Functional medicine is a style of medicine that looks at the underlying causes of disease by performing detailed and personalized testing. It’s a style of practice, not a treatment. While there’s nothing particularly unique about functional medicine, it’s highly targeted and personalized if done correctly. The goal of functional medicine is to find the underlying causes of disease, illness, and feeling unwell.
Learn about the difference between functional medicine and integrative medicine in our recent post.
For most conditions, functional medicine can help by fine-tuning the internal environment. This is done by optimizing metabolism, vitamin levels, and ruling out the presence of elevated environmental toxins. Tests such as blood, urine, saliva, stool, and genetics, are the underpinning of functional medicine. The functional medicine practitioner does not know what is wrong unless they test!
When to See a Functional Medicine Doctor
Seeing a functional medicine doctor is especially helpful when conventional medicine has not provided good answers. It’s also a good path when a diagnosis has been made, but the drugs prescribed caused too many side effects. By digging deeper, a variety of treatments including clinical nutrition and nutraceuticals can be applied therapeutically. Digging deeper means asking a lot of questions and having specialized testing performed.
Case Study: Persistent Gut Issues Solved by Functional Medicine
Let’s look at an example of where functional medicine can help.
Symptoms: In this case the patient has bloating, gas, and intermittent diarrhea. They also have a persistent skin rash for which the dermatologist prescribed hydrocortisone. The hydrocortisone helps a little but the rash never completely goes away.
Test Performed: A functional medicine stool test is performed which shows elevated antibodies to wheat, excessive candida, abnormal fat levels, major imbalances in intestinal flora, and low pancreatic enzymes. A food allergy test is performed and a number of food allergies are discovered.
Functional Medicine Treatment: Food allergies will often trigger an irritating and persistent rash. In this case, it would be possible to completely cure this patient’s problem by treating all the findings by eliminating the triggering foods, stopping consumption of wheat, treating the yeast, taking a pancreatic enzyme, and a probiotic.
Case Study: When Overall Health Modifications Come Before Functional Medicine Testing
Conversely, here’s a case where functional medicine (e.g. a lot of expensive tests and supplements) would not help very much, at least initially.
Symptoms: Patient is overweight with high cholesterol and elevated triglycerides. He states that he does not want to take his cholesterol medication; he wants alternatives. His blood sugar is also a little above normal. He has a high stress job and does not like going to the gym. He walks his dog for about 30 minutes every day. He has an unrestricted diet including occasional desserts, meat, cheese, eggs and snack foods. He does eat some fruits and vegetables, but does not really enjoy them. He went to a doctor and was prescribed Crestor which is a statin medication used for cholesterol. He read online that it can cause liver problems and muscle pain and he’s afraid to take it.
Recommendations: In this case what the patient really needs to do first is work on his diet and lifestyle including a heart-healthy diet. If his cholesterol does not come down, he can be prescribed supplements such as niacin and red yeast rice which will lower it further. If it doesn’t come down enough, he should take the Crestor. A good, long visit with a doctor and exploration of good resources regarding what to eat and encouragement for exercise would be very helpful. Additionally, education and understanding around the medicine Crestor would tell him that in low to moderate doses Crestor rarely cause any side effects. If he does experience any side effects, there are alternatives available.
Test Performed: At this point, a functional medicine test that looks at several very detailed cardiovascular risk factors would be a good idea. However, it should not be performed initially. It would be best to wait until after the patient has taken action on the recommendations given, lost some weight, and seen a decrease in cholesterol. The reason for waiting on the test is that a lot of the markers would be way off showing elevated inflammation, insulin resistance, and other problems. Running genetic tests, food allergy tests, stool tests, adrenal tests, and toxic metal tests, etc. would not help him initially and would waste a lot of his money. After following recommendations to improve overall health, there is then a good opportunity for more testing down the road.
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