Every year, for the past 100 years, Medicine has graduated more medical doctors, accumulated more research, developed more medications and technology and prescribed more medications than ever before, and yet chronic disease has continued to spread. It's obvious now that conventional medicine doesn't work for chronic disease. Functional Medicine is a different approach to care that addresses the root cause of an illness, rather than simply relying on drugs to suppress symptoms. Functional Medicine corrects the mismatch between our bodies and our environment through diet and lifestyle interventions. Functional Medicine is the future of healthcare, available today.
Before I discuss What Functional Medicine Is, let's think about WHY we need Functional Medicine more than ever.
Chronic disease is skyrocketing. Six out of 10 adults now suffer from chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more conditions. Every year, for the past 3 years – life expectancy has dropped with heart disease and cancer being the leading causes of death. The global cost of treating chronic disease is projected to reach $47 trillion by the year 2030. Today, more prescriptions are filled than ever before.
Today, we have more technology, all sorts of sophisticated scans and costly medical procedures and yet disease continues to grow exponentially.
People now take more medications and undergo more surgeries than ever before and yet, we continue to die and suffer from unmanageable diseases. It's clear that more medications and more surgery are not the answer.
That’s Why Functional Medicine Matters.
Functional Medicine is what healthcare should be. Functional Medicine is a holistic, patient-centered, collaborative approach to healthcare.
A Functional Medicine approach to your health combines ancestral health strategies, which align our bodies in a more genetically congruent way with our environment, and shifts the focus from treating illnesses and symptoms; to preventing them from developing in the first place.
The Functional Medicine approach deals directly with the underlying cause of a health issue and treats each patient as a whole, unique individual.
The meaning of the “Functional” part of Functional Medicine is that we are interested in figuring out the “Dysfunction” in your current state of health or to prevent the onset of disease. Rather than simply prescribing a blood pressure pill to lower blood pressure, Functional Medicine doctors want to find out Why your blood pressure is high and correct that.
Functional Medicine offers a powerful new system of clinical assessment, treatment and prevention of chronic diseases to replace the old, outdated and ineffective conventional medical model.
Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in holistic nutrition, diet and lifestyle, genetic sciences and systems biology to influence the progression of chronic disease.
Functional Medicine Practitioners are not here to replace life saving critical care provided by conventional medicine. Rather, we work together with medical doctors, nurses, health coaches, nutritionists, and other allied health providers to support our patients as they make their journey toward wellness.
While the Functional Medicine approach is all about preventing or reversing chronic illnesses, the conventional approach focuses on disease management.
This means that the goal is to usually suppress symptoms with a drug or medical procedure, rather than encouraging the expression of true health.
For example, whenever an individual takes a medication, they may experience a change in the symptoms such as lower blood pressure or cholesterol, but that rarely translates into better health.
Those drugs seldom address the root cause of the problem and instead, mask symptoms and suppress vital bodily functions, leading to unintended side effects.
Here’s how it typically works in conventional medical settings:
A person with high blood pressure sits through a 45 minute appointment that often consists of just 10, maybe 20-actual minutes with the doctor. This person will inevitably leave the appointment with a prescription for a new drug to lower blood pressure. After that, he or she is on their own until the next appointment.
Nothing was done to identify what is elevating the blood pressure. There was no deep dive into diet, lifestyle or nutrient deficiencies.
This process will go on for years but the more important question is whether or not this person is healthier for it?
In 10 years, if this person gets off their blood pressure medication, what do you think will happen? Chances are, their blood pressure will go back up because nothing was done to correct the problem.
Worse is the fact that the blood pressure medication has been taxing this persons liver, kidney and nutrient status.
There's a good chance that even though this person had lower blood pressure, they developed bigger problems.
Conventional medicine separates doctors based on their specialties (neurology, gynecology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, etc). This creates a fragmented and isolated healthcare environment for individual patients.
A Functional Medicine approach is different.
Functional Medicine doctors are holistic and look at all aspects of an individuals health.
A Functional Medicine practitioner would take the time to investigate and uncover what is causing the health problem in question. And based on the information obtained, a functional medicine doctor would determine which diet, lifestyle, and environmental treatments could help.
Functional Medicine is different in that it would look at the Whole Body and not just the parts that seem to be going bad.
Functional Medicine is also different that Conventional Medicine because it recognizes the spiritual, emotional and energetic aspects of illness.
Most Functional Medicine Doctors will follow a similar path.
The first step is to undergo an initial consultation, typically lasting anywhere from 45 to 120 minutes. The initial consult also includes a comprehensive health history (not just a medical history), but a deep dive into your life and what you are all about.
Almost all Functional Medicine doctors will also likely want to review your history of labs and get a comprehensive update on your bloodwork.
Some of the labs ordered by a Functional Medicine trained practitioner will be traditional and others will be unique to our field. What's important to understand is the interpretation is different from that of a conventional medical doctor.
In addition to blood chemistry analysis, we also specialize in Digestive Health assessments, Advanced Nutrient Analysis including measuring vitamins and minerals, amino acids, organic acids and brain chemistry.
Finally, there are specialized tests to measure hormone levels, food sensitivity and intolerance and your genetic impact on the development of disease.
Taking all the information is just the beginning. Simply measuring is not enough. The true rocket science comes from the analysis and interpretation.
Where conventional medical doctors reviews labs in light of symptoms, Functional Medicine doctors are trained to take a systems based approach, which allows them to see more.
A Functional Medicine Doctor will also take the time to review all the data and begin recommending personalized lifestyle, diet and fitness changes.
This is yet another important factor in what a functional medicine doctor will do.
Often times basic blood chemistry will reveal major problems that have plagued an individual for decades. Sometimes we find chronic, low grade digestive infections and pathogens. Other times, we find imbalances in the microbiome, nutrient deficiencies, heavy metals and imbalanced brain chemistry.
In addition to the initial findings and recommendations, a good functional medicine doctor will reassess a few months down the road. This helps to determine if the initial treatment plan and recommendations are working. And once you see improvements, you can begin working on additional health promoting factors.
“Is Functional Medicine covered by Insurance?” is a question I get asked all the time.
The short answer is, “Nope!”. But keep in mind that what's covered by insurance can change at any time, and hopefully the insurance industry picks up on the advantages of Functional Medicine.
The primary reason why Functional Medicine is not covered by insurance, is because most insurance policies only pay for disease management and therefore not interested in identifying the cause of your health problems.
For this reason, many Functional Medicine practices decide to not accept insurance.
An insurance free practice has many advantages over those practices who take insurance including:
Advanced Care. Being “insurance free” allows doctors to recommend the most advanced therapies and testing available. The insurance model tends to keep doctors stuck in the current “standard of care” because that is what's reimbursed. One study found that conventional doctors took an average of 17 years to change clinical treatment behaviors.
Personalized Care. In functional medicine, doctors base treatments on the best possibility for an individual to get better taking into account your personal genetics, diet and lifestyle factors. Whereas insurance companies decide what treatments are going to be reimbursed, which then dictates what an “insurance doctor” prescribes.
Time. Insurance reimburses doctors based on time and they don't like it when a doctor bills for large amounts of it. This is a primary reason why and “insurance” based visit is short. Compare that to 45-120 minutes spent with functional medicine doctors.
All that said, Functional Medicine doctors try to help their patients as much as possible when it comes to insurance. In some instances, you can absolutely use your insurance.
Insurance may offset some of the costs of lab testing. It may not cover 100% of the labs that a functional medicine doctor will want ordered, but you can certainly use your insurance for a part of it. It really depends on your specific insurance plan including deductible and co-pays.
Also, if you have an FSA or HSA (or related flex spending account), then you can absolutely apply your balance to the cost of all Functional Medicine visits and procedures.
Insurance is great to have for emergency or critical care. But the reality is, it's not going to pay for you to be healthy. For chronic health conditions, insurance is all but pointless. It will cover medications (if you're into that), but even then not 100%.
Fact is, we need to take control of our own health and not put it in the hands of an insurance company. Relying on an industry that is not designed to heal the body is really setting yourself up to stay sick.
There are thousands of functional medicine practitioners to choose from.
So how can you know you're picking the right one?
1. Ask for Recommendations and Read Reviews!
Most of the functional medicine doctors that I refer to, come from recommendations of not only my past and current patients, but friends and family from around the country. Google reviews are also a great resource and can provide insight into the best functional medicine doctors in your city.
2. Decide What Type of Functional Medicine Doctor You Want
The best functional medicine doctor is going to be one that you can work with comprehensively. I firmly believe that everyone needs to work with a doctor who can directly diagnose and treat your disease, run labs and have the authority to order tests. Not every practitioner will be able to do that. So make sure you have a doctor or practitioner who can be hands on. This will generally include an MD, DO, DC, NP or ND.
3. Setup a Consult and Initial Meet/Greet Session
In order to heal anything, you're going to have to feel safe and truly believe in what you're doing. If you're not into your doctor, feel “iffy” or just don't trust your doctor, then you're already at a disadvantage. Being able to meet a Functional Medicine doctor prior to becoming a patient is crucial to your success. Most doctors will have an about page on their website, but I would highly recommend setting up a time to meet.
4. Ask How Long Appointments Last and What Kind of Support They Offer
This is just as important as feeling comfortable with the doctor. If you have a ton of questions, you don't want to be rushed or feel like you're on the clock to get them answered. When scheduling appointments, ask how long the initial visit is, how long do follow ups last and what kind of support they offer between visits.
5. Find Out What Type of Testing Will Be Done
Testing is crucial to figuring out what is going on in your body, but at the same time, you shouldn't have to order thousands of dollars worth of testing. A good functional medicine doctor, with plenty of experience, will be able to navigate the world of functional medicine testing and help you to save money and not simply spend it on all sorts of tests.
6. Red Flags to Watch Out For
A major red flag is when a doctor requires you to purchase a package to start care. This often includes a 3 Month or 6 Month program that costs $2000 to $5000. This is ridiculous because every patient is unique and different.
How in the world could a doctor know what they are going to test and how many consults or visits they will need to help you?
So if you're working with a functional medicine doctor and they ask you to sign up for their “Thyroid Package” or “Gut Package” or “Super Detox Program”, it's a red flag!
Another red flag is a doctor who is overly opinionated and doesn't listen. Here's a great quote that doctors should live by, “He who knows what he does not know, is the mark of one who truly knows.”
The reality is, the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don't really know. So if someone is dogmatic and strongly opinionated or has absolutes in their care – it's a red flag.
Another red flag and pet peeve of mine is the over utilization and reliance on supplements. Supplements, herbs and botanicals are great for helping to overcome problems. However, they should not the primary treatment.
Food first. Then Fitness. Then stress and lifestyle management. And then, after everything else, supplements.
The worst supplements are the ones you don't need and I guarantee you don't need all the supplements.