Functional medicine, holistic health, integrative medicine. Popular terms these days, functional medicine bears a deeper level of understanding as it incorporates all of these principles. That’s why so many people are turning to this approach to healthcare to find answers to their complex and long-standing health concerns.
Unlike conventional or Western medicine, where a group of common symptoms and test results are used to define a condition or “diagnosis” resulting in predetermined therapies (most often a prescription drug), functional medicine is a practice of evaluating the many modifiable factors that are related to the cause of the symptom or condition.
Functional medicine views the body as a complex, adaptive system in which one biological function affects another…and another after that. In other words, we don’t believe that anything happens in the body in isolation; the body is, in fact, an interdependent part of a whole that has an effect on the whole. The functional medicine approach enables us to identify harmful components of our lifestyle such as foods that cause inflammation or toxins we are exposed to and then introduce necessary nutrients through diet and supplementation to support the function of the body. Seeing the body in this way, rather than in isolated systems, we have a new lens through which we can interpret, organize, and address complex health issues.
By taking a root-cause approach to health care, we can actually begin to find ways to reverse disease, support function, and return the body back to health using diet and lifestyle changes.
Reframing Medical Interventions
In functional medicine, we don’t — and can’t — just look at symptoms to offer us clues. Symptoms are the very last step in the process of dis-ease, meaning a deeper imbalance is often at play in order for that symptom to show up.
Let’s take acid reflux as an example. Looking at the symptom alone (heartburn), we could tell a patient to take Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, or Zantac and call it a day, but we don’t do that. Acid reflux can be brought on by gut pathogens like parasites or bacteria, food sensitivities, a melatonin imbalance and even low stomach acid. Following the principles of functional medicine, we look at the details of a patient’s health history and correlate that with the function of their systems by running advanced lab tests. This enables us to find the underlying stressors and triggers that are at play so that we can address those. Taking this approach, upstream symptoms like heartburn often fall away on their own.
Utilizing Evidence-Based Interventions
In the functional medicine model, we begin working with patients at the cellular level. If we can understand what’s happening to the cells themselves (whether that be inflammation, oxidative stress, or immune dysregulation), we can develop deep-rooted treatments. At the cellular level, there is a great level of evidence-based, peer-reviewed and unbiased research, which offers us tremendous opportunity to develop lifestyle-based treatment options related to the cause of the imbalances rather than just using a pharmaceutical designed to treat the effect of the imbalance.
As the main functional medicine practitioner here at Pioneer Health, I am continuously searching for the latest research in all fields of healthcare that offer this level of data. Databases like the National Library of Medicine are my go-to resources, and every year I attend multiple conferences in various fields such as compounding pharmacy, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune conditions, genomics and pain management to continue my passion for education. I search out and meet some of the brightest and most progressive practitioners, researchers, and scientists in this rapidly evolving field we call functional medicine.
Patient Education is the Primary Focus
How many times as a patient have you walked out the door of your healthcare practitioner’s office scratching your head because you didn’t get the answers you needed about your health concerns? That’s because the insurance-based, conventional medicine model is designed in such a way that allows patients a mere five-minute window of time with their well-meaning doctor, and that’s not a lot of time to cover a lot of ground.
Functional medicine practices like Pioneer Health Center bypass insurance altogether, which allows us to be in control of our time and the way in which we can support patients. Instead of five-minute appointments, we give each patient an appropriate amount of time, from 15 minutes to 90 minutes or more depending on the patient’s needs. In this time, we’re gathering the appropriate information and then educating them about what’s going on in their body and how making uniquely targeted diet and lifestyle modifications can shift the terrain and help them recover. We believe information is power, and the more they know, the more they can manage their health. And the more support they get, the more likely they will be to comply with the treatment plan.
With the Patient’s Best Interest in Mind
In functional medicine, we’re focused on treating the whole patient, the whole time. That means we work with them, gaining insights into their health history and then running advanced lab tests to understand the current state of their health. When we partner with our patients in their health journey, we can gain a far more comprehensive view of the whole person. This level of care, in our experience, offers the greatest chance of preventing and reversing disease, because the patient is involved in the process, and we as practitioners have the best chance to gather the necessary information we need to formulate a customized treatment plan.
Every day, patients walk out of our practice, and many other functional medicine practices, healthier than they came in. This is why I believe functional medicine is the medicine of the future and the good news is… it’s already here!
Functional Medicine: A Sound Solution to Today’s Epidemic Health Crisis
Without a doubt, medications for acute health issues can save lives, and functional medicine is not against medication. Instead, we believe in making sound and sensible use of prescriptions only when necessary. As a Compounding Pharmacy practice, we, of course, believe in and know the power of medicine and we see how customized medication improves the outcomes of our patients’ health every single day.
However, whereas conventional Western medicine seeks to diagnose and manage chronic degenerative disease, functional medicine guides us to gain a complete view of the whole person, not just organs, systems, or symptoms, but the whole system. This, as we mentioned before, allows us to look beyond surface-level symptoms and discover true healing opportunities that medication often can’t address, or at least not on its own
Work with Us
Pioneer Health Center is currently accepting patients to our programs, which you can view here. We would be honored to partner with you in your health journey and give you the full experience of functional medicine.