What is Functional Medicine? How can it help me, and why should I care?
Hello everyone thank you for visiting our blog. If a health problem has you stuck you are in the right place! If you have a problem that is just not being solved by traditional healthcare you are in the right place! Maybe you’ve tried alternatives (Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, Naturopath, Homeopathy etc…), but are still suffering with your health. Functional medicine can help you! This blog is for you.
I am Dr. Kyle Warren, DC and I love functional medicine. To kick start our blog posting I want to give an explanation of functional medicine. This is exciting to me because the core of what functional medicine is identifies why we get such drastically different results in our clinic compared to others.
The Institute for Functional Medicine defines func med this way:
Functional Medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the underlying causes of disease[i].
Let’s break down this definition to make a key few highlights.
- Functional medicine is “personalized”: This is arguably my favorite thing about functional medicine. It is personal. It is unique to you. It is individualized. This is confusing for many patients because they think they are getting individualized care. In reality so many doctors (even natural health physicians) basically just have a program they run people through with very little personalization. In our office, I must have your health history. How valuable is it to know what tests you have had done before, what treatments have been done on you and how did each work? By doing a thorough exam, by taking a history, by going over your personal tests (hormones, blood, allergy etc…) we can build a program that is customized for you! This is not a program written down in a book meant to go out to masses of people where we are just shot gunning and trying to load up as much good stuff as possible. This is a customized, individualized, focused program based on your unique physiology and circumstances.
- Functional medicine is “systems orientated”: This is a power packed statement and a huge difference from “traditional medicine”. We are not looking for a disease label to treat with a drug. Every disease has a part (or multiple parts) of the body not working properly. Jeffrey Bland in his book “The Disease Delusion” marks out 7 core physiological processes. They are:
- Assimilation/Elimination (Eating and Pooping)
- Cellular Communications (Hormones, Neurotransmitters)
- Cellular Transport
At the core of functional medicine is assessing how each patient is functioning in each of these areas and then helping to improve them. Taking chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia as an example I would ask things like: How does your energy pathway work? Do you have thyroid hormone and adrenal hormone communicating to your cells to make that energy? Once your mitochondria get the communication can they actually make the energy? Is there a toxin inhibiting this energy production cycle? Each problem can be addressed by looking at what systems in the body are breaking down to cause he problem, then helping to improve the function of that system.
- “By working in collaboration” : Functional medicine is really a team game. Very few people can just take the right drug or vitamin and magically be healthy. This process usually involves your sleep, your exercise, your thoughts, and the food you eat and other parts of your lifestyle. Your participation is absolutely required for true health.
- “Address the underlying cause of disease”: Here is something I value so, so highly. As a func med practitioner I must get at the core of the dysfunction. However, this is something that MUST be combined with that personalization aspect. If I tell everyone in my clinic that the root cause of everything is adrenal problems, or the root cause of everything is a misaligned spine, or the root cause of everything is the gut, or inflammation, detoxification, or heavy metals, or viral infections, or anything I am missing the boat. The real key to functional medicine is to understand how the systems work together and realize that the same “problem” or “diagnosis” in 5 people may have 5 different “root causes”! For example let’s take 5 different people with irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).
- Person 1 has IBS because they have a yeast overgrowth post antibiotics.
- Person 2 has IBS because they have hypothyroid which caused constipation and bacterial overgrowth.
- Person 3 has such high cortisol (stress hormone) they have reduced regeneration of the cells that line their intestine leading to IBS.
- Person 4 has poor balance and decreased brainstem activity at the vagus nerve. This causes decreased palate elevation and they snore suffering from sleep apnea. The low vagal nerve activity creates a weak ileocecal valve between the large intestine and small intestine. The weak valve then causes bacteria to move to from the large intestine to the small intestine causing “SIBO” and IBS.
- Person 5 a food allergy to gluten which causes inflammation and IBS symptoms.
I can’t tell you how many companies and people come up to me with “cures” for various conditions like IBS. How can 1 approach, 1 vitamin, 1 magic program possibly help these 5 people who have 5 different “root causes” to their same problem!?!?
The hardest part about getting people to buy into functional medicine –
The greatest difficulty with functional medicine is that at a core it is a superior investigative process not a magic solution. In our modern world where advertisements and marketing bombard us all day, it is sometimes difficult to get people to stop and say you need someone who will play “Dr. House” and really figure out what is going on with your problem. Functional medicine is first an investigation to the cause of the problem, then applying a solution. For example:
I had a patient who could not lose weight no matter what she tried. I told her we need to run some tests to figure out why she can’t lose weight. We need to discover if it is hormonal (and if it is which hormones), inflammatory, detox related, or diet/food intake related. I must gather information and figure it out! That is what functional medicine does! However, after calling me the first time she waited 8 months before she came in. In those 8 months she tried garcinia cambogia a new miracle weight loss pill she saw on Dr. Oz, a magic “lipo-laser” which as supposed to melt the fat away, and an essential oil weight loss blend.
As a note in my above story I am not saying there is anything particularly wrong with garcinia, lipo-laser, or essential oils. The problem is they are a non-specific, non-personalized approach. Functional medicine takes it to that next level. The evaluation and testing help get to YOUR root cause. The biggest difference between our clinic and other clinics aren’t that we have special, magic, secret cures! The difference is we can evaluate YOUR root cause and apply the right thing that will help you get better.
Types of Treatments – Because I get so many questions about it 🙂
I think one of the most common questions I get from prospective patients is something like, “Dr. Warren I have symptom x (like fatigue) what would you do to fix me?” By now you should know my answer is going to be “I don’t know until I’ve investigated to find the cause of your symptom.”
However, I can at least give you some clues. Often we are part of a team of healthcare providers working on a patient with very complex disorders and that can involve patients on varying amounts of drugs and natural supplements. Both Dr. Paul and I are licensed chiropractors and as such we really stress natural healthcare solutions for our patients (Non drug/Non surgery solutions). In the future we’ll write articles about both our diagnostic processes and solutions for patients. Here is a short list of how we help patients:
- Blood Sugar testing balancing
- Iron testing and balancing
- Gut testing (breath and stool testing) with gut repair programs
- Genetic testing for methylation and detoxification
- Thyroid testing and balancing
- Sex hormone testing and balancing (saliva, blood, and urine)
- Functional neurology testing and balancing
- Water testing
- Immune/inflammatory testing and balancing
- Chiropractic examination and joint mechanic balancing
- Homocysteine and metal toxicity balancing
- Brain Neurotransmitter balancing
- Food Intolerance testing and diet recommendations
- Viral and Lyme infection panels
I could write about patients where each of the 14 things listed above was the “key” to unlocking and restoring their health. Which one will help you the most?
One Simple Secret We Believe In
I am going to mention something here that is so simple it will have your head spinning at how often this is missed. One of our strongest points is the retest! Our programs go something like this.
- Patient comes in for evaluation of history and a thorough exam
- Testing is ordered for the patient
- Review of testing and development of customized program
- 1-6 Months later you RETEST to evaluate the patient’s progress!
- Adjust Plan based on retests and patient symptoms
My favorite plans to go over are when the wife comes in because she is sick and the husband is something like an engineer. I go through the program explanation and usually say something like, “Then at 3 months we will retest marker a, marker b, marker c, and evaluate your top 3 symptoms to judge how we are doing.”
The engineer husband usually looks at me and is like, “Well duh you have to retest at the end. Isn’t that obvious?” Unfortunately you’d be surprised how many people never get a retest to see if what they just did worked.
In Conclusion – You are an Individual! Seek Healthcare That Treats You Like One
As I close this post, I hope you’ll come back to our blog for upcoming articles. We’ll dive into each test and different programs we do to help patients in more detail. Just remember, the core of our clinic is that we are personalized, systems-based, and we find the underlying cause of dysfunction in our patients in order to help them heal.
[ii] Bland, Jeffrey D.C. The Disease Delusion 2014.