An Important Question For Your Health: What Is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a medical approach that focuses on the why of your health concerns, rather than a 5-minute diagnosis with a prescription. A functional medicine doctor seeks the root causes of your health dysfunction so that you can return to vibrant good health.
You may have heard of functional medicine without really understanding how a functional medicine approach is different from a traditional Western medicine approach.
What Does A Functional Medicine Doctor Do?
A functional medicine doctor like myself will look beyond the diagnosis to the lifestyle, nutritional, and even genetic components of your health concerns. They will be willing to work with you to find the underlying causes of your concern, not just suppressing your symptoms.
Functional medicine takes a more holistic approach – your doctor is likely to give you advice on how to heal your gut, detoxify your body, reduce your stress, and change your diet. If you’re willing to make these changes, often several of your health issues may resolve at once – and you’ll feel the difference too.
An Example Of A Functional Medicine Approach To GERD
For example, a traditional Western medicine approach to heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is to write a prescription for an acid blocker known as a PPI (proton pump inhibitor) that will reduce stomach acid. This will indeed provide relief of immediate symptoms.
However, in the long term, suppressing stomach acid can lead to other issues such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) as well as deficiencies of nutrients as your digestive system will no longer be able to process food as effectively. An example is that PPIs seem to lead to problems absorbing calcium, which can lead to bone fractures.
Many people who take acid blockers may be told of the “expected” side effects, including constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence, headache, upset stomach, nausea, and even vomiting. In many cases, the doctor will simply write additional prescriptions to manage these side effects – and those prescriptions may come with their own additional side effects. The longer-term side effects of PPIs, such as an increased risk of pneumonia, chronic kidney disease, and even increased risk of dementia are rarely discussed.
The research findings highlight the fact that PPIs should only be used for short-term relief or treatment rather than as a means to prevent gastric illnesses on a long-term basis.
So back to our doctor who takes a functional medicine approach. He or she will realize that PPIs are dangerous long-term, and will investigate dietary choices, food allergies, and the likelihood that the basic problem with the patient’s digestion could be too little stomach acid, rather than too much, so that food is staying in the stomach longer than it should.
Making a few dietary changes and perhaps adding digestive enzymes at mealtimes might clear up the root cause of the issue without the risk of the prescription, and its side effects.
Does a Functional Medicine Doctor Spend More Time With A Patient?
In almost every case, figuring out the root causes is going to take longer than writing a prescription. It also requires more time and cooperation from the patient, who needs to truly value their health and understand the long-term consequences of taking “shortcuts” to resolve the symptoms.
The Best Use Of A Functional Medicine Doctor
Functional medicine doctors excel in resolving chronic conditions. They are far more likely to work with the patient over the long term to identify and track down the factors which are contributing to the patient’s health issue. If you’ve seen doctor after doctor without significant relief, it’s time to invest your time, money and energy in working with a holistically-oriented functional medicine doctor to get to the root cause of your issue.