Why We Need Functional Medicine
Conventional medicine is the typical Western approach to healthcare. It was originally developed to treat infectious diseases and accidents, the main health concerns of the population. When practitioners meet with a patient, they focus on classifying the symptoms and providing a medication or surgery to treat or manage the symptoms.
This approach is useful in emergency medicine, when an acute condition needs to be treated or medicine is needed to reduce pain or fever while the body is quickly resolving the issue. However, it is extremely limited in dealing with our nation’s biggest healthcare issues today.
Our population’s biggest threat to health is chronic disease. The majority of healthcare costs and cases of declining health are due to non-communicable illness. Unfortunately, preventable diseases constitute two-thirds of American deaths (Bauer, Briss, Goodman, & Bowman, 2014). They develop primarily from lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress.
For example, consistently getting inadequate sleep can alter one’s insulin regulation and pre-dispose one to type 2 diabetes (Rao et al., 2015). Also, a healthy diet can reduce breast cancer risk while an unhealthy diet can increase it (Catsburg et al., 2015). However, conventional medicine is disease-centered and does not adequately deal with these aspects of a patient’s life.
This is where functional medicine excels: it takes a comprehensive look at factors that could affect the patient, including environment, beliefs, and lifestyle. This patient-centered approach takes an organized inventory of the patient’s life story as it relates to the development of dysfunction, allowing possible root causes to emerge. Focusing on the cause and its specific lifestyle interventions empowers functional medicine practitioners to correct the disease at the molecular level rather than treat the symptoms at the organ level as with conventional medicine.
Another difference is that prevention is emphasized: a 2009 study showed that adopting a few particular healthy behaviors prevented 93% of diabetes and 81% of expected heart attacks (Hyman, Ornish, Roizen, 2009). Therefore, for the majority of patients in our healthcare system who are frustrated by the significant limitations of conventional medicine, functional medicine offers hope.
Bauer, U. E., Briss, P. A., Goodman, R. A., & Bowman, B. A. (2014). Prevention of chronic disease in the 21st century: elimination of the leading preventable causes of premature death and disability in the USA. The Lancet, 384(9937), 45-52.
Catsburg C, Kim R.S., Kirsh V.A., Soskolne C.L., Kreiger N., Rohan T.E. (2015). Dietary patterns and breast cancer risk: a study in 2 cohorts. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(4), 817-23.
Hyman, M.A., Ornish, D., Roizen, M. (2009). Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Alternative Therapies, 15.6, 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com/files/2010/05/Lifestyle-Medicine.pdf
Rao, M. N., Neylan, T. C., Grunfeld, C., Mulligan, K., Schambelan, M., & Schwarz, J. M. (2015). Sub-chronic sleep restriction causes tissue specific insulin resistance. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.