What is Functional Medicine? 10 Benefits of Functional Medicine for Your Health Goals

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Functional Medicine - Doctor Supports The Colon Of A Person

What Is FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?

Functional Medicine is a framework in healthcare that aims to both:

(1) identify address the root causes of disease/symptoms, as well as

(2) prevent, improve or reverse symptoms

Functional Medicine uses a holistic “whole person” approach, including nutrition, lifestyle, education, coaching and mindset optimization as the first lines of “medicine.”

For this reason, Functional Medicine is often referred to as true “HEALTH care” (vs. SICK care) that aims to empower patients to take their health back into their own hands; unlike Conventional Medicine, which tends to focus on diagnosing disease and “putting out fires” by treating symptoms.

For example, bloated all the time?

A Conventional Medicine approach may consider diagnosing you with IBS or indigestion without digging much deeper to understand your daily diet, circadian rhythm patterns, exercise habits or top stresses in your daily life. To treat your symptoms, a doctor may then prescribe you a laxative or PPI acid suppressing drug; or tell you to just deal with it, “bloating is normal.”

A Functional Medicine approach, on the other hand, would want to know the answers to these things—are you consuming alot of artificial sweeteners? Getting broken sleep? Not drinking enough water? Or, unaddressed gut infection from drinking the water in Mexico last summer; or worse too many antibiotics in your past? Overdoing the chronic cardio? Laying down to take a nap right after eating a big meal? A Functional Medicine “triage” may then include: SIBO breath testing and comprehensive stool analysis; a dietary “challenge” removing your artificially sweetened protein powder and diet sodas for several days; and supplemental digestive supports like HCL, digestive enzymes and a probiotic to see how your body responds.

Functional Medicine goes deep and strives to view the “whole picture” of health.

(P.S. Optimize how you feel and take your health back into your own hands today! Book a complimentary 15-minute Health Strategy Call today and let us help you).

WHO DOES FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE HELP?

Functional Medicine - Unhappy Woman Holding Hands On Stomach Suffering From Abdominal Pain With Close Eyes

Patients, from all walks of life, symptoms, diagnoses and health goals are great candidates for Functional Medicine.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, hypothyroidism, Lupus, gluten intolerance; you want to optimize your body composition, sleep, energy and mental clarity; or you have NO IDEA why you’re tried and bloated all the time, Functional Medicine can help!

Functional Medicine is best for those who value a customized, “deep dive”, holistic approach to health and want to live their best life.

WHAT TYPE OF HEALTH PROFESSIONALS PRACTICE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE?

Functional Medicine practitioners include a variety of allied healthcare professionals and can be implemented in a variety of settings include: Medical Doctors and DO’s, Chiropractors, Registered Nurses, Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners, nutritionists and registered dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, health coaches, fitness professionals.

Each practitioner uses a “Functional Medicine framework” within their scope of practice, considering the root causes of any health challenge may present with, as well as the holistic modalities, therapies, treatments, mindset work, foods and/or supplements that may aid the patient in restoring their health.

Functional Medicine - Cruciferous Vegetables, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Radish, Kale

For example, a Functional Medicine Medical Doctor or Doctor of Osteopath would specialize in a “systems-based” or integrative approach to healthcare, viewing the body as a whole—not parts!

If you presented with chronic headaches, a Functional Medicine doctor would consider a variety of causes, such as blood sugar imbalance, toxic and environmental exposures like mold, liver and gallbladder function, hormonal imbalances; and may use an in-depth patient interview, functional lab testing and an inventory of your health history, diet, lifestyle and environmental exposures in order to help you determine the “root cause.” This, versus your traditional PCP (primary care physician), who may just consider your symptoms when you schedule an appointment and tell you to take Tylenol.

For “treatment”, the Functional Medicine Doctor may then “prescribe” you a helpful supplementation plan; a gluten-free, sugar-free diet and lifestyle recommendations, such as getting rid of toxic fragrance plug-ins and drinking more water in order to address your root causes, as well as suggest follow-up lab testing to check hormone imbalance; food intolerances; and toxin exposures. They may also recommend you consult with a Functional Medicine Health Coach or Nutritionist for more specific nutrition and lifestyle guidance and ongoing plan implementation and support.

A Functional Medicine Physician Assistant, Chiropractor, Nutritionist, Nurse Practitioner, Physical, Occupational Therapist could do the same initial triage for you as an MD or DO—both helping you get to the root cause of your symptoms and provide you with a “game plan” for holistic healing; and may also include additional modalities for treatment within their unique scope of practice (such as craniosacral massage, environmental assessment, bodywork and/or meal planning and grocery shopping support).  However, if you are currently on medication or need pharmaceuticals, they would refer you to an MD or DO who can also manage your medications and help you with pharmaceuticals.

You get the picture. Many different Functional Medicine Health Professionals exist and take a similar, as well as unique, approach to “getting to the root cause”—within their scope of practice.

Disclaimer: Currently, not one “governing body” or continuing education and training in Functional Medicine exists to certify every professional. For this reason, Functional Medicine can be like a “Wild, Wild West”— one practitioner may have gone to a weekend-long seminar and call himself a “Functional Medicine practitioner”, whereas another Functional Medicine Practitioner has overcome 25 years of 13 “incurable illnesses” and continued with 10 years of higher education and continued training in Functional Medicine in order to become a specialist in toxic mold illness, lyme, thyroid health, PCOS, SIBO, leaky gut, autoimmune disease and beyond. For this reason, working with a practitioner who has experience and credibility is important.

10 BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE FOR YOUR HEALTH GOALS

Here are 10 ways that functional medicine can help you—10 benefits of functional medicine for your ultimate health goals.

#1. Get to the Root Cause (vs. Symptoms)

Functional Medicine - Medical Technologist Holding Urine Tube Test In Medical Laboratory

Functional Medicine “goes deep”—looking beyond symptoms in order to figure out what caused the symptoms or disease state in the first place.

Using a Functional Medicine is like being a “health detective” and considering factors such as nutrition, lifestyle, environment, genetics, health history “triggers” and stress to figure out the “root cause” drivers behind disease and symptom states. 

Cancer: Are there carcinogens in your tap water? Do you live near a 5G cell phone tower? Consuming sugar and seed oils regularly? Recent loss of a loved one? (Note: the stress of a “territorial loss” conflict is linked to many cancers in the body).

Fatigue: How is your blood sugar? Sleep quality and HRV? Too much coffee and a disrupted circadian rhythm? What is draining you (figuratively) in your life—a job, a relationship or something else?

Acne: Are you eating lots of conventional dairy or gluten? Using toxic skincare or makeup? Feeling under “attack” (figuratively)?—your skin is your body’s “defense armor” that aims to protect you under stress (putting up a shield of acne).

Get to the root!

#2. Whole Person Approach

Functional Medicine - Senior Couple Eating Salad Standing Together With Healthy Food On The Kitchen At Home

You are more than a diagnosis or a symptom. There are multi-factors that contribute to your health and wellbeing, including:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Supplements and/or Medications you’re taking
  • Where you live
  • Toxins you’re exposed to
  • Social connections and support
  • Your happiness and well-being (how you feel mentally and emotionally)
  • Spirituality

Functional Medicine considers all of these in the scope of both how you currently feel as well as treatment and guidance to help you feel your best.

#3. Systems-Based (vs. Symptoms-Based)

Functional Medicine sees the body itself as a whole—not parts.

Unlike Conventional Medicine, wherein you’d go to a GI doctor to talk about your gut, an endocrinologist to talk about your hormones, a neurologist to talk about your brain, Functional Medicine sees how the body works together as a WHOLE and how every system works together to help you feel your best including:

  • Drainage Pathways (Lymph, liver, gallbladder, kidneys, etc.)
  • Digestive System
  • HPA Axis & Central Nervous System
  • Mitochondrial Health & Metabolism
  • Endocrine System
  • Detox System
  • Immune System
  • Your Mindset

All of these systems influence one another and if one system is down, the other systems can go “down”—particularly the GI system, which houses the microbiome, your second brain that runs the “show” of your entire body. If your microbiome is “dysbiotic” (imbalanced) like an estimated 90% of people, then other systems—like your metabolism, your hormones, your immunity, your ability to detox toxins and your mindset don’t work well.

#4. Food is “Medicine”

Functional Medicine - Balanced Diet Food, Vegetables, Fruits, Meats, Nuts

Food is the number one variable that we “do” every single day that affects how we feel.

And many people are not feeling well because of what they eat. In fact, 70% of foods sold on grocery store shelves are ultra processed (man-made), non-real foods. When we eat “dead”, fake, unreal foods, our bodies do their best to try to digest and extract energy from these sources; however, just like a goat that eats paper and thinks it’s food; processed foods are like eating “paper” and we cut ourselves short on nutrients.

Functional Medicine acknowledges that the foods we eat daily are a “big deal” and it taps into the power of our life source to improve health and disease outcomes with one primary philosophy—eat real nutrient-dense food.

If it didn’t grow on the land, swim in the sea or roam the earth, it’s not real food. Real food is food your great great great grandmother ate—food that you’d find at the farmer’s market, in the garden or wild, or outer perimeter of the grocery store:

Organic, pastured, grass-fed and wild caught meats, poultry, eggs, fish and wild game. Color rich veggies and fruits.  Healthy, non-hydrogenated fats, like ghee, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, coconut, raw nuts and seeds and traditional fats (tallow, lard, duck fat).

Let food be thy medicine.

#5. Lifestyle Matters

Ever gone to the doctor’s office and they DON’T ask you about your diet, water, fitness, sleep, environmental factors (like “any recent moves?” or “what toxins are you using?” Or “how is your natural day light exposure vs. blue light”?) or any recent stresses (job changes, things pressing on you, financial or relationship strain)?

You’re not alone. “Lifestyle”—what you do on a daily basis—is often overlooked and, like food (mentioned in #4), it is a BIG PIECE of the health puzzle.

Functional Medicine leaves no stone unturned in order to help you optimize inside and out.

In my Total Gut Reset Program for example, I teach patients the core 5 GUT LUV HABITS to do EVERY DAY that helps 100% of patients begin to feel better with simple little changes. These habits are like 5 legs on a dinning room table—if one leg goes down, the others stand (perhaps a bit shaky, but they stand!). But if multiple legs go down, the table falls and dinner ends up in your lab.

#6.  Comprehensive “Functional” Testing

Functional Medicine - Hands Of The Laboratory Assistant Labelled Petri Dishes

Functional Lab Testing is “big” on identifying patterns and mechanisms that are out of sync or balance. Unlike Conventional Medicine that aims to primarily catch disease states, Functional Lab Testing casts a wider, broader net to identify things like:

Do you have low vitamin D and poor Vitamin D conversion, vitamin B12 anemia or elevated thyroid antibodies contributing to your fatigue? We look beyond just a standard CBC.

Do you have candida or gut inflammation that may be impacting your assimilation of nutrients?

Can we track your hormones for 28 days to clearly see if you have estrogen dominance or low progesterone explaining your crazy PMS?

Or do you have leptin resistance—explaining your crazy appetite and binge habits?

Functional Lab Testing simply goes deeper.

Common Functional Lab Tests may include:

Lab testing is not the “end all, be all” either! Skilled Functional Medicine practitioners are actually very good at “triaging” root causes without excessive amounts of functional lab testing, greatly based on a deep dive inventory of health history, current lifestyle and symptoms based on dietary, supplemental and lifestyle inputs.

For example, if a person complains of fatigue, brain fog, IBS, thyroid symptoms, histamine sensitivities and multiple chemical/food sensitivities, and symptoms did not start until they moved into a home that has incurred water damage, there’s a good chance they are living in toxic mold. We may not need a test.

Or if a person notices they get acne, brain fog and fatigue after they eat gluten; and it goes away when they don’t eat gluten, we may not need a food intolerance test for that.

#7. Real HEALTH Care (NOT SICK Care)

 Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine once said: “The greatest medicine of all is to teach people how not to need it.”

That is actually what Functional Medicine is all about—getting back to the roots of what REAL HEALTH CARE was formed upon.

Unfortunately, conventional medicine has greatly turned into SICK CARE or disease management—suppressing symptoms so it seems as though people “well enough” to not have symptoms, but not really reversing or preventing disease in the first place.

#8. Customized (NOT Cookie Cutter)

Functional Medicine is personalized. Many providers sit down with patients for at least 30 to 90 minutes (vs. 5 to 15 minutes in a conventional setting), and provide recommendations that are customized to patients.

Functional Medicine recognizes no two people or cases are alike.

For example, two patients may present with IBS, but have a completely different root cause or “driving mechanism” at play—such as SIBO and toxic mold in one patient, whereas the other is completely stress and anxiety-derived (an “indigestible conflict”).

Or, two people may have brain fog and one patient’s is related to dysglycemia (blood sugar imbalance), a non-alcoholic fatty liver from years of antibiotics and seed oils in their diet; whereas another’s brain fog is due to thyroid dysregulation and estrogen dominance thanks to “endocrine disruptor” overload on their system from the birth control pills they’ve been on for years, combined with an “overwhelm” conflict of being the sole caretaker of an aging mother with dementia herself, a business owner and mom of four kids.

Functional Medicine does not have the “IBS protocol” or the “Brain Optimization Protocol” or even the “Hormone Balance” and “Thyroid Protocol.” And if you come across a Functional Medicine provider that does, put up your spidey senses.

#9. Education

Functional Medicine - Doctor Writing On Transparent Screen

Teach a man (or woman) to fish and they will fish for a lifetime.

Functional Medicine is BIG on education — teaching patients the why’s, the how’s and the what-to-dos behind both their personal health conditions and health optimization.

Functional Medicine goes “deep” and invites patients to question conventional wisdom as well—so much so that it is sometimes like hearing the concept that the world is round, not flat (or vice versa, flat, not round).

Likewise, for optimization, Functional Medicine is a big proponent of teaching patients things like:

  • How sauna and cold plunge affect metabolism and body fat
  • What to look for in a quality probiotic (since 90% of probiotics are not effective)
  • Why coffee is the most cross-contaminated food with gluten and toxic mold
  • How to know if you’re living in toxic mold (and what to do about it)
  • Simple breath work practices to enliven your energy
  • Why blue lights are spiking your cortisol and how to mitigate them

And more!

#10. Doctors “Get It” (Many Have Been in Your Shoes)

Many Functional Medicine practitioners on the “front lines” of Functional Medicine help have “been there, got the t-shirt”—patients themselves in one capacity or another (or a supporter of a family member or special client population), especially if they specialize in a particular condition—such as Lyme Disease, Breast Cancer, Breast Implant Illness, Type I Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Eating Disorders and beyond.

And former patients often make some of the best (most empathetic, helpful) teachers.

For this reason, many patients find that they can “relate” and trust a Functional Medicine practitioner who has a similar story as them, and patient-centered care goes to the next level.

Functional Medicine, Customized for You!

If you’re looking for personal Functional Medicine support, let’s optimize your health and take it back into your own hands! Book a complimentary 15-minute Health Strategy Call today.

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