The Beginners Guide to Functional Medicine
I have been getting a lot of questions about functional medicine from friends, family, and prospective clients lately. It is a foreign concept to most, even those working in the medical field. With chronic disease skyrocketing, patients continue to get sicker, and those who are told that they are “healthy” are still feeling exhausted and suboptimal.
Did you know ….
-Chronic disease affects 1 out of 2 Americans
-1 in 3 Americans have pre diabetes or diabetes.
-1 in 6 Americans have an autoimmune disease
-Chronic disease will generate $47 trillion healthcare costs globally by 2030 if the rate of disease continues (KresserInstitute.com)
So, what is functional medicine?
The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes (IFM.org).
What is the difference between conventional and functional medicine?
The largest distinguisher between conventional and functional medicine is that functional medicine addresses the root underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms. Conventional medicine takes a group of symptoms and diagnostic markers and labels it with a name. Treatment usually involves pharmaceuticals. Usage of medication can help to improve symptoms and stabilize patients, and this can prevent them from going to the hospital.
But what happens after that?
Patients usually remain on the medication and unfortunately, symptoms typically return when the medication is stopped. This is because most pharmaceuticals (there are exceptions, of course) do not help to eradicate the cause of the disease or symptom in the first place. Shouldn’t we be asking “why”? WHY does someone have “x” disease or “y” symptoms? Symptoms are our body’s way of communicating with us— telling us that a larger storm is brewing. Whether pharmaceuticals are initiated or not, functional medicine always continues to look for the answer to the “why?”.
Functional medicine also supports the theory that everything in the body is connected. It is truly preventative and sees the human body as one whole being and should be treated as such. Symptoms in one body system can be caused by pathology in another.
What type of tests does functional medicine offer?
Functional medicine supports the Epocrates theory that 'all disease begins in the gut'. One of my favorite tests is advanced stool testing. Stool testing evaluates the biodiversity of the intestinal microbiome, identifies pathogens, identifies markers for inflammation, quantifies the amount of nutrients needed to help support a healthy gut lining, measures how well patients are digesting and absorbing their food, and so on. Evaluating gut health is really the key that allows us to treat autoimmune disease, metabolic disease, infertility, and more. There are specialty tests to assess hormonal health, which can sometimes give more information than serum blood testing alone. Salivary and urine testing can identify hormone levels and also their metabolites. This is important because it can help identify patterns during the day, as well as where the hormones are going after they are broken down.
Some other tests offered by functional medicine practitioners include:
-Heavy metals testing
-Environmental and mold toxin testing
-Food sensitivity tests
-SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) tests
-Organic acids testing
What does treatment look like?
It all depends on the patient, as two patients are never exactly the same. Typically a functional medicine practitioner will spend anywhere from 60-120 minutes with each new patient in order to obtain a thorough history. Functional medicine practitioners ask very specific questions, and often want to know details of your childhood. Questionnaires are typically performed to assess the severity of one's symptoms, and are also a wonderful tools to measure progress. Standard blood testing (through LabCorp or Quest) is usually ordered to get baseline labs. Specialty functional tests may be recommended depending on the situation. Treatment plans are heavily tied in dietary and lifestyle modification. Dietary plans are tailored to each patient’s needs, based on symptomatology and diagnostic testing. Pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals may be prescribed if appropriate.
Is functional medicine covered by insurance?
It depends on the practitioner. Approximately half of the functional medicine providers in the United States accept insurance, while the other half do not accept insurance. Most practitioners do provide a super-bill, a visit summary that a patient could submit to the insurance company for reimbursement after the consult. Some practitioners offer “monthly memberships”, which is a similar concept to concierge medicine.
So there you have it. Functional medicine in a nutshell. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section!
In Health & Happiness,
**Please note that this post is for educational purposes only. Always consult your own personal practitioner for any medical advice**