With almost 100 million people in the USA suffering from chronic disease (high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol problems), health care costs skyrocket. Considering that so many people are affected by a chronic illness, it would make sense to think that determining a way to treat these diseases at the root is ideal – and granted, many of these can have their course changed by diet and exercise. But what if those aren’t enough? How do we delve further into the pillars of health and reverse these chronic conditions? That’s where the functional medicine model of treatment comes into play. (3)

Although there are many different forms of alternative medicine available today, functional medicine is rising to the top at the turn of the century. Not only does this type of medicine focus on treating an illness or disease that is present, but it also helps to educate the patient as well (through lifestyle changes and an in-depth relationship with the patient to help with treatment). Functional medicine is similar to integrative medicine, but functional leans towards understanding what exactly causes the illnesses that are being presented by the patients at a foundational level. (1)

Every single person is unique in their own way, and functional medicine aims to incorporate this fact into treatment. This happens by reviewing every part of a patient’s family, personal, and medical history, and having a deeper understanding of one’s lifestyle habits and health status. These factors all combine to helping the provider know just how any underlying illnesses or disease might have started, and education and prevention can hopefully help to reduce the incidence of further health complications going into the future. (1)

In this video, Red Tail Wellness patients describe their experience with both the practice and functional medicine in general.

Functional medicine is different from typical treatment that you might come across in your local medical centers, because this approach to healing actually gets down to finding and addressing the actual cause of an illness or disease, rather than trying to simply come up with superficial solutions to diminish symptoms that linger from these conditions. After reviewing someone’s complex medical history, practitioners can then target the different ways that illness and disease demonstrate themselves in each patient…and then figure out the best plan of action to reduce or eliminate the condition itself, rather than covering up or managing the symptoms. (2)

So, the question remains…. does the functional medicine approach to care for a patient increase or improve their health? New studies are showing us that yes, it does indeed show benefits and improvements in quality of life. One study in particular done with over 7200 patients compared the results of patients in functional medicine centers versus those patients utilizing primary care centers. Over the nearly two-year span of the study, reports demonstrated that the patients following the functional medicine course of treatment had a higher quality of life (based on their health and corresponding factors) that those that used the primary care centers for treatment. (3)

These improvements in health were tested based off the patient’s assessments of their overall physical and mental health, how they deal with emotional issues, pain levels, functional mobility and ability, and how tired they are, just to name a few. Based off of the progression of these variables, it would seem to appear as though functional medicine is superior in improving the overall quality of life in regards to health, for many people. (3)

More studies need to be done within this realm, but the future looks promising for those looking for a more well-rounded approach to healthcare!  If you suffer from fatigue, anxiety/depression, auto-immune diseases like Hashimotos/Celiac/Rheumatoid, hypothyroid or inability to lose weight then the functional medicine model would most likely improve your health.  I personally think this model helps us understand ourselves at a deeper level, which empowers us to make better decisions on a daily basis.  The old model of “pill for the ill” is clearly in its death throes and substituting that for “think and link” systems to symptoms will push us forward into the 21st century! 

Yours truly in health, complexity and determining the root cause,

Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP

(1) Patronus Medical Blog: The Difference Between Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine.
(2) The Institute for Functional Medicine. Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.
(3) Beidelschies, M., Alejandro-Rodriquez, M., and Ji, X. (2019). Association of the Functional Medicine Model of Care with Patient-Reported Health-Related Quality-of-Life Outcomes. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2(10). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14017