What is Functional Medicine?
What is Functional Medicine? According to IFM, which stands for the Institute for Functional Medicine, the functional medicine model is, “an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach, that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness.”
To explain the concept of what is Functional Medicine even further, Functional Medicine doctors ask the patient, how and why their illness occurs and restores their health by addressing these root causes of their diseases, which is different for each individual. This new approach to healthcare puts the concept forward where health and illness are part of a continuum. They work together with all the components of the human biological system to interact dynamically with the environment and produce patterns or effects which can change over a period of time. It helps doctors to better understand and work to improve the dysfunctions in the physiology and biochemistry of the patient’s body as its fundamental method of improving their condition. The chronic disease is always preceded by a period of declining functions in one or more of the body’s systems, which is why Functional Medicine is described as the clinical application of systems biology.
In order to restore a patient’s health, it requires the reversal or the improvement in specific dysfunctions that may contribute to the state of their illness/condition. In the case of every patient, they represent their own unique, complex, and interwoven set of environmental and lifestyle influences. This is based on their intrinsic functionality, which is their genetic vulnerabilities, that can influence the disease’s development or the maintenance of the patient’s health. Functional medicine practitioners use modalities such as nutrigenomics – which can tell about a person’s relation between nutrients and their genes, pathophysiology, and biochemistry to optimize the body’s function, which is why it’s a truly holistic approach.
Elements of the Functional Medicine Model
Functional Medicine Model: Functional Medicine’s knowledge base or its footprint is shaped by the following six-core foundations:
- Gene-environment interaction
- Upstream signal modulation
- Multimodal treatment plans
- Understanding the patient in the context
- Systems biology-based approach
- Patient-centered and directed
The Functional Medicine model focuses on identifying and addressing the disease’s root cause with its systems biology-based approach. Just like different diagnoses or each symptom faced by the patient can be one out of many contributing factors for their illness, only one diagnosis of the patient can be the result of more than one cause.
For instance, the result of depression can be caused by many different factors, which may include inflammation. In the same way, a cause such as inflammation can lead up to a number of different diagnoses, which can include depression. The specific manifestation of each cause is dependent on the person’s genes, environment, and lifestyle. The only treatments which can address the right cause will have benefits that will last beyond just the suppression of symptoms.
Functional Medicine Practitioner – Overview
Functional Medicine Practitioner – Background
What is Functional Medicine? It is a healthcare approach that is integrative, based on scientific facts, and is patient-centered. The Functional Medicine doctor focuses on the prevention of the disease through the following ways:
- With the help of nutrition, diet, and exercise.
- By use of the latest lab testing & other diagnostic techniques.
- By the prescribed combinations of drugs and botanical medicines
- By using therapeutic diets, supplements, stress-management techniques, and detoxification programs.
In the US, 42% of the hospitals offer their patients a form of integrative medical care, which includes functional medicine.
Job Role of a Functional Doctor or a Functional Medicine Practitioner
A Functional Medicine doctor’s job is to restore their patient’s normal physiology and normal body function instead of focusing on treating specific illnesses because if the normal body functions are restored, it will clear up most of the disease processes. So then, what is a Functional Medicine doctor?
It may be so that Functional Medicine is an area of specialty itself. Just like there is a medical doctor who practices medicine, internal medicine, pediatric medicine, or oncology, he/she can also practice Functional Medicine. Even a nurse practitioner or an acupuncturist or naturopath that practices nursing can alongside practice Functional Medicine as well. Although there are some Functional Medicine practitioners that only practice Functional Medicine and do not practice what they trained for originally, anymore. While most of the Functional Medicine doctors combine their original training with the Functional Medicine Model.
As far as the initial examination is concerned, the process is almost similar, because most functional medical doctors follow the same path as other medical physicians. First, there is an initial consultation for a new patient, which will last typically for an hour or longer. Here the Functional Medicine doctor takes the patient’s complete history, which is not just their medical history but the history about their life’s stress points, struggles, etc. This session with the doctor helps to find the patient’s underlying root cause of the health problems that they are experiencing rather than just only focusing on their current symptoms or condition. Any Functional Medicine doctor will order tests from various labs, some of which are used in conventional medicine, but most of them which are unique only to this field. Such as specialized GI assessments for the patient’s microbiome, measuring their nutrient levels, amino acid levels, organic acids for their brain health, and their liver’s detoxification pathways. Then there is the SNP testing/genetic testing, which is common, so is food allergy testing along and a variety of hormone assays.
So, how do these specialized labs help the Functional Medicine Practitioner in terms of treatments? The doctors first recommend the patients to make a few lifestyle changes, which are basic – like sleep routine, eating healthy, exercise, and keeping your mind in a positive direction. Then there is the interpretation of the specialized lab work along with the development of health programs or health protocols based on patient’s testing. Such skills for lab analysis takes years of practice for doctors.
The testing received from the lab reveals issues related to the patient’s health which might have been hidden yet have plagued them for a long period of time. For instance, the chronic low-grade GI infections or pathogens could have disturbed the microbiome. Or there is an imbalance in the microbiome itself that can be devastating and is immediately detected by the labs. They use the PCR or DNA technology to map out the patient’s gut bacteria. The presence of toxins such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, aren’t friendly for the human brain and can also be detected in a complete lab workup. Serotonin or dopamine gives insight into the patient’s brain function while the salivary hormone measurements for cortisol reveals the stress hormone system‘s state to function, and many other issues that the patient is facing yet are unknown can easily be detected.
Functional Medicine Doctors – How to Become One?
Functional Medicine Doctors: For an aspiring candidate to be eligible to become a certified functional medicine practitioner, they must have an already approved license in any of the primary care specialties, with one of the following credentials:
- Medical Doctor (MD)
- Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)
- Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
- Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
- Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Physician Assistant
- Registered Nurse
- Registered Dietitian
Once they are accepted into the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), which is the leading institute for training of functional medicine program, it is followed by them picking the overview course, which is “Applying for Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice.” This program constitutes the six training modules, which focus on different body systems. They are Immune, Hormone, Gastrointestinal, Detox, Energy, and Cardiometabolic. The courses are an average of 17 credit hours and are offered onsite in cities across the USA, with new and upcoming virtual courses as well. Once the aspiring candidate completes the modules, a case report needs to be accepted and graded according to the IFM criteria. As well as a written exam must be given by the candidate with a passing grade. They must complete these program requirements successfully within seven years of the approved application in order to receive the designation of a certified practitioner. Similar to the rest of the medical physicians, there is also an ongoing education for functional medicine doctors.
Content for MD: Functional Medicine Doctor – Functional Medicine Practitioners complete their training in traditional medical specialties but provide patient-centered care.