Why Functional Medicine is the 'Medicine of The Future'?
Traditional Western medicine and its doctors are the finest in the world for dealing with acute care, such as the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or short-duration illnesses in need of urgent care. For example, a traumatic car accident, appendicitis, or a broken leg. For such harrowing situations, I want a traditional medical doctor in my corner! That’s exactly why health insurance is made for. But that’s a different story.
A Reality Check
I have two question for you: Are majority of our health problems caused by acute injuries like motor vehicle accidents? Are our health problems caused by severe infections that require massive amounts of antibiotics? The reality is completely different. In reality, chronic diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes are the main causes of death in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 117 million people—have one or more chronic health conditions. One of four adults had two or more chronic health conditions.  The number of people suffering from chronic diseases is continuously increasing and more and more people are diagnosed with chronic and complex disease. What are we doing wrong?
Take diabetes for example. A treatable disease that kill more than 70,000 Americans every year! That’s more than AIDS and breast cancer combined together.  Arthritis (also a treatable disease), is the most common cause of disability which leads people to lose their jobs, their ability to be active, and to enjoy life. Looking at the data, it seems pretty obvious. Majority of our health problems are chronic. These chronic diseases are slowly leading to discomfort, pain, loss of function, and disability. They do not develop over a day, but slowly over months and years of neglect.
What about medications? I remember when I was in clinical rotation over 12 years ago and patients would come in with one or two medications. Today, I see patients over the age of 50 with over 9 or 10 medications. They all started with just one medication and slowly increased by their doctor. Why is that?
Is Our Health in Good Hands?
This disturbing phenomenon can be seen with our love ones, family, friends, and neighbors. A few years ago my mother, a healthy women in her late 60s, went to visit her doctor for a routine checkup. She was shocked when her doctor prescribed her Lovastatin. "What for?" she asked. "I looked at your blood labs and you have high cholesterol and I’ll have to put you on Lovastatin." My mother, who was not taking any medication, asked if it is really necessary. “Yes, it is. You can die of heart attack or stroke, if you do not take this medication for your high cholesterol,” said the doctor. So, my mother, being compliant with her doctor, took the medication. After a while, she started developing muscle pain and fatigue (among the side effects of cholesterol medications). She went back to the doctor, who prescribed her, guess what? Ibuprofen for pain. The pain reduced, however after a few months, she started to experience mild stomach pain and occasionally heartburn (the side effects of many pain medication include damage to the digestion system, stomach ulcers, and internal bleeding). Would you be concern and go back to your doctor? That’s exactly what my mother did. When she told me her story and that she also received medication for nausea and heartburn, I was angry. My mother, who was not taking any medications, started on one medication and within a few months was on 3 medications! Each of these medications has a different harmful effect. That’s not very different from what I have been seeing with my patients over the years I have been in practice.
It is also important to mention, that studies show that some of the cholesterol medication did reduce the cholesterol, however they did not reduce the number of patients that die from heart attacks or other cardiovascular diseases.  That is the number one reason cholesterol lowering medication are prescribed. The major industries have been misleading us for years.
It is very unfortunate that the doctor did not took the time to evaluate my mother and run the proper tests to find the real cause of her high cholesterol. Western medicine, so it seems, is very good in prescribing medications to manage our symptoms. But, at what cost? When it comes to chronic diseases, do you really want to relay on drugs? What about the underlying problem left untreated? The side effects of medications?
Can You Use Functional Medicine to Improve Your Health?
Functional medicine, also referred to by some providers as the ‘the medicine of the future’, is a patient centered system of healing. In comparison to mainstream (traditional allopathic) medicine, a functional doctor focuses on finding the root cause of the patient’s health problem, rather than just managing the symptoms. This is achieved by spending time with patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influenced their long-term health. The evaluation process might include advance functional tests, such as gut function, liver detox ability, or absorption of nutrients into your cells. All these labs, that check the function of your body, are usually ignored by mainstream medicine.
Is it scientific?
The field of Functional medicine was established by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a former professor of biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound, a previous Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, and an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 25 years. Dr. Bland interest and expertise in biochemistry and physiology led to a deeper and more accurate understanding of the factors that shift us from health to disease. He is also the founder of the Institute of Functional Medicine, an organization committed to the development of up-to-date protocols for clinical medicine. These protocols include evaluation and treatment protocols that are developed from clinical research and biochemistry, rather than just following the recommendation from pharmaceutical industry, logical assumption, or empirical experience. The institute of Functional medicine is currently led by Mark Hymen, MD, a best selling author, educator, and family physician with years of experience that is actively trying to change the way that medicine is practiced. 
The Birth of Functional Medicine?
As a result of the sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders (like rheumatoid arthritis), Dr. Jeffrey Bland, PhD, established in 1991 the Institute of Functional Medicine. The purpose of the institute is to research the drastic change in our environment, lifestyle, and diet that have been leading to harmful changes in our physical, psychological, and emotional state. As time goes by, these changes cause dysfunction and disease. Scientists and doctors from the institute of Functional Medicine are constantly updating diagnostic and treatment approaches according to new studies. Today, the institute trains physicians and other healthcare providers in the practice of Functional Medicine.
What makes Functional Medicine So Unique?
Functional Medicine is unique in several ways:
It seeks for the CAUSE of the disease, rather than focus on managing the symptoms.
We treat the patient. We do not ‘fight’ the disease.
It uses a comprehensive evaluation process, which includes the physical, emotional, and psychological state of the patient. Information is gathered about lifestyle and nutrition together with a complete functional assessment (including functional survey, labs, genetic testing, etc.).
Do not harm! Avoiding the harmful side effects by using natural alternatives to prescription drugs or surgeries.
The treatment is personal, for each patient, rather than a set protocols used on all patients with the same disease or symptoms.
The treatment protocol might include nutritional guidelines, lifestyle changes, medicinal supplements, and the use of natural medicine, such as prescription herbal medicine, acupuncture, or manual therapy to stimulate the repair and healthy function.
How To find a Functional Medicine doctor?
‘Real’ Functional medicine doctors are hard to find. Some claim to do functional medicine with very little training or understanding of the system and principles. To be trained in functional medicine, you need an advance degree in healthcare and a healthcare license.
A functional medicine doctor learns about the different causes of disease, such as imbalances of the digestion, hormonal system, or over accumulation of toxins and/or bacteria. The evaluation includes functional surveys, physical exam, and advance functional lab testing. By using the word ‘functional’, I mean how the organ, system, or tissue works. For example, your liver function might be lower than required to get rid of toxins. Would that lead to health problems? In most cases it would. There are several studies that have linked accumulation of environmental toxins with hormonal disruption, headaches, fatigue, chronic inflammation, diabetes, infertility, and more. Have your doctor have tested you to find the amount of environmental toxins in your body? Or, ran a ‘liver detox profile’ test to see if your liver breaks toxins properly? Most western doctors do not even know about these tests. In medicine, taking the right tests is crucial.
With that being said, after running a few tests on my mother, we found that her sugar was slightly higher and her inflammatory markers were slightly elevated. She stopped taking the medications and after a few dietary changes and daily dosage of herbs for 3 months, her cholesterol problem was gone.
Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple chronic conditions among US adults: a 2012 update. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:130389. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130389
American Diabetes Association. Fast Facts - Data and Statistics About Diabetes. https://professional.diabetes.org/content/fast-facts-data-and-statistics-about-diabetes
Vos E, Rose CP, Biron P. Point: Why statins have failed to reduce mortality in just about anybody. Journal of Clinical Lipidology. 2013;7(3):222-224. doi:10.1016/j.jacl.2013.01.007.
What is Functional Medicine. https://www.functionalmedicine.org