Functional Medicine

“Qi” Wall Art at East-West Wellness

Functional Medicine is a science-based healthcare approach that assesses and treats the underlying causes of illness through individually tailored therapies to restore health and improve function.  Functional medicine is grounded in the following principles:

  • Biochemical individuality
  • Patient-centered care
  • Dynamic balance of internal and external factors
  • Web-like interconnections of physiological factors
  • Health as a positive vitality
  • Promotion of organ reserve

Functional Medicine practitioners identify the causes of many health conditions by the results of science-based testing.  These tests are not standard blood tests but often are investigational in identifying the biochemical and metabolic imbalances that are the cause or the result of a disease process. These tests are considered functional tests and not necessarily diagnostic tests.  Based on these test results practitioners can develop personalized “patient-specific” treatment protocols designed to reverse, stop, or prevent the disease and its symptoms.

Currently, the western medicine model is an acute care model directed in suppressing the expression of symptoms.  This acute care model while invaluable when needed for trauma and emergency care can be problematic for chronic disorders.  Suppressing symptoms long term can lead to changes in many physiological systems that become precursors to other signs and symptoms that later may be diagnosed as organ system disease.  Examining the clinical imbalances that underlie a disease or condition and looking beyond signs and symptoms to get a deeper understanding of functionality offers the opportunity to correct it.  Such imbalances include:

  • digestive, absorptive, and microbiological imbalances
  • detoxification and biotransformation imbalances
  • oxidation-reduction imbalances and mitochondropathies
  • hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances
  • immune imbalances and inflammatory imbalances
  • structural imbalances, from cellular membrane function to musculoskeletal systems

“Dragon” Wall Art at East-West Wellness

Much like traditional Chinese medicine, functional medicine looks at two people with the same diagnosis as an individual in their care.  I liken functional medicine’s approach to Chinese medicine in that both look at the chief complaint, take a step back and look at the whole organism (the patient), and then differentiate the disorder and develop a unique treatment protocol.

A simple representation of what I mean by functional medicine is a scenario of a patient experiencing GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, e.g., belching, food coming back up the throat often with a burning feeling, possible heartburn and or frequent clearing of the throat or coughing) who goes to the GI doctor for an endoscopy performed to view the stomach and the esophagus.  The doctor may state that there is no structural damage but the problem is on a functional level.  What he is saying is that the patient is obviously having symptoms (why they sought help to begin with) but nothing is currently diagnosable.  The diagnostics are very important here because if structural changes have occurred such as an ulcer exists than proper action is necessary.  However, there are a couple of options for the patient with structural changes.  On the other hand, if there are no structural changes the treatment protocol is to put the individual on some anti-acid medication… possibly indefinitely.  This does have long term repercussions that will cause low stomach acid, poor digestion, poor absorption, nutritional deficiencies such as low B12, magnesium, and many other vitamins and minerals.  These nutrients are required to run the wonderful machine called the body.  As we age we need fewer calories and more nutrients as well so you can see the long term problems that can arise.  Of course, doing nothing is not the answer either.

Identifying the mechanism/s that need to be corrected and lifestyle modifications needed to support the body is a critical part of health and wellness.  Health is more than the absence of disease; it is the optimization of physiological function and the desire and vitality in which to utilize that optimization of function.

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Blog by Donna Sigmond

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