Functional medicine is a personalised and integrative approach to healthcare which involves understanding the prevention, management and root causes of complex chronic disease, The ultimate goal is to heal disease and promote a healthy life. A healthy life is not defined as simply an absence of disease, but rather a positive vitality filled with energy, joy, gratitude and balance.
Conventional medicine has its strengths, particularly in the areas of emergency medicine and surgery. However, it falls short in treating chronic illnesses, particularly complex chronic conditions such as Lyme disease and Thyroid.
Despite notable advances in treating and preventing infectious disease and trauma, the acute-care model that dominated 20th-century medicine has not been effective in treating and preventing chronic disease . Conventional medicine predominantly focuses on diagnosing a disease, followed by prescribing a drug to either cure the disease or manage the associated symptoms. This is brilliantly effective in acute situations, but for developing and chronic health problems or areas where there is no diagnosis, an evolution of this approach is very much needed.
Functional medicine is the new buzzword and for a good reason. It’s an enormous paradigm shift, that suggests diseases don’t exist in the way we thought they existed. Within its framework, diseases are actually considered as downstream effects from upstream mechanisms. The functional medicine approach has been shown to lead to profound and longer-lasting results for patients .
In this article, we’ll explore the positive changes functional medicine can bring to your health and wellbeing and answer some of your most commonly asked questions relating to this hugely exciting new modality.
What is functional medicine?
The Functional Medicine model evolved from the insights and perspectives of a group of influential scientific leaders who realised the importance of a personalised approach to disease causes based on the evolving research in nutritional science, genomics, and epigenetics.
Functional medicine is a holistic, patient-focused, science-based, collaborative approach to health that looks at the origins and the underlying causes of the illness and symptoms. It is a comprehensive approach that emphasises not just restoring health, but also preventing disease in the first place .
Think of functional medicine as a map or a GPS system that navigates the landscape of illness through physiological pathways and mechanisms, not diseases. Functional medicine looks at patterns that are present in our whole system. It’s the medicine that connects the dots between all the things that are going wrong within our biology. Something that conventional medicine isn’t able to do as many of the specialisms are separated from each other. If you have a problem with your gut, you see a gastroenterologist, if you have a problem with your skin you see a dermatologist. Functional medicine looks at the person as a whole. Very often, for example, major problems with the skin are actually rooted in the gut. Problems in the gut may be coming from poor nerve activity in the brain and so on. Investigating and understanding how the different biological systems work, and how they are all interlinked, allows us to intervene upstream at the cause of the problem, rather than just trying to manage the symptoms.
The Functional Medicine model:
Functional medicine gives our practitioners the clinical decision-making tools they need to navigate the landscape of illness by exploring all relevant mechanisms:
We investigate and address the underlying causes of disease. These usually include:
- Toxin exposure
- Nutritional status
- Chronic and/or acute stress
We dig a little deeper and study the patient’s genetic make-up and how it interacts with the given environment. We will consider:
We review all system imbalances:
- Immune dysfunction
- Digestive system issues and imbalances within the gut microbiome
- Poor detoxification
- Energy metabolism and reduced mitochondrial function
- Hormonal dysfunction
- Compromised structural integrity of the skin, connective tissue and bones
- Psychospiritual assessment.
What is a functional medicine practitioner/ doctor?
A functional medicine practitioner is a certified medical doctor who practices under the principles of functional medicine and combines it with traditional medicine practices. They use the functional medicine model to find the root cause of your illness and symptoms rather than just treating the symptoms of the disease. With this approach, the practitioner looks closely at the myriad of interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease and will have much greater success at reversing the illness. They may find that one condition has many different causes, likewise, one cause may result in many different symptoms and ultimately many different conditions. Functional medicine targets the specific manifestation of disease in each individual.
The benefits of functional medicine model compared with conventional medicine:
|Functional Medicine||Conventional Medicine|
|Collaborative, patient-centred model||Expert, doctor-centred model|
|Biochemical individuality||Everyone treated the same way|
|Address the cause||Suppresses symptoms with drugs|
|Preventative approach||Early detection of disease|
|High-touch and high-tech||High-tech|
What is a functional medicine nutritionist?
A functional medicine nutritionist is a qualified nutritionist or nutritional therapist who works under the framework of functional medicine. Here at the London Clinic of Nutrition all of our practitioners are highly qualified and practice under the principles of functional medicine. Some of our practitioners are certified by the Institute of Functional Medicine and many of them have done several CPD courses to keep up to date with the latest functional testing technologies and tools available.
The underlying premise of functional medicine is that every person’s biology is unique, and each approach to treatment should be as individual as the person being treated.
Functional medicine practitioners’ aim to “treat the person who has the disease, not the disease itself”. Functional Medicine constantly seeks to understand why?
- Why does this disease occur?
- What is the underlying cause?
- Why does this person have this illness or these symptoms?
- What is it about this person’s unique genetic make-up and their individual experiences during their life that have resulted in the health problems they are experiencing?
Our functional medicine practitioners work with our clients to find the most appropriate and achievable treatment plan to correct, balance and optimise the fundamental underlying issues in the realms of mind, body, and spirit. The practitioner will determine the diagnostic process, set realistic health goals and designs and appropriate therapeutic approach. Beginning with a detailed and personalised history, the client is welcomed into the process of exploring their story and the potential causes of their health issues. In fact, our clients are always encouraged to play an active and engaged role in their treatment because we recognise that the partnership between client and practitioner can be hugely empowering and will result in great outcomes. This is the main difference between functional medicine and conventional medicine.
Our nutritionists will always ensure that all routes to wellness are addressed with our patients. Here are the key steps of our functional medicine model:
- Extensive surveys and questionnaires to take the patient’s full history.
- Laboratory testing to identify and address the patient’s lifestyle factors and environmental exposures.
- Functional biomarkers to understand the patient’s clinical imbalances and underlying causes of disease.
- Genomics to understand and create a patient-centered approach based on their genetic make-ups.
As the UK’s largest functional medicine clinic, we pride ourselves on clinical excellence and innovative delivery of a healthcare experience designed to inform and empower our clients to be in control of their own health. Over the last 10 years, we have managed to turn many of our clients lives around by successfully helping them to regain their health. We specialise in Lyme disease, autoimmune disease, gut health, hormone health and unexplained illness. There are too many success stories to mention but some of these can be seen on our Google reviews and testimonials.
The link between a functional medicine practitioner and a nutritional therapist
A great strength of functional medicine is its relevance to all healthcare disciplines and medical specialties. Any of them could apply the functional medicine model to provide a more effective approach to preventing and supporting complex chronic disease.
In the UK, most functional medicine practitioners are nutritionists and nutritional therapists who become functional medicine practitioners following their nutritional training. Some of these practitioners may certify with the Institute of Functional Medicine and some of them gain functional medicine knowledge and experience through coaching and mentoring. Nowadays, most nutritional practitioners need to have a very good understanding of functional testing in order to have a successful practice and many ‘lab test’ companies provide extensive training and support to all nutritionists and nutritional therapists. Training relating to functional tests is widely available.
Here, at the London Clinic of Nutrition, some of our practitioners are certified with the Institute of Functional Medicine but all of us work under the functional medicine framework.
What is the difference between integrative and functional medicine?
Healthcare is undergoing a significant transformation in the 21st century and two of the most popular terms within alternative healthcare are integrative medicine and functional medicine. Although they have similarities and overlap in several areas, there are a few factors that make each discipline somewhat unique.
Understanding Integrative medicine
Integrative medicine is a combination of modern healthcare and holistic disciplines that takes the lifestyle habits of a patient into account. Just like in the functional medicine model, integrative practitioners work to treat the whole person rather than just the disease. In the integrative medicine model, the mind, body, and soul of a patient are taken into consideration to promote healing and well-being. Treatments may include modalities such as osteopathy, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, yoga, flower remedies, aromatherapy, massage and of course nutritional and herbal approaches.
Understanding functional medicine
Functional medicine utilises the most current scientific knowledge regarding how our genetics, environment and lifestyle interact as a whole system to diagnose and treat diseases based on patterns of dysfunction and imbalance, without necessarily treating the specific disease itself. Functional medicine treats the person who has the disease, not the disease the person has. Determining the root cause of the illness is an essential component of the functional medicine model, and it achieves this by employing a systems biology approach that views the person within a holistic framework and their problems within the biological network.
Integrative vs functional medicine
The spirit and philosophy of functional medicine have a lot of overlap with those of integrative medicine. Primarily, they share the idea that you must treat the individual and not a specific illness and they both use a personal, patient-centered approach. However, there is one aspect of functional medicine that sets it apart from integrative techniques. Functional medicine gives us a much more in-depth look at what is going on in the body. It’s different from other practices because the emphasis is on the root cause rather than the diagnosed illness and its associated symptoms. Integrative medicine looks at how and what but functional medicine also asks why. Research into the patient’s background takes priority and it also digs deeper by including an analysis of their genetic makeup.
Does insurance pay for Functional Medicine?
It’s a question we get asked quite often. Many of our consultation services and testing labs are covered by some of the private health insurance providers but we always recommend that you check first to ensure they can reimburse you for the cost of the therapy. It will all depend on the type of cover you are currently on and the treatment you are receiving at our clinic.
We are an award-winning clinic having received the UK’s highest award from Integrative Healthcare & Applied Nutrition (IHCAN). We combine industry-leading nutrition and functional medicine expertise, alongside the latest in-house testing, so we can attend to all your health needs in one trip.