What is Functional Medicine – How Does it Help?

by Martin Rutherford, D.C.

Disease

The main focus of the Functional Medicine practitioner is to utilize an organized approach to assess the nine major systems of the body (nervous, gastrointestinal, endocrinological, immune, etc) and treat the underlying causes of the many chronic diseases that our patients suffer from.

Functional Medicine is patient focused and not disease focused. For instance you are not treating the patient’s rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, etc., you are instead assessing the above mentioned nine systems for weaknesses and imbalances in the patient’s biochemistry and physiology to try and understand why the patient has RA. The Functional Medicine doctor is like the Sherlock Holmes of the brain and body, discovering and correcting the underlying cause of a disease process or dysfunction so the body can in turn return to a state of health and wellness and the patient can achieve the desired reduction or elimination of symptoms.

The typical Functional Medicine patient comes to the office after years of pain and frustration having been told that everything looks normal based on “standard” tests routinely run by their primary and specialist doctors and have been told that there’s no cure or at least no known reason for their symptoms.

Functional Medicine practitioners understand that most of our patients who arrive in their offices are by no means “normal” even by standard diagnostic models. This is because the standard model in this country today is designed to assess acute disease and pain pathology (ie trauma, infection, cancer, cardiac arrest, etc) and not the chronic cousins of these conditions. There are 116 million chronic pain sufferers in the US and the Functional Medicine practitioner understands that these patients are a long way from being in a state of “normal” — no less optimum health. The Functional Medicine practitioner also understands the average chronic pain sufferer is not doomed to a life of uncontrolled pain or medication mediated controlled relief.

The Functional Medicine doctor understands there are cutting edge, unique, specialized, interpretive, and diagnostic methods for the chronic pain patient that are not used in the standard “acute pain” approach and that can help assess a wide range of problems that are more suggestive of sub-clinical or functional problems causing and leading to disease. Functional Medicine is about utilizing the best of all diagnostic procedures to become the ultimate medical detective to help this chronic pain population.

The main role of the Functional medicine practitioner is

A. The prevention of disease and function by examining and focusing on the major risk factors of mortality and morbidity

  1. identifying risk factors that can be reduced or avoided (ie avoid the consumption of trans fatty acids)
  2. making the patient aware that they have risks for developing a particular “disease” (ie family history of cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes)
  3. Making patient aware that they are at risk for developing disease because of exposure to certain environmental agents (ie advising a woman with polycystic ovarian disease that working 40 hours a week in a print shop may be a strong perpetuater of her disease problem)
  4. Help the patient avoid, reduce, and modify risk with patient focused strategies and individualized treatment

B. The early detection of disease and dysfunction through use of:

  1. a. A patient focused history — Functionally oriented signs and systems analysis.
  2. b. Functional medicine testing — functionally oriented exams of all nine systems of the body — Particularly neurological, endocrinological, immunological, and gastrointestinal.
  3. Functionally oriented blood chemistry, CBC, and advanced Functional Medicine testing and analysis (digestive, GI, hormonal, adrenal stress profiles, etc)

C. Advanced patient specific treatment techniques, life style modifications, therapeutic exercise, structural support, diet, nutritional support (supplements/medical foods), stress reduction, brain based strengthening protocols, botanical medicine and other treatments.

Functional Medicine’s ultimate protocols are designed to address the underlying cause uncovered by the standard and specialized testing results. The treatment protocols respect biomechanical individuality of the patient. The approach is focused on restoring the patient’s physiological function — which allows the body to restore to a state of wellness and reduce and/or eliminate symptoms. And lastly Functional Medicine is to cause no harm to the patient.

Functional Medicine patients should experience improved quality of healthcare because the Functional Medicine doctor is focused on them and not their disease. Functional Medicine should reduce long term costs as chronic pain management costs are substantial and are the primary drain on the current medical system. Functional Medicine patients should also experience reduced suffering and increase the likelihood of a resolution of pain without medications, and lastly reduce the incidence of premature aging, mortality, and morbidity.

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