The term ‘Functional Medicine’ grew out of the vision and energy of a group of scientists, medical doctors, chiropractors, naturopaths, nutritionists and other health professionals that began meeting in the late 1990s. Under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Bland, these practitioners began holding regular conferences which eventually led to the formation of The Institute for Functional Medicine.
The providers sought a new clinical model for the assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease and to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century. These new approaches reflect the movement away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ and the ‘one-disease-one-drug’ models of allopathic medicine to a systems-based treatment centered around a patient’s individual biochemistry and uniqueness.
Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It focuses on the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners attempt to understand the underlying common pathways to a disease, as well as the individual expression of disease created by the unique, ongoing interactions among genetics, environment and lifestyle that shape our lives.
There is little doubt that the United States is in the midst of a national healthcare crisis. Our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. The epidemic of chronic diseases threatens the health and economic well being of our nation. We know with certainty that rapidly rising rates of complex, chronic diseases are creating an unsustainable burden on our national economy in both direct (treatment) and indirect (lost productivity) costs. Furthermore, alarming projections suggest that if current trends continue unchecked, future generations will live shorter and less healthy lives than the adults of today.
Chronic diseases are usually not amenable to heroic intervention treatments. They require thoughtful ‘detective work’ to unravel their complex matrix of causes. Understanding the causes of chronic disease necessitates extensive knowledge regarding the physiology and biochemistry of the human body. The scientific community has made great strides in helping practitioners understand not only the most basic of bodily functions but also how environmental and lifestyle influences, when combined with an individual’s genetic make-up and psychosocial experiences, can impair those functions.
Functional medicine treatments are based on a large and expanding volume of scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic effects of nutrition (including both the clinical use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as fish oil, and one’s dietary choices), botanicals, exercise, stress management, detoxification, acupuncture, manual medicine (chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation), and mind/body techniques.
Functional medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and the understanding of how diet, lifestyles and exposure to toxins influence the emergence and progression of disease. It enables providers to practice proactive and predictive healthcare, and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.
Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group (760) 345.7300.
Source: Textbook of Functional Medicine, Jones et al, 2005