Let’s pretend for a moment that health insurance (private or national) didn’t exist. Let’s pretend each of us was financially responsibility for “employing” doctors to help us monitor our health. Would we solely rely on the doctor(s) we use today?
I ask this question because most of us have never been exposed to the latest branch of medical, chiropractic, naturopathic and acupuncture physicians practicing FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE. This form of health care evaluates the “whole person” to investigate root cause problems that address ongoing symptoms (OR MORE IMPORTANTLY), problems BEFORE they become symptomatic.
What are the differences between traditional doctors and functional medicine doctors?
Traditional doctors are typically approached when a patient begins to experience symptoms. The traditional doctor will follow an algorithm and order traditional lab work to determine an appropriate prescription to address the patient’s symptoms. If the symptoms clear up, the case is deemed a success by both the patient and the doctor. The problem with this approach is that the underlying CAUSE of the symptom may never have been addressed (even though relief of symptoms was experienced) allowing the problem to worsen and affect other systems in the body (heart, liver, pancreas, etc…) In time, as new SYSTEM symptoms develop, traditional medicine evaluates these conditions INDEPENDENTLY (in many cases) and attempts to address these new symptoms with new prescriptions. This leads to an increasing arsenal of prescriptive medications (as well as additional prescriptions to counter side effects) while rarely achieving GOOD HEALTH. The weakness in this approach is its lack of ability to “FIND” and “FIX” the underlying causes of the problem or problems.
Functional doctors take a detailed history and perform thorough examinations (similar to traditional doctors), but utilize the information obtained differently. For example, if you suffer from recurring illnesses (let’s say 4-6 times a year) can you remember the last time you had the following tests ordered to determine if your “gut” was healthy?
SIBO-(small intestine bacterial overgrowth) breath testing
Urine organic acid profiles
Most patients aren’t even aware of the first two tests. Your doctor may have ordered a stool sample, but by itself, may have tested negative even though an underlying pathology existed. The other two tests could offer additional insight that would reveal the answers needed to address the ROOT CAUSE, yet most traditional doctors are not trained or aware of this type of testing. Since we know that 60-70% of immune function (that protects each of us from disease) is found in the gut, this approach could provide necessary answers to RESTORING HEALTH, rather than simply treating symptoms of disease.
Without ANY intestinal symptoms, it is possible to have fungal and bacterial overgrowth as well as evidence of bad (pathogenic) bacteria. I just mentioned that 60-70% of immune function is located in the gut! Can you see how traditional doctoring could easily miss this leaving the patient believing that 4-6 episodes of annual illnesses is normal for their body? When the gut (eventually) produces symptoms and clear evidence of illness is seen, traditional medicine will typically treat this with antibiotics. This treatment may reduce the apparent illness, but kills the healthy bacteria allowing the bad (opportunistic) bacteria to overtake the gut causing greater problems in the intestines. This can lead to a disease called “leaky gut” allowing disease to spread to other organs of the body.
This is just one example of the differences between traditional medicine and functional medicine. This same approach is used to determine underlying hormonal issues (with or without symptoms) and nutritional deficiencies that typically produce NO SYMPTOMS associated with food and hunger. This is a SYSTEMIC approach to health and provides a comprehensive plan to MAINTAIN HEALTH rather than simply COMBATING DISEASE.
For those patients seeking symptomatic care, the traditional medical approach is faster, less expensive and requires less participation on the part of the patient. For those patients wanting to maintain good health, wanting to understand what their role in this process is and are willing to put forth the effort to achieve this goal, functional medicine just might be an approach worth seeking. The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I worth it?” We are willing to spend $15,000.00 to $30,000.00 on the purchase of a car. What are we willing to spend to be HEALTHY?
If you have any questions you would like answered, please feel free to ask. I welcome all constructive opinions and questions including those with opposing views. Honest open dialogue leads to positive changes that benefit everyone!
(Disclaimer: I am not a functional medicine practitioner and do not receive any benefits providing this information to the general public. This, simply, is information most people are unaware of and should be taken into consideration when choosing a doctor to treat and maintain health.)