Feel Your Best with Functional Medicine

Addressing the root causes of disease, not just a set of symptoms

illustration of medical briefcase

Have you ever been examined by your doctor — had blood tests, X-rays or other diagnostic tests — only to hear that “all your tests are normal?” Yet, both you and your doctor know you’re suffering.

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This scenario is all too common. Why? The answer is in part because healthcare has long focused on treating acute diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia, but has only more recently had to deal with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune disease.

Functional medicine is a relatively new way of looking at health that may be able to help. It uses a different approach and model for preventing and managing complex, chronic illness.  It focuses on treating the entire individual, rather than a cluster of symptoms. Functional medicine is medicine by cause, not by symptom, medicine by organism, not by organ.

“If you have head pain, we call it migraine. If you have stomach pain, we call it reflux. But those are simply names we give to conditions shared by a group of people,” explains Mark Hyman, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s new Center for Functional Medicine — the first such independent functional medicine program established at a major healthcare organization. “The causes might be multiple and different, and thus the treatments should be different and personalized depending on the causes.”

How does it work?

Functional medicine doctors spend time with their patients. Together, they discuss not only medical symptoms, but also diet, exercise patterns, traumas, lifestyle and any exposures to toxins. Next, they collaborate to address the underlying causes of disease. This includes searching for factors that might affect how the patient’s body functions, including:

  • Genetic makeup
  • Lifestyle choices such as diet, activity and stress
  • Environmental influences (such as exposure to toxins)

“The key is figuring out the root causes,” says Dr. Hyman. “Functional medicine is the map — the GPS system — that we use to navigate the landscape of chronic disease.”

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A disease can have more than one imbalance that needs to be treated. For example, obesity can be the result of imbalances in inflammation, hormones, gut flora, genetics, diet and exercise or exposure to environmental toxins. Similarly, one imbalance — such as inflammation — can cause many conditions. Functional medicine studies these complexities and believes restoring balance is key to restoring health.

Who should consider functional medicine?

Have you visited your doctor, been treated and still feel sick? Or are you on medication that is only partially helping or has side effects? That’s when you should consider trying functional medicine, says Dr. Hyman.

Patients with a wide variety of conditions can benefit from a functional medicine approach, including:

  • Cardiometabolic conditions – diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Neurological and psychiatric conditions – depression, attention deficit disorder and migraine headaches
  • Digestive disorders – irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, chronic pancreatitis, acid reflux and diverticulosis
  • Autoimmune diseases – rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and celiac disease
  • Skin disorders – psoriasis, acne and eczema
  • Hormonal problems – thyroid conditions, chronic fatigue and menopause

A customized plan just for you

Functional medicine’s ultimate goal is to restore balance and normal function. Personalized care plans for each patient may include:

  • Diet, exercise and lifestyle changes
  • Stress management
  • Detoxification programs
  • Prescription drugs, botanical medicines or nutritional supplements

These plans are designed to help patients reverse the specific imbalances that are causing their disease or prevent chronic conditions from occurring in the first place. Functional medicine practitioners help empower patients to make this a reality.

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“We are allies in helping you optimize your health,” says Dr. Hyman.

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