frequently asked questions
why choose a certified functional medicine practitioner?
Many health care providers say that they practice functional medicine, but what does that mean? I like the idea of organic certification for example, which helps set a minimum requirement for organic farmers. So I decided to support functional medicine standards by becoming certified by the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM).
In order to become certified in functional medicine by the IFM, we attend 7 educational modules, lasting 3-5 days each. They focus on the functional approach, on the gastrointestinal system, detoxification, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, energy regulation, and hormones. Then we present a patient case report in great detail, and study for a 3 hour multiple choice examination.
What is a functional MEDICINE Approach?
Functional medicine is a “systems-based approach” to healing. It assumes that the body is an intelligent self-regulating organism, and that symptoms arise in reaction to an unfavorable environment. Dysregulation of several body systems at once is the norm, and a healing approach must address them simultaneously. We use basic science and clinical studies to support our approach. If an intervention has low potential for harm, we do not wait for decades of confirmation before recommending it to patients.
Can I overcome my genetics?
Our DNA determines many things about us. However, the regulation of genetic expression is a more powerful influence on ultimate health outcomes. Likewise, our ever-changing beneficial bacteria are also determinants of health and disease and can be modified through our actions. Also, some genetic issues, such as the MTHFR variation, cause a higher than usual need for a common nutrient we can test for and supplement. These are ways in which genetic weaknesses can be overcome.
what types of conditions are best suited to this approach?
Conditions that have lasted for months or years, and low-level toxic exposures are best suited to a functional medicine approach. With any chronic condition, it is worth attempting to reverse it by changing the message that the environment sends to the body. Many of my patients have fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, and cognitive and memory problems.
Functional medicine can also address some acute conditions. Our understanding of harms associated with certain medications for example, pushes us to find alternatives to conventional treatment where we can do so safely.
What will functional medicine do for me?
The symptoms that are causing you trouble now can be a springboard to make changes that will bring about overall health and vitality. Patients often report improved energy, less stiffness, improved focus, and mind clarity. People have been able to lose weight, stop medications, stop having frequent colds, get rid of gas and bloated feelings, feel less overwhelmed and more empowered to move on with their lives.
why don't all doctors practice functional medicine?
There are historical reasons for that. With the advent of antibiotics and surgery, we became intoxicated with our ability to avoid what used to be deadly situations, like pneumonia and maternal mortality after childbirth. We began to think that all problems are best tackled by killing or surgically removing something. We turned towards technology and away from tradition or lifestyle.
As pharmaceutical companies increasingly became the main funders of clinical research, pharmaceutical solutions became increasingly dominant. Pharmaceutical companies are also the major funders of our media, and significant contributors to election campaigns. Their message dominates everywhere. Do you ever wonder how it is possible that there are ads on television for diseases that only a few people have? Most ads used to be about things that concern all of us, like shampoo and bubble gum. But now, not an hour goes by without advertisements for medications that treat multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, let alone abdominal pain, depression, depression and joint pain.
It makes sense for drug companies to target public opinion – to enhance our willingness to turn to pills first – as opposed to targeting individual users. Thus many patients and their doctors are not convinced by a lifestyle approach to major medical issues.
How did functional medicine come about?
Health care is in serious crisis. Medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death. More and more people are on more and more medications but they are not feeling well or living longer. In 2016, for the first time, in contrast to the other industrialized nations, mortality in the US rose instead of decreasing as it had every year in the last several decades.
Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a biochemist, noticed that people had highly individualized needs for certain vitamins. This was the tip of the iceberg that allowed him to team up with physicians and to develop over the last 25 years, an entirely new approach to healing. He summarizes it thus (I'm paraphrasing):
What type of patient is not well-suited to functional medicine?
We hate to turn anyone away, but after doing this for a few years with a few hundred patients, I do have some insight into the fact that some find this approach ultimately frustrating or ineffective.
First, we partner closely to find solutions. I don’t have all the answers. I am happy to discuss and consider what you bring to the partnership. A minimum level of trust will be necessary, as well as the willingness to define and advocate for your needs. Some patients want freedom to incorporate other treatments with the functional medicine approach. They get more infrequent visits. Others want very close follow up – we can set up a system that works for both of us and we appreciate honest, constructive, and timely feedback immensely.
Second, this approach will require that you invest significant resources. Time, energy, the courage to try new things, building the therapeutic relationship, and in most cases, significant financial resources as well. Visits are lengthy, some tests are not covered by insurance, and the supplements can add up. However, if you know the reasons you want to get well, and they are deeply meaningful to you, I expect that the tradeoff will be well worth it.