Principles of functional medicine

5 Principles of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a term which is largely unfamiliar to the general public. It has, however, evolved to become a mainstream approach to healthcare in recent times. 

The functional medicine model focuses on the process of the development of a disease or health condition through factors such as genetics, diet and lifestyle choices rather than treating the disease itself.

Healthcare building blocks

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine can be a little difficult to define, so it’s useful in the first instance to compare it to the conventional medicine approach.

In conventional medicine, doctors diagnose a disease and then match it to a specific treatment. When someone is diagnosed with an acute healthcare problem such as a heart attack, infection or trauma like a spinal cord injury, this approach works well.

For many chronic conditions, however, including high blood pressure, digestive issues or many neurological problems, this type of medical intervention can fall short of what is required.

With a chronic condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, for example, the medical approach will provide short-term relief but won’t have the impact desired on the long-term suffering of the individual.

Functional medicine takes a holistic process approach and considers the individual as unique.

It asks why someone has developed a particular disease, perhaps looking at their lifestyle and diet or their family history. This in-depth investigation leads to suggesting potential changes, such as switching to a certain diet, that could improve the condition of the patient.

Principles of Functional Medicine

The key to this kind of approach is to look at what function has been lost and how it can be restored. As a model, it is underpinned by 5 principles that help define the treatment for the individual.

1. The individual is not a disease but a person

We are all unique. Each of us has a genetic blueprint that defines how we look, how tall we are and how our biology works. Because of this, the first principle of functional medicine treats each person as different.

They are not a disease but a person who will have their own biochemical makeup. Each has a set of healing mechanisms defined by their biological structure. Encouraging this self-healing is an important part of dealing with many chronic diseases, according to the functional medicine model.

2. Functional medicine is evidence-based

As with the conventional approach to healthcare, functional medicine needs to be defined by the evidence. Each of us is the result of a network of interactions that can affect not only our health but how we respond to disease and illness.

These intricate relationships give us an in-depth insight into how the human body functions and how it affects the individual. The benefit of person-centered care is increasingly being highlighted in ongoing medical research.

3. The human body is self-healing

Research today tells us that the human body is incredibly effective at regulating itself and, in many circumstances, healing itself.

The balance between different organs in the body and how they interact is a key factor in creating an environment where healing can take place. There is significant evidence that functional medicine can help tackle major public health issues such as type 2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and diet.

4. We each have the potential to heal diseases commonly associated with ageing

Many chronic diseases are related to ageing. For example, high blood pressure usually occurs in later life. Some are associated with conditions such as obesity or simply the natural process of getting older.

One principle of functional medicine is that our bodies have an innate ability to heal under the right circumstances and even prevent diseases occurring in the first place.

5. Health is more than the absence of disease

We often consider good health as not having something wrong with us. The absence of disease is not the only signal that we are in good health. Vitality, a good appetite, optimum weight, and a settled emotional state are all indicators of general wellness.

We tend to ignore these important indicators as individuals. The functional medicine model puts them at the center of its approach to healthcare.

The Future of Healthcare

Personalized care is becoming increasingly prevalent in healthcare environments. The functional model aims to understand the individual’s physiological, biological, emotional and cognitive makeup to determine the best way to achieve optimal health.

Moving away from a medicalized approach, functional medicine can be applied at any level whether that’s from the perspective of a biological mechanism or a social or spiritual function that affects the individual.

To succeed, functional medicine practitioners need to look at the broad view as well as the microscopic and bring these together in an appropriate package of care. Patient-centered care that is responsive to the individual is becoming increasingly important, particularly for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

The future of healthcare