Society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. The system of medicine practiced by most physicians is oriented toward acute care, the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that is of short duration and in need of urgent care, such as a heart attack or a broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom.
Unfortunately, the acute-care approach to medicine is ill equipped to address complex, chronic disease. In most cases, the model does not take into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual and does not allow time for exploring the aspects of today’s lifestyle that have a direct influence on the rise in chronic disease; critical environmental factors such as stress, diet, and exposure to toxins. As a result, most physicians are not adequately trained to assess the underlying causes of complex, chronic disease, nor to apply strategies such as nutrition, diet, and exercise to both treat and prevent these illnesses in their patients.
Functional Medicine is a different approach, with methodology and tools that are specifically designed to prevent and treat chronic diseases.
When people ask to see the evidence for Functional Medicine, they often mean, “Where are your research trials, comparing Functional Medicine to conventional medicine in a clinical setting?” Unfortunately, current research models do not have a way to test each individualized, patient-centered therapeutic plan that is tailored to a person with a unique combination of existing conditions, genetic influences, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices. Clinical trials do play a significant role in evaluating and comparing the efficacy of new pharmaceutical treatments, especially when it is important to rule out placebo effects, but they have many inherent limitations which constrain their ability to inform clinical decision making.
Fortunately, there is a vast array of evidence supporting the Functional Medicine approach to care. The scientific community has made incredible strides in helping practitioners understand how environmental and lifestyle influences, moving continuously through an individual’s genetic heritage, psychosocial experiences, and personal beliefs, can impair basic biological functions. Using that knowledge to find the sources of each patient’s problems is powerful science!
Scientific support for the Functional Medicine approach to treatment can be found in a large and rapidly expanding evidence base concerning the therapeutic effects of nutrition (including both dietary choices and the clinical use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as fish oils); botanicals; exercise (aerobics, strength training, flexibility); stress management; detoxification; acupuncture; manual medicine (massage, manipulation); and mind/body techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, and biofeedback.
Medical science has recently provided strong evidence that the relationship between patient and clinician has a powerful effect on patient health outcomes. The Functional Medicine focus on the therapeutic partnership is clearly an important part of how patients heal.
Making effective healthcare choices involves the Functional Medicine clinician and patient in a relationship where information and belief, attention and insight, communication and trust all have value. Functional Medicine practitioners are taught how to craft a personalized, systems-oriented therapeutic plan for each unique patient using evidence and insight, art and science.