Reprinted with permission from Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman.
You’re not sleeping well. Your belly seems perpetually upset. Your nose is stuffed up and, to top it off, you’re feeling down. You head to your GP for—if you’re lucky—a 10-minute chat about what’s ailing you. The GP then hands you a prescription or two, shakes your hand, and shows you the door. Case closed. Is this any way to heal the unwell? Does this approach actually make anyone better? In a word, no. And more likely, this here’s-a-prescription-seeya approach may even make patients more sick, which is one of the reasons I’ve dedicated my life to helping my patients create and sustain long-term health using the principles of Functional Medicine.
So, just what is “Functional Medicine?” I believe it’s the most profound and effective way to treat patients—particularly those with chronic health issues—and here’s why:
In simplest terms, think of it as the ultimate in personalized, one-on-one, therapeutic relationships. It’s a health-focused, patient-centric partnership, in which doctor and patient work together to dig deep and find out the causes of illness and disease. We examine not only the patient, but also their unique history, environment, lifestyle and underlying factors, and then develop a health-enhancing, usually drug-free plan to help restore the patient to good health and get him or her on a life-long path of wellness. With Functional Medicine, we look beyond the laundry list of symptoms; we take the whole person into account.
With Functional Medicine, the patient experience is anything but conventional. One might even call it ‘artisanal medicine’, because it involves time, care and patience, since true healing doesn’t happen overnight. With Functional Medicine, we treat the person who has the disease rather than the disease the person has. It’s not unusual for my colleagues and me to spend an hour or more with patients, listening to their histories, doing the detective work, asking questions, and examining the genetic, environmental, and lifestyle patterns that effect health. By addressing the underlying causes of illness and disease, Functional Medicine practitioners are able to design unique, personalized healing plans that Conventional Medicine literally doesn’t have the tools, training, or the time for.
Our current health care system is, to a large extent, governed by profit-driven conglomerates that essentially force physicians to manage huge caseloads and keep people moving through the system as quickly as possible. It’s mass-produced, assembly line, quick-fix, put-a-band-aid-on-it medicine, with little hope of creating long-term health. To it’s credit however, Conventional Medicine is great at managing medical and surgical emergencies, medical crises, acute infections and trauma, but falls way short when it comes to treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases, functional disorders, musculoskeletal problems and stress related disorders. This is where Functional Medicine shines bright with its more comprehensive, thoughtful approach.
Functional Medicine is not an either/or system, but rather a true combination of Conventional Medicine and many different alternative and complementary therapies. It acknowledges the strengths of Conventional Medicine for acute and crisis-care, but also realizes that this approach does not have the tools for preventing and treating chronic diseases. Unlike conventional physicians, we are able to tap into all the tools of healing—drawing from Western, Eastern, alternative, preventative and integrative medical practices—to help our patients heal. By pulling from all of these approaches and by paying special attention to diet, exercise, nutrition, supplementation and the workings of the mind, we’re not just giving patients a band-aid, we’re giving them the tools to create sustainable wellness and vitality. To me, is what true healing is all about.
In Conventional Medicine, doctors try to make a diagnosis and then apply a treatment for that particular diagnosis. In Functional Medicine we are less concerned with making a diagnosis and more concerned with the underlying imbalances or dysfunctions. These are the mechanisms of the disease process. We aim at treating those underlying disease mechanisms and ultimately look for the causes of those imbalances.
I call myself a health evangelist, in part because I am a man on a mission. I aim to show the unwell how they can transform their health. Certainly they will need to do the work as I can’t do it for them, but we will work as partners to restore balance and health to their lives. And participating in the process, that slow transition from illness to wellness, is one of the greatest joys of Functional Medicine—for both patient and practitioner.
Functional Medicine is true health care, unlike the disease care model of Conventional Medicine. We now have the knowledge to go beyond the current crisis care model and offer patients a much better approach to their health. We can incorporate lifestyle medicine, nutrition, supplements, stress reduction and exercise to improve the functioning of organs as a means of preventing disease and creating vibrant, sustainable health. We can address the healthcare needs of the 21st century….Let’s do it!!To find a Functional Medicine Practitioner in your area, please visit The Institute for Functional Medicine’s directory of doctors.
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