What is it?
Functional medicine is an integrative and personalized approach to preventing, treating and managing complex chronic conditions. Unlike conventional medicine, it focuses on the whole body and identifies the root cause of disease instead of treating conditions as isolated sets of symptoms. It is patient-centered, emphasizing patient and practitioner collaboration in treatment.
Practitioners in functional medicine are usually medical doctors with specialized training in functional medicine. According to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), which is considered the golden standard for training, the practice “requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.”
Functional medicine is a holistic medicine practice that has quickly seen explosive growth since its formation in 1990 by Dr. Jeffrey Bland. It was adopted as a systems-biology approach that utilized holistic methods including nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, environment, cognitive, emotional and pharmaceutical methods when needed to treat and prevent chronic conditions. Dr. Bland along with his wife Susan Bland founded IFM and served on the Board until 2007.
You can read more about Dr. Bland’s journey with Functional Medicine here.
As chronic conditions continue to increase and more evidence-based studies have proved that chronic conditions can be prevented and reversed through lifestyle changes, more practitioners have turned to functional medicine, expanding its influence and integrating its place in medical and holistic practice.
Does it work?
According to the first retrospective cohort study on functional medicine, a report from the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine (CCCFM) studied 1,595 patients for 2 years in the clinic compared to 5,657 patients seen in the primary care setting. The PROMIS® NIH quality of life questionnaire was used to assess if the functional medicine model made a difference in improved quality of life. Results yielded a significant result of 31% of patients showing improved quality of life score by 5 points compared to only 21% of patients seen in the primary care setting. While this study showed significant improvement, more studies are needed to evaluate long-term outcomes. This study does suggest great potential for functional medicine in improving wellbeing and quality of life if those who participate are able to adhere to treatment.
Who is it for?
While traditional conventional medicine focuses on treating acute and emergency conditions, functional medicine is best for those who are willing to work closely with their doctor to figure out the root causes of their chronic condition. It involves time, involvement and investigation so it definitely is not a quick fix. Those willing to work with functional medicine specialists are usually those who have tried conventional medicine for their chronic conditions without relief.