What is Functional Medicine?

Are you looking for a different way to approach your medical needs and overall wellness? 

You might have heard of functional medicine but are unsure what it is. 

And this makes sense because functional medicine is a general term that has been used widely for the past couple of decades.  

So here’s what’s really interesting…what if we told you there is a system of medicine that addresses the underlying causes of each and every disease that you ever experienced? 

Functional medicine is that system of medicine.  

It is a medicinal system that uses a different model from traditional medicine by approaching health through whole-body wellness.  

Great, you say, so tell me more!  Another interesting thing about functional medicine is that it differs from traditional medicine by addressing the health of the entire body.  All of this while working with the current state of the body and not just from a single disease or ailment point of view.  

Ok, so now we know a little bit more, but what exactly does working with the entire body mean?  Let’s find out what is offered to you through the functional medicine approach. 

Naturopathic Doctors 

When you find a functional medicine practitioner, you will find that the patient and the practitioner are both equally engaged in a therapeutic partnership.  Doesn’t this sound wonderful! 

And haven’t you always wanted to feel as if your doctor really wants to know the cause and the cure for whatever ails you?  

We know that there are so many disappointing doctor’s visits where you feel as if no one really listened to you.  And then they prescribed you some drug that you have no clue what it is or what it’s supposed to do.  

Contrary to this approach, it’s wonderful to know that in a functional medicine practice you are treated from a whole-person lense instead of a disease-focused viewpoint.  

Ok, so now we’re talking about a whole-person lense rather than a diseased-focused viewpoint.  How does this differ from traditional medicine? 

Functional Medicine 

Functional medicine is a shift from the disease-centered focus of medical practice to a whole-person approach. This means that illnesses, physical traumas, sickness, and disease are all looked at within the framework of each individual’s lifestyle, life situation, physical status, and history. 

Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors are all considered.  

One of the most specific differences of functional medicine from other modes of practice is that functional medicine strives to determine the root cause of each disease.  

To determine the root cause of the ailment, a functional medicine practitioner will want to know the patient’s entire health history and biochemistry.  

So now we are beginning to get a better idea of what functional medicine is.  It is a new evolution in the practice of medicine that addresses the concerns of our entire body from a whole-body wellness point of view.  

This sounds wonderful, right?  So let’s learn a bit more.

How is Functional Medicine Relevant to You?

We know that functional medicine’s approach is all about finding another way of working with the body that differs from the disease-focused mindset of traditional medicine.  How is this done and what does this mean for me? 

The first thing that differs greatly from a traditional medicine approach is that a functional medicine doctor will begin to observe your body as it functions in real life.  

Ok, so this may sound very personal (and it is!) your doctor will take saliva, stool, urine, and blood samples to get a better idea of what is happening throughout your body.  Even though it might seem like a lot, your doctor will get a better idea of what is happening in multiple systems of the body when they take the time to examine all of these samples.   

A doctor of traditional medicine will most likely take a single sample of blood to determine your health, but a doctor of functional medicine will concentrate on stool, saliva, urine, and blood work to gather a comprehensive understanding of how multiple systems of the body are functioning at the same time.   

None of us like tests, we know!, but the reason your doctor will take these samples is to determine how your body is maintaining homeostasis.  Whoever thought that they would develop a relationship with their doctor and their body on the level where they know about how their body maintains homeostasis!?   

It might be different than what you are used to, but you can completely justify taking the time and going through each procedure to really learn interesting and informative things about your unique body.  Haven’t you always been slightly curious about the components and ingredients that make up your unique physical body?

Will a functional medicine practitioner really take multiple factors, samples, environmental, and lifestyle factors into consideration when determining your ailment?  Yes! All of this is done so that your doctor can observe your unique body, and find the best way to manage your singular chemical makeup.  

Limited Drug Use

Ok, so my doctor will take a lot of time getting to know me, taking samples, and determining my singular physiology.  Why would they go to these links to understand each patient?  

This is because your functional medicine doctor will most likely not prescribe you a drug to cure your problem areas, but will fill the depleted elements in your system that are needed to maintain proper homeostasis.

And how will they do this? Working with a naturopathic doctor will help you maintain your most optimal homeostasis by prescribing the right herbs, supplements, or vitamins that they find beneficial to your specific biochemical makeup.  

So another difference between traditional medicine and functional medicine is that a naturopathic doctor will prescribe herbs, supplements, and vitamins instead of drugs…?  

Correct, there is limited drug use in functional medicine and a focus on natural methods to heal the body’s various systems from the inside out.  

But this is not the only way that a good functional medicine doctor will help you.  A good functional medicine doctor will also consider your particular environmental and lifestyle factors.  

So, let’s take a fresh look at six simple ways to understand what you can expect when in treatment with a functional medicine practitioner.

Principles of Functional Medicine

1. Exuberant Health Span

A healthy body is a happy and well-functioning machine.  When your whole body is working in harmony, your health span grows and your overall suffering, pain, and imminent disease onset is greatly diminished.

2. Patient-Centered Approach

As we talked about earlier on, in a functional medicine environment, your doctor works together with you to enhance your overall health and to look at you from a whole-body lense and not a disease-centered approach.

3. Effective Balance

Whole-body wellness means whole body balance.  Finding out through body samples and tests how your body is functioning in real-time will help you and your doctor learn the right balance of herbs, supplements, and vitamins.  Exercise and stress-reducing practices that maintain your optimal homeostasis are also considered and encouraged to maintain a healthy dynamic balance.  

4. Positive Vitality

A positive continuation of dynamic balance!  What amount of exercise, meditation, acupuncture, or any other practice encourages the success of your physiology?  Finding out what lifestyle and environmental factors work well with your overall health is a major priority in the functional medicine approach. 

5. Biochemical Individuality

What makes you, you?  Let’s get those tests running and samples filled so we can determine the unique biochemical makeup of your body.  Your genetic and environmental uniqueness are also important factors in helping you understand how to maintain long-lasting health with a functional medicine practitioner. 

6. Interconnections

This is where the skills of your doctor come into play.  He or she will do their work and find out how the unique interconnections of your physiological factors show your path to wellness.

What’s so encouraging is that all of these principles are attained through a positive commitment to your overall health and wellness.  Especially when you are working together with your chosen functional medical practitioner. Way to go, team! 

Achieving Health 

And, yes, it is true, everything we are talking about is achievable when you are in the care of a serious and committed functional medicine practitioner.  Reach out to me today and let’s develop the beginning of a positive, healthy, and whole-body approach to your wellness relationship.  

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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