What is Functional Medicine?
Many believe functional medicine is the future of healthcare as it is highly effective in uncovering and treating the root cause of complex illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental health disorders, autoimmune conditions, and more. In contrast to conventional medicine, physicians who use a functional medicine approach view the body as an integrated system instead of independent organs that are classified as medical specialties.
Over the years, many classically trained physicians have become disillusioned with the “treating symptoms only” approach of conventional medicine and have had little, if any, positive outcome in addressing the root cause of disease with this method. Instead, they have adopted the functional medicine model with excellent results. While conventional medicine certainly has a place in acute medical situations such as emergencies, broken bones, or appendicitis, for complex, chronic disease many have found this approach to be lacking.
Functional medicine takes the whole person into account when accessing their health status, including: medical history, environmental exposure to toxins, genetic makeup, lifestyle habits, hormonal changes, social connections, diet, and the internal factors of mind, body, and spirit. Laboratory tests and other diagnostic methods are employed to uncover underlying issues that are contributing to the patients poor health. They also focus on the prevention and treatment of chronic illness through dietary and lifestyle recommendations, prescriptions, supplements, herbal medicines, and detoxification protocols.
Nutrition and Gut Health
Functional medicine views diet as intricately tied to overall health, so it is not surprising physicians in this area put particular emphasis on personalizing the diet to fit the individual’s unique health history for prevention and treatment of chronic illness. One diagnostic tool that is often utilized is an IgG test, which measures antibodies in the blood that may indicate a food sensitivity or allergy. For myself, taking this test helped me to fine tune my diet so that I wasn’t eating foods that could trigger an MS flare or a cascade of inflammation. A practitioner may alternately suggest an elimination diet to identify any food sensitivities.
Another option is an Organic Acid Test (OAT). With this diagnostic tool, you are given a comprehensive metabolic snapshot that can indicate if intestinal yeast and bacteria are contributing to chronic illness, behavior disorders, fatigue, or poor immune function. It also provides information on vitamin and mineral levels, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter status, and oxalate markers which are often correlated with a range of chronic health conditions. Once food sensitivities, nutritional status, and health conditions are established through testing, organic dietary recommendations will be made to fit your specific profile and health challenges. Many times, a specialized therapeutic diet will be used to stabilize health, reduce symptoms, and lay the foundation for healing.
An additional aspect your physician will take into account is if you are suffering from leaky gut. As I wrote in “Why Healing a Leaky Gut Should be a Top Priority for Health; Plus: 6 Herbs for Leaky Gut“:
“The syndrome is distinguished by gaps in the intestinal walls that allow harmful agents like toxins and microbes, which would otherwise be discarded as waste, to pass into the bloodstream. If this overt permeability isn’t addressed it can lead to significant inflammation, which aggravates autoimmune disorders and other health issues. I know this is the case in my own journey with MS.”
Since the gut is the foundation for health, this is typically one of the first area’s a functional medicine physician will address. For myself, I have had tremendous success with the botanical’s found in our Balanced Gut Blend, which includes anti-inflammatory reishi and lion’s mane medicinal mushrooms; turkey tail mushroom for important prebiotics that balance the microbiome and control Candida overgrowth; and plantain, slippery elm, and marshmallow for soothing the mucous membranes and creating a protective layer in the gut so that it can heal. Learn more about the benefits of this outstanding formulation here.
Along with dietary recommendations, a functional medicine physician will also consider lifestyle aspects that may be contributing to health issues. These include exercise habits, chronic stress, emotional wellbeing, personal relationships, sleep quality, and possibly spiritual health. Once problematic areas are identified, the physician will work with you to develop health-promoting habits, such as a regular exercise routine that you enjoy, stress management techniques, gratitude journaling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exploring ways to improve spiritual well being.
Another important area of functional medicine is removing toxins that have accumulated in the body. These can range from heavy metals and chemicals in the air, soil, water, and food supply to household and beauty products. Impaired detoxification pathways are common, which leads to an accumulation of toxins within the body and subsequent chronic health issues. Your physician may order a blood or hair test to measure your toxin load. If needed, your physician will then recommend a customized detoxification protocol and possibly heavy metal chelation therapy, along with supplements, herbal remedies, and foods to improve detoxification pathways. Infrared saunas, fasting, and other detoxification techniques may be suggested.
Pharmaceuticals, Herbal Medicines, Supplements
Depending on your health status, your physician may order prescription medicine if necessary. However, functional medicine tends to lean more towards natural methods whenever possible by utilizing herbal remedies and supplements to correct imbalances and treat the underlying reason for the disease.
I know for myself, pharmaceuticals caused a cascade of side-effects without improving my symptoms of MS. In fact, my health deteriorated rapidly. It wasn’t until I began using a functional medicine approach of an anti-inflammatory ketogenic diet, managing stress, shifting to living a life of gratitude, spending time in nature, and importantly, embracing herbal medicine, that I saw improvement in my symptoms and health.
Medicinal mushroom extracts, such as reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail, and cordyceps have been crucial in my journey back to health — to the point where I was able to get out of the wheelchair and my MS hasn’t progressed in over a decade! Today, I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving. You can read more about the exact protocol I use here, along with the Mushroom FOURtress I use everyday to manage my MS.
If you would like to learn about the science-backed benefits of these herbal medicines, and why you should only use dual-extracted, fruiting body mushroom tinctures for highest potency and effectiveness, visit the apothecary today.
As medical doctors and patients become increasingly disillusioned with the conventional model of healthcare, many are turning to a functional medicine approach to address the root cause of complex, chronic disease. Treating the whole individual in a way that works with the body, instead of against it is key. Functional medicine physicians will spend time with their patients to establish a clear picture of their health status, which includes lifestyle and dietary habits that may be contributing to disease; toxicity; emotional and mental health; relationships and social connection; and many times the state of their spiritual well being. Necessary diagnostic tests will be ordered and a full health history documented.
This is a far cry from our current standard of care involving ten minute appointments and only treating symptoms instead of addressing the root cause of disease. Personally, I believe functional medicine is the future of healthcare as more physicians and patients recognize that it is an exceptional approach for true healing on many levels.
I hope you have found this post helpful. Wishing you the very best of health!