Photo by Analise Benevides
Functional Medicine: Sifting Through Subjectivity
According to the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), functional medicine is a systems biology-based approach to health and wellness. The framework of the practice lies inside the acronym, GOTOIT, which stands for gather, organize, tell, order, initiate and track. Functional medicine practitioners spend a lot of time interviewing patients to understand their personal health and daily routine. In treating sickness and disease holistically, they can make a more concise and personalized diagnoses and long-term treatment plans, tackling an illness at its core. The biggest critique from proponents of functional medicine regarding medical doctors is that the latter simply treats symptoms, while the former is more concerned with the full picture.
The Principles of Functional Medicine
Functional medicine has gained prominence for how effectively the practice can treat and manage chronic illness. This success is largely attributed to the the 5 core principles that govern the practice:.
Personalized healthcare that treats an individual based on their unique biochemistry
Science-based diagnosis and prevention
The body is intelligent and can self-regulate
The body can heal itself and prevent aging and disease
Health is not absence of disease but is a symbol of immense vitality
An Overview of the Benefits of Functional Medicine
Patients who undertake functional medicine as their main form of disease prevention, however, tend to see promising results. This is largely because of its unique focus on lifestyle improvements, rather than just symptoms to treat. The things it gets right:
Emphasis on healthy lifestyles, good nutrition, adequate exercise, sleep hygiene and promoting the cessation of habits that are bad for health (like smoking)
More time spent with patients, getting to know them and their lifestyles better
A heavy emphasis on prevention
Does Functional Medicine Really Work?
Critics of functional medicine tend to focus on the process by which patients are diagnosed and the methods through which they are treated. One of the biggest criticisms is that the science that supports this type of medicine largely trusts anecdotal evidence rather than clinical studies. Because of its claim that this type of healthcare treats individuals based on their unique biochemistry, proponents of functional medicine claim that it is impossible to accurately gather data about it effectiveness through clinical trials. Rather than trying to formalize the practice, it dismisses clinical trials entirely. While it is entirely possible that this medical practice could prove effective through trials, there is not enough evidence to say one way or another. Though individual humans are unique, our individual biochemistry is not so unique that it would require drastically different treatment plans.
Functional Medicine Practitioners Vs. Medical Doctors
There is a noticeable rift between functional medicine practitioners and medical doctors that is not entirely unfounded. The way that alternative medicine lambasts traditional scientific approaches has created the mentality that you must choose one over the other. I think it is more important to take what’s good about each in order to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself.
Though a lot of functional medicine has been uncovered as “quackery,” amounting to no more than scientific fraud, the holistic approach to health that it promotes should not be ignored. In other words, functional medicine clinicians can help individuals to improve their overall health through a more holistic, far-reaching medical practice that requires its doctors to understand and work within a patient’s lifestyle. However, the idea that functional medicine can replace something like chemotherapy by treating breast cancer with high-dose Vitamin C supplements is less convincing. While functional medicine can help you make healthy improvements to your daily life, it cannot fully replace the cumulative knowledge and proven trials of traditional medicine. In essence, they need each other.
Instead of simply choosing one over the other, be critical of both. Do your research and come prepared with questions next time you meet with your medical doctor. By combining the two practices you can put yourself on the path to healthier living, so long as you approach both with curiosity, objectivity and logic.