Is Functional Medicine THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CARE?
Thanks to well-known personalities such as Dr. Oz, Dr. Frank Lipman as well as Dr. Mark Hyman at the Cleveland Clinic, functional medicine is capturing more and more of the public’s attention. It has a reputation for being highly effective, more personal and often more cost effective in the long run, and some experts even see it as the future of our health care.
What’s the difference?While both functional and conventional “allopathic” medicine are practiced by licensed medical professionals using sophisticated diagnostic techniques, the focus and methods of the two—and their outcomes—can be quite different.
On the one hand, conventional medicine shines at addressing acute and urgent medical conditions such as heart attacks, broken bones, physical trauma and acute illnesses. Its goal is to diagnose and treat symptoms, and it does so based on years and years of research and experience with innumerable diseases and conditions, and their relationships to symptoms and treatments. The conventional medicine treatment model leans heavily on pharmaceuticals and surgery as solutions. Due to their expertise, we feel comfortable going to the emergency room and putting ourselves under the care of skilled doctors, surgeons and hospital staff there.
But the strengths of conventional medicine can also register as a weakness. Its emphasis on specialty medicine—in which physicians are experts in precisely defined fields from cardiology and neurology to oncology—can result in practitioners missing important factors within the bigger picture. The mechanical approach has its limits when it comes to human physiology. On the other hand, functional medicine practitioners use a wider lens than is the norm for conventional medicine. Most examine biochemical, nutrition and lifestyle factors, review medical history and provide sophisticated testing to uncover any organ or systemic dysfunction—all to identify the underlying causes of the patient’s health issues. Armed with an understanding of the relationships between and among biological systems, they select the best treatments to return patients to optimal health and keep them that way.
While pharmaceuticals remain an option, functional medicine doctors reach for natural alternatives first—nutraceuticals, homeopathics, botanical blends, nutritional and lifestyle changes, or sometimes spiritual/emotional counseling—to prod a patient’s physiology back to an optimal state.
The relationship between physician and patient is also more of a partnership for functional medicine physicians. “I see functional medicine as being designed to empower patients to reclaim their health by honoring the inherent wisdom within the human body and supporting its amazing capacity to heal,” says Dr. Janine Romaner, ND, a naturopathic physician and owner of Naturally Healthy in Woodstock. “Patient and practitioner together can be a dynamic team in the decision-making process to bring about the best outcomes.”
Does it add up?Treatment with functional medicine can be surprisingly cost effective. Even though naturopathic medicine is not covered by insurance in Georgia, getting treatment from a functional medicine practitioner is often less costly in the long run than conventional medical solutions. That’s largely because expensive, long-term pharmaceuticals are seldom used and, in turn, there’s less need to relieve negative side effects with additional expensive medicines. And being in better health overall results in fewer trips to the doctor in the first place.
Does functional medicine hold the future to our health? “I think the combination of functional, integrative and holistic medicine is the wave of the future,” says Dr. Taz Bhatia, a board-certified integrative medicine physician and wellness expert based in Brookhaven. “Each has a role, but when combined and delivered effectively—it can be profoundly powerful.”