Functional Medicine: The Future of Healthcare
Healthcare and wellbeing is changing in the 21st century and more patient-focused approaches such as functional medicine are gaining popularity across the world.
While life expectancy is rising and more and more treatments are being developed to help combat major diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease, we still face major health challenges.
One of these is how we tailor treatment to the individual and provide real solutions to health problems that make a long-term difference. This is especially true when considering chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease where a one size fits all approach is often ineffective.
Staying Healthy in a post-Covid world
Keeping our immune system strong has become particularly important in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic. While we can all wear a mask, wash our hands and social distance, ensuring that we are in good shape is a key factor in battling the virus.
It’s no surprise that those at a higher risk from COVID-19 are often people with underlying health conditions which makes it harder to fight back when the virus strikes.
A functional medicine approach gives us all the opportunity to boost our immune systems and increase our resistance to the worst effects of the virus.
What is Functional Medicine?
Traditional/conventional medicine tends to focus on the symptoms of an illness and prescribe a medical treatment based on past evidence. This can work well for acute health problems such as a heart attack or cancer diagnosis but often falls short for chronic illnesses that affect a wider range of people around the world.
Functional medicine is concerned not so much with a diagnosis from a set of symptoms but the process that led to the development of the illness in the first place. A symptom can have numerous causes and understanding the relationship between cause and effect is essential.
Diabetes, for example, is generally the result of poor diet and lack of exercise rather than a dysfunction due to insulin resistance.
Functional medicine has some clear, defining principles:
- We are all unique and the individual, not the disease, needs to be treated. Functional medicine places a large emphasis on encouraging the body’s natural healing processes.
- It’s an evidence-based approach and requires a deeper understanding of how different parts of the body its mechanisms interact with each other.
- The body is intelligent and can heal itself if the right approach is used.
Why Prevention is Better than Cure
Most of us understand that a healthy body and mind are essential for wellbeing. Why is it then, that so many of us engage in bad habits such as poor diet and little exercise?
Functional medicine is not just about finding the right cure for the individual, it’s a method of maintaining and promoting good health, making lifestyle changes that have a huge, positive impact for the future.
Diet and exercise have been shown to boost immune responses, making us stronger when dealing with any illness and reducing the likelihood that we might need invasive medical intervention in the first place.
Key Differences Between Functional Medicine and Traditional Medicine
- Functional medicine takes a holistic approach and looks at the individual as a whole – not just their symptoms but their genome, lifestyle and habits. It’s about the true cause and not the symptoms.
- Functional medicine is more labour intensive than traditional medicine. During an regular appointment with a doctor, a patient might expect as little as a 7-minute consultation before a diagnosis is reached or a plan of action (such as seeing a specialist) is settled upon.
- With functional medicine, an initial consultation will take an hour or more where connections are sought between genetics, lifestyle, hormonal and even environmental factors to find the real underlying cause of a health problem.
- It recognizes that disease can get worse depending on a wide range of parameters and that addressing these are paramount to long-term health and recovery.
At its heart, functional medicine is personalized healthcare. It understands that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the future of medicine. For acute illness, perhaps where someone has suffered a stroke, traditional medicine is an appropriate response.
Many of us, however, suffer from long-term, chronic conditions that don’t respond well to this type of health care approach. Functional medicine can use a range of methods to discover what underlying conditions are producing symptoms and focus on the body’s natural healing system to provide relief over the long term.