Functional medicine is easy in description, but difficult to practice. It takes experience, intuition, and a thorough understanding of the biology of the human body to be a great functional medicine practitioner.
In essence, it is a type of integrative medicine, but it relies more on data from lab testing, and uses less “alternative” medical therapies (alternatives include but aren’t limited to ayurveda, homeopathy, mind-body medicine, herbology, and more).
Here at Center for Collaborative Medicine, we practice more functional than integrative medicine, but our practitioners have education in integrative therapies and may utilize these.
Answers to Common Questions:
When you visit with a functional medicine practitioner, the focus should not be on a diagnosis or covering up a symptom with a quick fix pill (prescriptions or over-the-counter supplements).
Functional medicine includes a deep understanding of the molecular biology and biochemical process that influence illness and health, and applying this knowledge to a patient’s particular set of lifestyle habits and genetic influences.
The overall goal in functional medicine is to work with the biology to restore health/balance to the body, leading to improved quality of life and health outcomes. A good functional medicine practitioner will evaluate the following:
- Thorough medical history, including your birth, job/home changes, and more
- Environmental inputs: air you breathe, water you drink, food you eat, traumas and toxic exposures you’ve experienced
- Psychological/social factors that influence your daily habits and health
- Genetic makeup
- Physical exam (similar to a conventional exam, but often more detailed)
- Identifying underlying triggers of dysfunction
- Laboratory assessments that look for how your body detoxifies, how your body uses/processes hormones, how your digestion is working, how well you produce energy, and more
- Your daily habits (which are the foundation of optimal health)
At the core of functional medicine, we seek to treat the underlying causes of medical problems so that the body can heal, rather than just addressing (aka covering up) symptoms with pills or procedures.
The foundation is based on good diet and lifestyle habits, which often get overlooked in favor of “new” treatments (particularly new supplements that have good marketing behind them!). Nutritional supplements do play a role in improving health by enhancing biological functions of the body, or helping to replete deficiencies caused by the environment or genetics. However, we aim to avoid the practice of “green allopathy.”
To improve your overall health, we do extensive testing, patient education, nutritional science (aka dietary interventions), optimization of body weight, nutraceutical-grade supplements, “detoxification”, enhancement of gut and immune-system health, and in adults the use of natural bio-identical hormones when needed.
We treat people, not lab results. So if your labs are “normal” in a conventional setting, we may see a different result when we correlate the labs with your health habits and history. One of the most significant disservices in conventional medicine is when a health care provider tells you that “nothing is wrong” because your labs are “normal”. Labs are NEVER perfect (even in functional medicine!), and the labs that are available in a conventional setting are often not in-depth.
When time is limited, going over in-depth labs take more time to interpret and review, and insurance doesn’t like to reimburse for time! We order more advanced tests than many other doctors do when assessing health status, we take the time to review these, and do not dismiss your symptoms if tests don’t identify potential causes.
- For people who want to understand their body, be educated.
- For people who understand that there is no magic pill or quick fix for a chronic illness or symptom.
- For people who want to optimize health for the long-term, to improve overall quality of life.
- Functional medicine PROMOTES HEALTH and has a model for addressing/reversing CHRONIC diseases. Chronic disease burden is mainly caused by lifestyle issues – best corrected by lifestyle changes, which are not easy to change.
- Functional medicine is a MODEL – not a specialty.
- Unlike allopathic medicine, there are no treatment algorithms in functional medicine (algorithms often imply a “one-size-fits all approach” to disease or illness).
- Most functional medicine-trained practitioners may have a general guideline for how he/she approach care, but rarely treat all patients in the same manner (hence, this is why functional medicine is considered “personalized” medicine).
- Conventional medicine is focused on TREATING DISEASES and taking care of ACUTE healthcare needs. This is needed in our society, but isn’t the best model at addressing persistent symptoms or chronic diseases!
- In conventional medicine, medical and graduate level universities are founded on preparing students to pass standardized tests, tests that test knowledge on algorithms for diagnosis and care. This is important for medical care, but they cannot account for the nuances of personalized patient care, nuances that primarily involve adjustments in lifestyle habits.
- There is no license or degree in functional medicine.
- However, the majority of practitioners that practice functional medicine have previously received a degree or training in a related healthcare field (MD, DO, PA, NP, OT, PT, DC, LAc, RD, nutritionist).
- When you see a functional medicine practitioner who has education in mainstream medicine (MD, DO, PA, NP), treatments options may include the use of pharmaceuticals, injections, ordering x-rays/imaging exams, and ordering labs that may be covered by insurance.
- Medication – whether pharmaceutical or over-the-counter-supplements – is utilized, but not overly-relied-upon.
- Functional medicine practitioners are trained via a variety of organizations, with the most popular programs via the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) and the American Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M).
- However, anyone can call themselves a “functional medicine practitioner,” even without training, since there are no licensing or certifying organizations that regulate this model of medicine. This can make it very confusing for both patients and practitioners!
The labs that are utilized in FxMed include those that a mainstream allopathic provider may use, but majority of the lab companies are independent and do not have insurance-company involvement (i.e. they are not micro-managed by insurance companies).
We test not only blood, but urine, stool, saliva, nasal passages, and more. There are a variety of companies that provide these labs, and these will differ between functional medicine practices. At CCM, we work with more than 10 lab companies, including Cyrex, Doctor’s Data, Genova, Cleveland Heart Lab, Precision Analytical, Great Plains Lab, MicroGen, and more.
Not all functional medicine providers are well-versed in functional lab interpretation, particularly when unfamiliar companies are used.
Simple definition: Functional testing isn’t taught in medical schools, so practitioners don’t know how to interpret these. Interpretation requires additional training and experience. In addition, functional testing is detailed and extensive, and results cannot feasibly be covered in a typical 10-15 minute visit at an allopathic practice.
There is no “perfect diet” or “perfect exercise” for everyone. No pill or procedure will truly create a foundation of good health. Patients will not succeed if they don’t address lifestyle habits, and this is the foundation of functional/integrative medicine.
Lifestyle habits include nutrition, exercise, stress management and relaxation, sleep optimization, and community (aka healthy relationships). As you experience the care of a functional medicine practitioner, you will notice that as a patient, you are engaging in a partnership with your practitioner. Thus, instead of relying on your practitioner to “treat” you, you become responsible for actively pursuing treatment recommendations. There is never a “quick fix” or a “magic pill”. You are in control of your daily habits, and your health care practitioner can only guide and educate you.
Response to treatment may be immediate, or it may take time to see improvements. In someone who is chronically ill, treatment often needs to be slow and steady, to avoid unwanted side effects. It can sometimes feel like you are taking “one step forward and two steps backward,” and just because something worked for one patient does not mean it will work for another. We are used to quick responses to medications, which are potent and come with potential side effects (either felt as symptoms, or cumulative over time). When changing lifestyle habits, results can take longer to experience, but last longer in the long term.
As Dr. Robin Berzin says:
1. IT KEEPS YOU HEALTHY INSTEAD OF JUST KEEPING YOU ALIVE
Conventional medicine is great at making sure you don’t die, but has nothing to do with improving your health and quality of life today.
2. IT’S PERSONALIZED
One size fits all, cookie cutter medicine no longer cuts it. Functional medicine uses advanced testing and genetics in combination with the art of listening to your story to piece together a plan that is 100% tailored to you, your body and your life.
3. IT’S ALWAYS AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF SCIENCE
In conventional medicine, it takes on average 17 years for new information to work its way into medical education. Functional medicine, however, is able to take advantage of new research in real time. Instead of battling with insurance companies for hours a day, many functional medicine practitioners put that time and energy into reading the latest research studies to determine if these studies are useful for application in the “real world”.
4. IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
It’s about helping you feel your best now and teeing you up for a long healthy life in the future.
5. IT CHANGES YOUR LIFE
Functional medicine teaches you how to listen to your body and tap in to your health in ways you never forget. Ultimately how you live each day determines your health and quality of life. Functional medicine is designed to teach you how to live well and to support you in maintaining that lifestyle despite the many toxic inputs and influences – chemicals in products and food, sedentary lifestyles, chronic stress – we are all exposed to in today’s world.
The reality is, we all get sick at some point. Functional medicine is designed to prevent chronic debilitating illness like diabetes, heart disease and cancer that are the number one killers in modern society and to deal with temporary things, like viruses and bacterial infections, in a more natural way that does less long term harm to the body. It also supports you with the guidance and tools to handle the inevitable challenges in the best possible way so that you live well and generate as much happiness in your life as you can.