Functional medicine can be defined as:
The science and art of detecting and reversing alterations in function that clearly move a patient toward chronic disease over the course of a lifetime.
The functional medicine model of practice emphasises that chronic disease is almost always preceded by a period of declining function in one or more of the body's physiological organising systems. The practitioner aims to reverse (or substantially improve) the specific dysfunctions that contributed to the disease state. For each individual, these dysfunctions are the result of lifelong interactions among our environment, our lifestyle choices, and our genetic predispositions. Consequently, each patient represents a unique, complex, and interwoven set of influences on intrinsic functionality that, over time, sets the stage for the development of disease or the maintenance of health.
This inherent complex approach is managed by addressing the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach that engages both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic relationship. It is an evolutionary step towards the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. Instead of a disease-centred approach to healthcare practice, a patient-centred approach is prioritised. In this regard, functional medicine addresses the whole person and not just an isolated set of symptoms.
One of the defining attributes of a Functional medicine practitioner compared to other health practitioners is the time spent with the client. Spending time with patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors is critical to understanding what influences long-term health and complex, chronic disease. Only by considering all these factors can the healthcare practitioner truly support the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.
Functional medicine practitioners focus on restoring balance to the dysfunctional systems within the body, by strengthening the fundamental physiological processes that underlie them and by adjusting the environmental and lifestyle inputs that nurture or impair them. By taking this approach, it is imperative to utilise therapies that focus on restoring health and function, rather than simply controlling signs and symptoms.
The functional medicine paradigm is characterised by seven basic principles:
- Acknowledging the biochemical individuality of each human being, based on the concepts of genetic and environmental uniqueness
- Incorporating a patient-centred rather than a disease-centred approach to treatment
- Seeking a dynamic balance among the internal and external factors in a patient's body, mind, and spirit
- Addressing the web-like interconnections of internal physiological factors
- Identifying health as a positive vitality—not merely the absence of disease—and emphasizing those factors that encourage a vigorous physiology
- Promoting organ reserve as a means of enhancing the health span, not just the life span, of each patient
- Staying abreast of emerging research—a science-using approach
Diagram courtesy of the institute for functional medicine.
The functional medicine tree & the continuum of health & healthcare.