We are all grateful for such interventions. However, these acute care treatments don’t often succeed in helping those with chronic, debilitating ailments, such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.

Very often Functional Medicine practitioners use advanced laboratory testing to identify the root cause or causes of the patient's health problem but most importantly they listen carefully to the patient's history of symptoms and ask questions about his or her activities and lifestyle to get a complete picture of the unique individual they are treating.

Treatment Design

Functional Medicine approaches health problems differently. Instead of masking the problem, it aims at restoring the body's natural functioning. To battle chronic health conditions, Functional Medicine uses two scientifically grounded principles:

1.Remove anything that impedes the body from moving toward this optimal state of physiology.

2.Add what's lacking in the body to move its physiology back to a state of optimal functioning.

Your body naturally wants to be healthy, but it may be lacking the basic ingredients it needs, or something might be standing in the way of its best functioning. Functional Medicine first identifies the factors responsible for the malfunctioning, then it deals with those factors in a way appropriate to the patient's particular situation.

Functional Medicine practitioners use a combination of natural agents, supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals and homeopathies, nutritional and lifestyle changes, spiritual/emotional counselling, and where their qualifications permit, pharmaceuticals. In addition to adding the good while removing the bad, Functional Medicine doctors educate their patient about their condition; this then empowers the patient to take charge of their own health, ultimately leading to greater success in treatment.

Let’s look at an example of the models in practice using heartburn as an example. When a patient’s heartburn is treated from a traditional model approach, he will be prescribed a proton pump inhibitor. Should the patient stop taking this drug, his symptoms will often return as the cause of the heartburn was not addressed. On top of that, the medicine would have made the stomach less acidic (to treat the symptoms of heartburn), which now prevents proper digestion and absorption of nutrients and other conditions may also have cropped up while on the medication.

In contrast, a Functional Medicine practitioner might find that a patient's acid reflux is caused by bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) living in a stomach that needed MORE Acid, not less. Eradicating the bacteria and acidifying the stomach might very well lead to the end of heartburn symptoms, permanently. The cause may be stress and not bacteria, so in that case the stress would be treated so that the body can regain its balance and so restore optimal gastric function. The same symptoms in 2 different people could have 2 very different causes, so treating the person and not the symptom is key to Functional Medicine.

It's very important to note that in Functional Medicine, treatment for similar problems might vary tremendously for different patients, according to their medical history and results of laboratory tests as there are many factors that can come into play in producing the same symptoms including toxic chemicals, pathogenic bacteria, parasites, chronic viral pathogens, emotions and even structural factors such as tumours or cysts.

It looks to treat the underlying imbalances that cause illness by designing individual therapies to restore health and improve function. In Functional Medicine we believe there are five main areas that cause imbalance and disturbance in optimal function: environmental toxins, allergens, stress, infections and nutrition. We believe that most illnesses are of an inflammatory origin and toxin overload. Our goal is to find the source of inflammation and toxins for each individual person and to restore balance in the body by optimising nutrition and diet, fixing the gut and improving digestion, restoring proper detoxification and energy production.

The basic tenant of Functional Medicine is that each person is biochemically unique and, therefore, no one treatment is right for everyone. The approach is individualised for your health needs and focuses on a patient-centred not disease-centred model of care. It is personalized medicine.

By personalised, we mean that no two people are a like. Each of us is unique in our genetic makeup and physiology. What ultimately causes illness in one person is not he same for another and treatment for each will therefore be different.

Functional Medicine looks not at the individual named diseases but rather seeks to find the common link between them. We believe all illness is interconnected.

Conventional medicine, on the other hand views people in terms of their disease, a one-size fits all model. It focuses on naming a disease and giving a pill for that disease. This practice is becoming increasingly true as conventional medicine becomes more specialized and more fractured, viewing symptoms and diseases as separate entities within the body.

Another example would be would be a women who suffers from migraines. In the conventional medical model this woman will likely be referred to three separate specialists (a neurologist for the headaches, a gastroenterologist for the stomach pain and rheumatologist for the joint pain) and prescribed at least three medications, one for each complaint. These medications all have potential side effects and unwanted symptoms, possibly further compounding the problems and necessitating prescribing additional medications.

In Functional Medicine, the doctor would search for the WHY she has these named illnesses. All consultations begin with the doctor taking an extensive history and listening to her life story of how she got to where she is today, then they may order comprehensive state of the art lab testing and make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes based on the history. Through this process we may find that this woman has an allergy to dairy, difficulty detoxifying and a parasite in her gut. By removing dairy from her diet, improving detoxification with vitamins and supplements, and treating her for the parasite, within a short period of time her headache, joint pain and stomach pain all resolve. This patient won’t need to be on any medication. Functional medicine doctors seek to find the common link and solve problems from the root cause rather than simply treating the symptoms with a variety of medications.

Another important saying by Osler is: "If you listen carefully to the patient, they will tell you the diagnosis". This encapsulates the importance placed in Functional Medicine on taking a thorough history from the patient.

Why Functional Medicine? 

Functional medicine is a personalised, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working together as a team to address the underlying causes of disease. Functional Medicine doctors spend time with their patients, listening to their histories, mapping their personal timeline, and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex chronic disease.The primary driver of chronic disease is the interaction among genes, activities of daily living (lifestyle) and the environment.

Most people have experienced being examined by their doctor, having blood tests done, x-rays or other diagnostic tests taken, only for the doctor to report back that all the tests are normal. Yet, both the patient and their doctor could see that the patient was not well.

Our Health Renewal, Functional Medicine Doctors aim to reduce this problem by applying a new model that focuses on treating your body as a whole system, that treats the causes not only the symptoms, that sees the body as a whole organism, rather simply a collection of organs. This emerging model of diagnosis and treatment better matches the need to improve the management and prevention of chronic diseases.

By changing the disease-centred focus of medical practice to this patient-centred approach, our Health Renewal doctors are able to support the healing process by viewing health and illness as part of a cycle in which all components of the human biological system interact dynamically with the environment. This process helps to seek and identify genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may shift a person's health and well being to illness.

Why does the Functional approach to health give better results?

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 diabetes, 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 the blood sugar is 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!

Once you're labelled with a disease in mainstream medicine, you're given the same medications everyone else with that disease is given. This one size fits all approach works sometimes, but not at healing the cause, just at masking the symptom. 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.

General public health recommendations for lifestyle modification, including diet and physical activity, smoking cessation, have become a popular tool for the prevention and treatment of disease. However; these guidelines are intended for the overall population without significant consideration for the individual with respect to their genes and environment.

Personalised lifestyle medicine refers to an approach to medicine in which an individual’s uniqueness from specialised diagnostics are used to develop lifestyle medicine-oriented therapeutic strategies for improving individual health outcomes in managing chronic disease. Examples of the application of personalised lifestyle medicine to patient care include the identification of genetic variants through laboratory tests and functional bio-markers for the purpose of designing patient-specific prescriptions for diet, exercise, stress, and environment. Personalised lifestyle medicine can provide solutions to chronic health problems by using the technologies based on recent discoveries in genomics, epigenetics, systems biology, life and behavioural sciences, as well as diagnostics and clinical medicine. Personalised lifestyle medicine also provides a means of addressing a patient's health by empowering them with the information they need to regain control of their health.

Why the general public is demanding a more holistic approach to health?

There is growing interest in this type of medicine with the results being well worth the experience. You may be surprised to learn that Functional Medicine isn't new. It actually represents a return to the roots of modern scientific medicine, captured in this statement by Sir William Osler, one of the first professors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: "The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease."

By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person and is centered around the patient as a whole, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Integrative medicine was the first step in breaking through the conventional barriers as a growing number of providers and patients started choosing patient-centred care.  Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century. Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease by using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

Why should you not self-medicate?

For all health conditions, the nutraceuticals are individually tailored by the Health Renewal Doctor who has taken the time to note your history, do a physical examination and the necessary tests to determine what would be the best for you and your specific needs and/or deficiencies. Taking and medication, including prescription medication or nutraceuticals on their own without a doctor's supervision and/or consent may in fact make your problems worse, not better. Always supplement under the supervision of a Health Renewal doctor.

At Skin, Body & Health Renewal, our team of trained doctors, nurses and therapists are not only passionate about healing your skin but more importantly making sure that you have the best health possible!