In the last few posts I have mentioned something called “Functional Medicine”. Functional medicine is a different paradigm- a different thought process and framework for how doctors can diagnose and treat disease and dysfunction.

“Functional Medicine” was termed by Jeffry Bland, M.D. in 1990, and has become increasingly popular in the last 5-10 years. Bland and his wife went on to found the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) in 1991, and the organization is now the biggest group educating doctors in the practice of functional medicine. More and more medical schools and naturopathic schools (and hopefully soon chiropractic schools) are teaching this material in their curriculum. Since chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, and acupuncturists are already trained in the use of herbs, supplements, and alternative therapies, we seem to be the ones who gravitate to functional medicine the most.

The IFM does a nice job of defining functional medicine here. However, there are other ways to get trained in functional medicine. There are many individual supplement companies and online resources that offer functional medicine seminars and webinars, all of which have their pros and cons. I personally have been to seminars offered by six different functional medicine based supplement companies, as well as one offered by the IFM. The reality with supplements is that no one company will have everything every patient needs (or simply responds best to), so most functional medicine doctors know how to use multiple products and herbs.

Functional medicine is all about finding the root cause of disease and treating based on the individual patient’s presentation. This is not the one-size-fits-all, symptom based medicine you are familiar with. Mark Hyman, M.D. describes it best when he says “I practice functional medicine… which is the opposite of dysfunctional medicine”. David Perlmutter, M.D. also says it well when he says “I am a holistic doctor… Because I treat people with a whole list of problems”. For example, ten people could walk into a conventionally trained doctor’s office with high cholesterol, and more than likely each one of them would be prescribed a statin (cholesterol lowering) drug. In the functional medicine model, we are taught to look at the person as a whole and ask the question “Why is their cholesterol high, and how does it relate to the rest of their story?”

Generally speaking, functional medicine practitioners work their way from least-invasive treatments to most invasive. For example, in the case of the patients with high cholesterol mentioned above, which would be the least invasive and disruptive to normal physiology- changing their diet and giving them herbs and supplements or artificially inhibiting the pathway your body uses to make cholesterol?

I’m not anti-medicine. I’m anti-over medicating America when there are better/safer options available. I like to think of conventional medicine and pharmaceuticals as the fire department. If your house is burning and your life is in immediate danger, you’d better call the fire department to put the fire out. However, if your microwave starts to smolder, you can often fix the problem without calling in the big guns. Nor would you want to involve the fire department- their high-pressure hoses will destroy the parts of the house that aren’t on fire, and it will cost more time, money and resources to bring them in. If you get shot, go to the ER. If you get diabetes, find someone who will help you get healthier.

Until next time, cyber-audience.


To learn more about functional medicine, check out these videos:

Mark Hyman on Functional Medicine
Mark Hyman at TedMed
David Perlmutter on Functional Medicine

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