Do you or any of your loved ones suffer from any chronic disease like hypothyroidism, diabetes, high BP, PCOS, etc? And has the doctor advised you to be on medications all your life since it is a chronic disease? That the disease is a life sentence and you are destined to be sick all your life. And the diseases are not just chronic, they are progressive as well. With time, it will only get worse and you will have to increase the medicine dosage. And not just that, the list of side effects is endless. 80% of diabetics die of heart attacks and despite taking all medications, diabetes leads to blindness, foot problems and kidney failures.
Isn’t it frustrating? Shouldn’t the medical system have a better solution to these chronic diseases? Why should we have to depend on medications all our life?
Conventional medicine is amazingly effective for acute diseases like infections, heart attacks, fractures, etc. But it is not effective in dealing with chronic diseases like thyroid and diabetes. It largely manages the symptoms of chronic diseases rather than treating the root cause. E.g. Type 2 diabetes largely happens because of insulin resistance and weight, because of which the blood sugar level goes up. The solution lies in treating insulin resistance and not increasing insulin in the body. Increasing insulin in the body through medication may lead to weight gain and can make diabetes worse. But conventional medicine does contrary to what it should be doing. Hence, they don’t solve the problem, but only make it worse with time.
So, what do we do? What’s the solution? The answer lies in lifestyle correction and attacking the root cause of the problem. And that’s what functional medicine focuses on.
Functional medicine is a holistic approach to treating lifestyle/chronic diseases, with a primary focus on nutrition, lifestyle, hydration, lighting, gut microbiota, mitochondrial health and detoxification.
Functional medication tackles every disease by asking the fundamental question – “Why are you ill?”
It tries to identify the root cause of the disease instead of treating only the symptoms.
How is Functional Medicine Different from a Regular Dietician?
Compared to a regular dietician, there is a lot more focus on testing and elucidating the root cause of the disease. Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine tries to find natural and sustainable solutions. It believes that one root cause can have multiple symptoms and for each symptom, there can be multiple causes.
Listed down below are a few tenets of functional medicine, which make it unique.
Attacks the Cause, Not the Symptoms
The most important fact of functional medicine is its focus on the root cause and not just symptoms. In conventional medicine, if you suffer from thyroid, you would be given medicines to increase your thyroid hormones. But it does not try to identify why is your thyroid hormones low. And this is the most important question a functional medicine expert would ask. By asking this question, they can help you in eliminating the root cause of the disease and make you disease-free again.
One Disease, Many Causes. One Cause, Many Diseases
Functional medicine believes that any condition or disease has typically multiple causes. E.g. – Depression can be caused because of Vitamin D deficiency or low thyroid. Similarly, one cause can lead to multiple conditions. E.g. internal inflammation can lead to diabetes, thyroid, heart disease, etc.
It Sees a Person as a Unit, Not as Individual Parts
In conventional medicine, if you have diabetes, you go to Diabetologist. If you have a thyroid disorder, you go to an endocrinologist and so on. Because one doctor specialises in one body part. The inherent assumption is that all body parts act independently of each other. Which is not correct. Functional medicine sees each person as a unit with a huge interlinkage between different body parts. So, you may have eye problems because your thyroid gland is malfunctioning. Or you may have thyroid because your selenium levels are low. By making sure that every organ in your body functions as a team to work for you, a functional medicine expert can provide you with far superior results.
It Can Reverse a Lifestyle Disease, not Just Manage Symptoms
Conventional medicine calls lifestyle disease “chronic”, which means “continuous” or “incurable”. So, they don’t even attempt to cure you but teach you just to live with it, with the help of lifelong medications. Whereas functional medicine has cured thousands and lakhs of people of chronic diseases by attacking the root cause.
It Enhances the Body’s Ability to Fight a Disease, Instead of Suppressing it!
The human body has immense power to fight multiple diseases. But conventional medicine often times try to suppress the power. E.g. fever is the body’s mechanism to fight infections in the body, but doctors give medicines to bring the fever down. Functional medicine on the other hand believes in strengthening the body’s healing power by giving the right ammunition to the immune system.
It Uses Food and Supplements as Medicine!
Functional medicine’s main focus is on nutrition, not on conventional medicine. It believes that food is the best medicine. And as it aims to cover nutritional deficiencies in the body, it also focuses a lot on food supplements. Though results may be slower than in conventional medicine, it gives a long-lasting solution.
How a Functional Medicine Expert Would Treat a Patient Differently than a Conventional Doctor?
Let’s take a disease as an example to understand how the treatment in functional medicine is very different. Let’s look at a thyroid patient.
A conventional doctor would look at TSH levels and if the doctor finds out that TSH is high, it would recommend thyronorm to replace the thyroid hormones. So, you are dependent on medicine all your life. Whereas a functional medicine doctor would try to find why the thyroid gland is producing lesser hormones. They would look at additional lab reports like T3, T4, nutritional deficiency tests, toxicity tests, inflammation markers and thyroid antibodies tests. They know that 80% of thyroid cases are Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. In this case, they will try to find a solution to the autoimmunity problem and rectify the problem from the root. A functional medicine doctor would typically not recommend thyronorm medicine as they realise that medicine does not do anything for autoimmunity. He would find a solution using diet and lifestyle modifications along with supplements. Hence, functional medicine treatment is able to reverse a disease, which is considered to be irreversible in conventional medicine.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food is our best medicine. Our medicine should be our food.” The conventional medical system does not seem to be following his advice. But functional medicine experts have taken it as a mission to spread this message and convert every kitchen into a pharmacy, and make the world a better place by curing the incurable.
- J.B.Meigs et al., “Impact of insulin resistance on risk of type 2 and cardiovascular diseases in people with metabolic syndrome,” diabetes care 30,no:5 (2007):1219-1225.
- Bowden, Jonny, and Sinatra. “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease–And the Statin-Free Plan That Will, 2020.