The conventional medical system is one that excels at acute care, such as when you are diagnosed with appendicitis or suffer a broken bone. In emergencies such as these, physicians are trained to prescribe specific drugs or surgery to treat your immediate symptoms.
Problem arise, however, if your symptoms do not fit the mold and are complex or chronic.
The Limitations of Conventional Medicine
If your suffering was dismissed without answers, if it was implied that it was all in your head, or if you were told there was nothing that could be done, you may conclude that your doctor didn’t care. The truth is more likely that they lacked the holistic training necessary to get to the root cause of your symptoms.
Conventional medical doctors are trained to ask “Which organ is broken?” and “Which medication matches its disease?” Essentially, they aim to attack the disease symptoms with a standard treatment plan.
Another limitation is the huge lapse between scientific research in healthcare and delivery of evidence-based practice. Research originally discovered more than 50 years ago about the underlying causes of chronic diseases may only just be emerging in medical journals. Effective strategies related to nutrition, diet, and exercise are only now being integrated into medical practice.
Finally, today’s average family physicians are driven by the modern demands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, which dictate the preferred pills to prescribe or surgeries to recommend. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and mental illness are all on the rise, but conventional, symptom-based treatments are not effective.
How Is Functional Medicine Different?
Dr. Mark Hyman, a prominent member of the functional medicine community, describes the practice as “an evolution… that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.”
Functional medical doctors are trained to ask “Why are these symptoms present in the first place?” and “What can we do to restore function?” Essentially, they aim to support the body’s natural healing mechanisms and treat each person as a unique individual.
One benefit of this patient-centered style is that your doctor has more face-to-face time with you, the patient. In this setting they are able to listen to your health history and evaluate the interactions among your unique genetic factors, environmental exposures, and Western lifestyle factors. This allows you to engage as an active partner in the therapeutic relationship with your physician.
Another primary difference is that functional medicine aims to diagnose the root causes of your long-term health problems and chronic disease, rather than to address only symptoms. By taking a lifestyle approach and making changes through nutrition, diet, and exercise, it is possible intervene at a stage when disease progression is preventable and even reversible in some cases.
Functional medical doctors also receive the same training as their conventional counterparts when it comes to the latest lab tests and diagnostic techniques. They are familiar with combinations of prescriptions drugs and supplements. They understand detoxification programs and stress management.
Additionally, they are taught to integrate the holistic with the scientific. They address internal factors, such as your mind, body, and spirit and external factors, such as your physical and social environment. Health is believed to be more than just the absence of disease.
You may wonder why functional medicine isn’t the gold standard if it’s so effective. For many, the cost of alternative healthcare is an obstacle when fees are not covered by insurance companies.
In reality, the short-term out-of-pocket expenses associated with functional medical care are significantly less when compared with the long-term costs of conventional treatment, such as prescription medications and inpatient hospitalizations.
This whole-person approach is based on the belief that the body can prevent and heal disease and dysfunction. It has helped many to find relief from the complexities of chronic and autoimmune disease and can assist you to do the same.