What is Functional Medicine?
by Dr. Bahl

Doctor with a Heart in His Hand
Functional medicine is a patient-centered approach to health care that addresses the underlying root cause of disease. It looks at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence health. Functional medicine acknowledges that chronic disease is almost always preceded by a lengthy period of declining function in one or more of the body systems. For example, a patient may receive diagnosis of diabetes today, but the metabolic dysfunction may have been progressing since years prior. Rather than mitigating symptoms, functional medicine seeks to restore health by regaining balance and function to the body systems involved. 

The functional medicine model best addresses the healthcare needs of today because our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases, such as: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders. These complex conditions are not best treated by “a pill for an ill” model. Evidence of this is the fact that United States has by far the most expensive health care system in the world, based on health expenditures per capita yet statistics continue to rise. One hundred million Americans are currently being treated for degenerative lifestyle diseases at a cost of more than 700 billions per year! Tragically despite these alarming costs, the health of Americans is not improving. 

A common misconception is that disease is a part of aging. The fact is that disease is not caused by age alone. Commonly as we age functional imbalances occur that eventually result in disease. This can be prevented! Functional medicine examines the following core clinical imbalances that underlie expression of disease:

  1. Hormonal imbalances. 
  2. Neurotransmitter imbalances. 
  3. Detoxification imbalances. 
  4. Cellular function imbalances. 
  5. Digestive, absorptive and microbiological imbalances. 
  6. Immune and inflammatory imbalances. 
  7. Structural imbalances (from cell to larger systems)

Functional medicine is not alternative medicine. It is evidence-based, clinically sound model medicine that effectively addresses the origin of disease. The Basic Principles of Functional Medicine are:

  • Addressing the whole person- genetics, environment and lifestyle. 
  • Understanding unique biochemical individuality. 
  • Addressing the web-like interconnections of internal physiological factors. 
  • Viewing health as a positive vitality not merely the absence of disease. 

Functional medicine envisions longevity with an optimally functioning body. Addressing your health with this health care model can not only add years to your life, but also add life to your years!

How Is Functional Medicine Different than Conventional Medicine?

Institute for Functional Medicine Vice Chair Mark Hyman, MD explains the difference between conventional medicine and functional medicine, using the example from his own practice of a young girl with severe autoimmune disease. While the conventional medicine approach suppresses the inflammation in this patient, functional medicine asks and addresses the question of why the inflammation exists in the first place and looks at the scientific drivers (causes) of the disease, which include toxins, infections, allergens, stress and poor diet.


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