Last year, as I decided to go back to graduate school for my master’s degree, I was choosing between multiple programs, trying to pick the best fit. After completing my undergrad in Health and Exercise Science (emphasis on exercise), and seeing how focusing mostly on physical activity creates an incomplete picture of health, I knew that I desperately wanted more information on nutrition and disease prevention. I was thirsty for that extra something special, and I just didn’t know if a standard dietetics program would be able to provide it.

As luck would have it, I also had a couple of like-minded and equally thirsty friends who turned me onto functional medicine.  Functional medicine, as defined by the Institute for Functional Medicine, is “a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the underlying causes of disease.”

Fast forward to present day, and I am nearly one year into a master’s program in Nutrition and Functional Medicine, and completely in love with this new approach to preventing and treating chronic disease. Functional medicine is real medicine. It is science-based, backed by research and evidence, and open to using any appropriate and necessary medical interventions (yes, that sometimes means pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and procedures). The difference, then, between conventional Western medicine and functional medicine lies in the individualized, patient-centered, lifestyle-oriented approach to treating root causes of disease.  Just for fun, here are 5 reasons why you need functional medicine in your life:

  1. Functional medicine will address the root cause of your health issues instead of simply putting a “band-aid” on the symptoms. In my years of health coaching, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who are taking medications to control their blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels, etc. Yet, without these medications, the “problem” is no longer fixed and the patient still at risk for more serious health issues. Not only do medications fail to address the root cause of the symptoms, but they also come with nasty side-effects. In contrast, functional medicine may involve medications (say, if a symptom is too severe to be left uncontrolled), but the real focus of treatment is finding and rebalancing the cause of symptoms (maybe high blood pressure is caused by stress, or elevated blood glucose is caused by poor diet). With functional medicine, you will be healthy from the inside out.
  2. You will find sustainable, long-term solutions to your health problems.  Because functional medicine is heavily focused on lifestyle modification, there really aren’t any magic pills or quick fixes.  While this may sound disappointing at first, the old adage holds, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That is, most often quick and easy fixes for complex health problems are neither practical nor sustainable for the long term. Instead, functional medicine rewards the hard work of lifestyle change and rebalancing the body systems with enhanced quality of life as you age.
  3. Your care with be personalized and 100% relevant to you.  We are all different, with a unique set of genetics and environmental factors that affect how our genes are expressed.  The care model of functional medicine acknowledges this, and allows for collaboration between practitioner and patient to find the best individualized solutions, not one-size-fits-all recommendations and prescriptions thrown out after a 5-10 minute appointment with the doctor.
  4. On that note, you will find balance in all areas of your health, not just your physical health. Unlike traditional Western medicine, functional medicine uses a more integrative approach that takes into consideration mental, emotional, and spiritual influences, as well as looking at how a person’s attitudes, beliefs, and experiences impact overall wellbeing. All of these components influence health, and therefore, when using functional medicine, each will be addressed if necessary.
  5. You will gain a feeling of vitality. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Yet, in conventional Western medicine, we tend to focus on treating disease rather than creating wellness. Instead of viewing health as the absence of any diagnosis or freedom from taking prescription medications, you will experience what it’s like to improve your health, even when you are not sick!

Many health professionals, not just medical doctors, are well-versed in the practice of functional medicine. For more information, or to find a practitioner in your area, click here 🙂

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