Functional Medicine 101

So you might have heard the term ‘functional medicine’ floating around the Twittersphere lately (and touted on Celebrity TV shows as the next medical breakthrough). As a conscious consumer, you’re probably skeptical about trends and endorsements, especially in the realm of science and medicine (I KNEW the magical qualities of green coffee beans was just a myth, Dr. Oz!). But before you dismiss the practice, I want you to know that Functional Medicine is more than a buzzword or a passing health fad, it’s a mental shift aimed at healing humans rather than treating symptoms. Here’s what I have learned after 2 years of research on the subject, we’ll have our experts weigh in with their opinions in the near future.

Functional Medicine 101

Functional Medicine is a 21st century lifesaver. And why do I say 21st century lifesaver, exactly? Because, according to the Institute for Functional Medicine, the practice replaces the ineffective and outdated acute-care models from the 20th century with a holistic, patient-oriented approach to those suffering from illnesses unique to the 21st century (those being chronic illnesses…which I’ll get to in a sec).

I know what you’re thinking… “a new system of medicine that’s patient oriented? That doesn’t sound revolutionary… isn’t ALL treatment patient-oriented?” Well, not exactly. See, the problem with the medical approach thus far has been a focus on treating a label and suppressing symptoms. Got a rash? Put some lotion on it to alleviate the itch. Have asthma? Take your inhaler when you’re feeling short of breath. See the problem here? The symptoms are treated, but the root cause and triggers aren’t addressed. Which means the problem PERSISTS. That’s about as effective as putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m NOT dismissing Western medicine (which is ESSENTIAL and incredibly effective in acute care settings). But the scope of illness has changed dramatically, and such a shift demands an equally seismic approach to treatment.

Not to be a Debbie downer, but Today, chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer, depression and diabetes, are the leading cause of death and disease worldwide.  WORLDWIDE. And remember, chronic diseases are different than acute diseases, the difference being that acute diseases are abrupt and short term and often curable (like strep throat, for example). Chronic diseases, on the other hand, develop slowly, last a long time and, under the current medical model of approach, often considered incurable.

The impact that chronic illness has on a global scale is debilitating—it costs our healthcare system billions per year and we’re only getting sicker! So, what does this tell us? The current system’s band-aid approach of treatment is ineffective. What we need today is a thorough way to get to the bottom of a chronic disease in order to treat, manage and potentially prevent future illness. The brilliant doctors behind functional medicine have come to realize in order to treat a chronic illnesses (again, which account for most deaths globally) you have to take a number of factors into consideration, like a person’s genetics, environment, nutrition and lifestyle. Which—WAIT FOR IT— requires a doctor to treat you like an INDIVIDUAL HUMAN BEING.

The functional medicine approach looks at your entire health picture in order to best resolve chronic health issues. Let’s think of it this way—two people have asthma. One asthma sufferer lives in Tokyo, has an active lifestyle and has no history of respiratory issues in their family. The other is a sedentary teacher in Perth, Ontario whose mother has celiac disease. The current model would simply give a puffer to both patients to treat the symptom. Talk about impersonal! The functional approach would take the patient’s lifestyle, genetic history and environment into consideration in order to treat the cause of the asthma, thus potentially eliminating the recurrence of the disease; although these patients express the same symptom, the cause could be TOTALLY different and in effect, would require completely different treatments. Cool, huh? And it makes total, FUNCTIONAL sense!

The great thing about functional medicine is that it empowers patients to achieve their highest expression of health. YOU can help yourself- starting with the kind of fuel you put into your body! How great is that? Happy grocery shopping friends. Here’s to your health!

If you’re interested in getting in contact with a functional medicine practitioner in the GTA, check out Dr. Levy. Or, if you just feel like geeking out over Functional Medicine, visit the website of the Institute for Functional Medicine.

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