What is functional medicine?
Functional medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the root causes of disease. It is an evolution of the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. Mainstream medical establishments are taking the “Functional Medicine Movement” seriously because they have watched millions of dissatisfied patients walk away from traditional medicine for real answers, not just a pill for a symptom in a 15 minute appointment. Cleveland Clinic, under the direction of Mark Hyman, MD, has now established the world’s first Institute for Functional Medicine. Watch his TED MED talk explaining FM. Despite notable advances in treating and preventing infectious disease and trauma, the acute-care, pharmaceutical-industry driven model which dominated 20th century medicine is not effective in treating and preventing chronic disease.
By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus to a more patient-centered approach, FM addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. FM practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their stories and evaluating the interactions amongst genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and common chronic diseases. FM is personalized to support the unique expression of health and vitality for each person.
The good news is that your genes are not your destiny. New research in the field of “epigenetics” has shown the primary driver of chronic disease is the interaction among genes, activities of daily living (lifestyle), and the environment. What we do with our lives, what we eat, how we manage stress, whether we get restorative sleep can turn on or off our genes. In other words, the majority of the conditions from which Americans die from can be prevented or limited in their negative effects.
Medicine needs a new operating system. The current generation of doctors is still learning about how to treat diseases. Most of us – patients and physicians alike – would rather not wait until we have a diagnosable disease to address the underlying problems. In functional medicine we have the tools right now to see how a person is aging, if their gut and brain is inflamed, if the adrenal glands are burning out from stress, etc.
As an example, in a FM evaluation all patients have their blood sugar status evaluated to see how their body is handling carbohydrates. We know that approximately 1 in 3 people are expected to have diabetes within the next few decades. In men, the earlier diabetes is diagnosed, the earlier they typically get prostate cancer. One in three children born in the US will develop diabetes during their lifetime. We also know diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease and all cancers. David Perlmutter, MD, Florida neurologist now calls Alzheimer’s disease Type III diabetes. A traditional medical office looks for people with diabetes, but we can test and correct pancreas/insulin problems much earlier and make a difference in a person’s life. If you go to your regular doctor, if your value falls between 70-99, you will be told that is normal. Pre-diabetes is 100-125 (aka insulin resistance) and diabetes is 126 or greater. Pre-diabetics are given little guidance, in fact, patients have been told by their doctors, “I can’t do anything for you because your blood sugar levels aren’t high enough yet. Come see me in a year when they are above 125 (and you have diabetes) and I can give you a medication (for life)” So what is optimal? In FM we focus on optimal, not normal, not average. Optimal is below 85. A large study of almost 45K patients by Kaiser Permanente showed that each point above 84 mg/dL for fasting blood glucose meant a person had a 6% increased risk of developing diabetes. A person with fasting blood sugars in the mid to high 90s needs to pay attention to diet, a pre-diabetic certainly needs to pay attention to diet. Lifestyle changes to the rescue. This is point where many patients chose a low/slow carb diet, and exercise more to change their health destiny.
In Functional Medicine, we “have the technology.” We know the early biomarkers for inflammation which lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and so on. The good news is your genes are not your destiny. We know the greatest health threats now arise from how we live, work, eat, play and move. In collaboration with your FM practitioner, there is a healthy, sustainable, enjoyable way forward to maximize your health and wellness.