What is Functional Medicine?

The use of the term “functional” amongst healthcare professionals is becoming very popular – whether it is  functional supplements, functional nutrition, functional psychology and of course (perhaps where the term was first used), functional medicine.

I am a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine (based in the US) and have recently passed their exam to become an accredited Functional Medicine practitioner. Their training syllabus is spread over 5 main subject areas, to provide a biochemical understanding of the body’s various systems (endocrine, neurological, cardiovascular, immune, etc.) and the interaction between these systems. Think of it as the clinical application of systems biology. As a nutritional therapist, I am well versed in the benefits and uses of different nutrients for different health conditions, but functional medicine goes a few steps further. It has taught me to use appropriate laboratory tests, to interpret those tests to help recognise patterns of ill-health, and to incorporate those findings in bespoke health protocols for each of my clients.

What makes functional medicine so effective, in my opinion, is that it is a “root-cause resolution” approach. We trace symptoms back to causes and events in a client’s life that may seem unrelated, but that nevertheless created imbalances that led to ill health. A  client’s lifestyle, their parents’ and grandparents’ health, stressful or traumatic experiences in their past, exposures to toxins; sleep patterns, current diet, etc., are all treated as possible antecedents and/or contributing factors to a client’s current state of health.

This enables us, with the help of the client, to create a timeline of health and disease and to relate the information gained to specific body systems to help explain to a client how and why imbalances have occurred. This comprehensive approach is perfectly suited to address chronic health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, hormonal imbalances, etc. It is NOT designed to take the place of conventional medicine with its superb record in acute cases, but should rather be seen as an additional tool to be used by doctors and other healthcare professionals alike. Nutritional therapy, specifically, lends itself beautifully to the implementation of this comprehensive health model.