What is Functional Medicine?

“…that a disease is complex or multifactorial does not imply that simple solutions cannot be found or that clinical advance following insight cannot be swift.” [Rees, J. Science, 2002; 296:698-701]

Functional Medicine involves understanding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease. It is an integrative, science-based healthcare approach that treats illness and promotes wellness by focusing assessment on the biochemically unique aspects of each patient, and then individually tailoring interventions to restore physiological, psychological, and structural balance.

Seven basic principles influence the functional medicine approach:

  • Science-based medicine that connects the emerging research base to clinical practice.
  • Biochemical individuality based on genetic and environmental uniqueness.
  • Patient-centered care rather than disease-focused.
  • Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.
  • Web-like interconnections of physiological processes.
  • Health as a positive vitality-not merely the absence of disease.
  • Promotion of organ reserve-healthspan.

Using these principles, functional medicine practitioners focus on understanding the fundamental physiological processes, the environmental inputs, and the genetic predispositions that influence every patient’s experience of health and disease.
Environmental inputs include the air and water in your community, the particular diet you eat, the quality of the food available to you, physical exercise, psychosocial factors, and toxic exposures or traumas you may have experienced.

Genetic predisposition is not an unavoidable outcome for your life; your genes may be influenced by everything in your environment, plus your experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. That means it is possible to change the way genes are expressed (activated and experienced).

“Inherited genetic factors make a minor contribution to susceptibility to most types of neoplasms. This finding indicates that the environment has the principal role in causing sporadic cancer.” [Lichtenstein, P et al. NEJM, 2000; 343:2, 78-85]

Fundamental physiological processes keep us alive. They involve cellular communication; energy transformation; replication, repair, and maintenance; waste elimination; protection/defense and transport/circulation. These processes are influenced by environment and by genes, and when they are disturbed or imbalanced, they lead to symptoms, which can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied. Most imbalances in functionality can be addressed; some can be completely restored to optimum function and others can be substantially improved. Virtually every complex, chronic disease is preceded by long-term disturbances in functionality that need to be identified and effectively managed-the earlier the better. The Institute for Functional Medicine teaches practitioners how to assess the patient’s fundamental clinical imbalances through careful history-taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing.

Course attendees are taught to evaluate:

  • Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Redox imbalance, including oxidative stress and mitochondropathy
  • Detoxification, biotransformation and excretory imbalance
  • Immune imbalance
  • Inflammatory imbalance
  • Structural integrity imbalance

Once an assessment has been made, the functional medicine doctor examines a wide array of interventions and selects those with the most impact on underlying functionality. Changing how the system(s) function can have a major impact on the patient’s health. Lifestyle is a very big factor; research estimates that 70-90% of the risk of chronic disease is attributable to lifestyle. That means what you eat, how you exercise, what your spiritual practices are, how much stress you live with (and how you handle it) are all elements that must be
addressed in a comprehensive approach.

“…we have been able to identify modifiable behavioral factors, including specific aspects of diet, overweight, inactivity, and smoking that accounts for over 70% of stroke and colon cancer, over 80% of coronary heart disease, and over 90% of adult-onset diabetes.” [Willett, WC. Science, 2002; 296, 695-697]

Working in partnership with a trained functional medicine provider, patients make dietary and activity changes that, when combined with nutrients targeted to specific functional needs, allow them to really be in charge of improving their own health and changing the outcome of disease. Within the scope of practice of their own particular disciplines, functional medicine practitioners may also prescribe drugs or botanical medicines or other nutraceuticals; they may suggest a
detoxification protocol, a physical medicine intervention, or a stress-management procedure. The good news is: when you look at functionality, you uncover many different ways of attacking problems-you are not limited to the “drug of choice for condition X.”

“Biological and social systems are inherently complex, so it is hardly surprising
that few if any human illnesses can be said to have a single ’cause’ or ‘cure.'”
[Wilson, T & Holt, T. British Medical Journal, 2001; 323:685-688]

To find a functional medicine practitioner near you, please visit the IFM website,
www.functionalmedicine.org.

The Institute for Functional Medicine
A Nonprofit Educational Organization
4411 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Suite 305
P.O. Box 1697
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
1-800-228-0622
www.functionalmedicine.org
©2005 The Institute for Functional Medicine

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