Functional Medicine is an approach based in cutting-edge science. A prominent practitioner in the UK is Dr Rangan Chatterjee [i] (of Doctor in the House and other BBC fame). If you have encountered any of his work, the principles will not come as a surprise. The essential idea is to look at our function in a holistic way. The primary goal is to nurture overall wellness. If we suffer troublesome symptoms, practitioners strive to identify the root cause/s, and to address them. This is done by supporting our bodies to enable them to do their multiplicity of jobs to the best of their ability. The ideal is to prevent long-term problems from developing in the first place. Where they already exist, the aim is to facilitate healing.
The major systems of our bodies are not isolated from each other. We are each a wonderful integrated symphony of moving parts. When things are not working as they should, there is a reason – usually more than one. Our genes do play a role, but are not as dominant as one may imagine. Diet, lifestyle and environment can be much larger factors. A Functional Medicine practitioner will commonly begin by working with patients on these foundational pillars of health. They may uncover significant triggers such as nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances or underlying infections. Addressing these root causes, by removing inputs that are causing difficulties and providing resources that our bodies may be lacking, can set patients on a path to truly feeling better – and staying that way.
If a plant looks unwell, perhaps losing its leaves, managing the superficial (though not trivial) symptom might involve trying to stick the leaves back on. Alternatively, tending to the roots in the right way and providing appropriate support could actually restore the plant to optimal health.
In the same way, Functional Medicine is focussed on creating lasting wellness. This is how it differs from our prevailing system, which waits for us to develop diseases. When we do, we are sent to specialists – sometimes many different ones. They do their best to help us to supress symptoms, usually with medications. It is important to note here that Functional Medicine certainly does not rule out the possibility that interventions such as medications or surgery may be necessary in some situations. They are just not default first line options unless there is evidently an immediate need.
Our current medical system works in this way because it developed at a time when acute problems such as infectious diseases and injuries were the most pressing medical issues. Things have changed. We have made incredible progress in these areas, though there is obviously work still to be done. The most obvious priority being to ensure that everyone across the world has access to the necessary care.
Now, the largest global health issues are those arising from long-term non-transmissible conditions [ii]. This is where Functional Medicine comes in. An approach designed to create the best possible conditions to support health, whether you already have a chronic condition or are working to prevent one.
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