What Is Functional Medicine?

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What Is Functional Medicine?

What is functional medicine?

Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based strategy that concentrates on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis might be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness. Previously, scientists thought that once we deciphered the human genome we’d be able to answer almost all questions about the sources of disease. What we actually learned, however, is that human biology is a lot more complicated than that. In reality, humans aren’t genetically hardwired for many diseases; rather, gene expression is altered by myriad influences, including environment, lifestyle, diet, activity patterns, psycho-social-spiritual things, and stress. These lifestyle choices and environmental exposures can push us toward (or away from) disorder by turning on or off certain genes. That insight has helped to fuel the worldwide interest in Functional Medicine, which has that principle in its core. Functional Medicine directly addresses the underlying causes of illness with a systems-oriented approach with hereditary clinical theories, original instruments, an innovative process of care, and by engaging both practitioner and patient in a therapeutic partnership.

The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.

By addressing the root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of the disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, Functional Medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual.

Dr. Dan Kalish, the founder of Kalish Institute of Functional Medicine, defines it as  “a lab-based system of analysis that relies primarily on natural health solutions” using science to determine the problems, i.e. lab work and focus on natural health treatments that are timeless, diet, meditation, exercise and oftentimes nutritional supplements, herbal treatments all based on labs. The meaning of the “Functional” part is that Functional Medicine practitioners strive to find organ “Dysfunction” prior to the onset of a disease process and restore “Function” back.

How does Functional Medicine work?

Elements of Functional Medicine

The knowledgebase or “footprint” of Functional Medicine is formed by six core foundations:

Gene-Environment Interaction: Functional Medicine relies on understanding the metabolic processes of every individual at the cellular level. By knowing how each individual’s genes and environment interact to make their own unique biochemical phenotype, it is possible to design targeted interventions which fix the particular problems that cause destructive processes such as oxidation and inflammation, which can be at the origin of many diseases.

– Upstream Signal Modulation: Functional Medicine interventions try to affect biochemical pathways “upstream” and stop the overproduction of harmful end products, as opposed to blocking the effects of these end products. By way of example, rather than using drugs that block the previous step in the production of inflammatory mediators (NSAIDs, etc.), Functional Medicine remedies try to prevent the upregulation of these mediators in the first location.

– Multimodal Treatment Strategies: The Functional Medication approach utilizes a broad assortment of interventions to attain optimal health including diet, nutrition, exercise and motion; anxiety management; rest and sleep, phytonutrient, pharmaceutical, and nutritional supplementation; and several other restorative and reparative therapies. These interventions are all tailored to address the antecedents, causes, and mediators of disease or disorder in each individual patient.

Understanding the individual in context: Functional Medicine employs a structured process to discover the significant life events of every patient’s history to get a better understanding of who they are as an individual. IFM tools (the”Timeline” and the”Matrix” version ) are integral to this process for the role they play in coordinating clinical information and mediating clinical insights. This approach to the clinical experience ensures that the patient is heard, engenders the therapeutic connection, develops therapeutic options, and improves the collaboration between patient and clinician.

Systems Biology-Based Approach: Functional Medicine uses systems biology to comprehend and identify how heart imbalances in specific biological methods can manifest in different areas of the body. Instead of an organ systems-based strategy, Functional Medicine addresses core physiological processes that cross anatomical borders such as assimilation of nutrients, mobile defense and repair, structural integrity, mobile communication and transportation mechanisms, energy generation, and biotransformation. The “Functional Medicine Matrix” is the clinician’s key instrument for understanding these network effects and provides the foundation for the design of effective multimodal treatment plans.

Patient-Centered and Directed: Functional Medicine professionals use the individual to discover the most suitable and suitable treatment plan to fix, equilibrium, and optimize the basic underlying issues in the realms of mind, body, and soul. Starting with a personalized and detailed background, the individual is welcomed to the process of researching their narrative and the possible causes of their health difficulties. Patients and providers work together to ascertain the diagnostic procedure, set achievable health targets, and design an appropriate therapeutic strategy.

To help clinicians in understanding and implementing Functional Medicine, IFM has produced an innovative method of representing the patient’s signs, symptoms, and common pathways of disease. Adapting, coordinating, and integrating to the Functional Medicine Matrix the seven biological systems where core clinical imbalances are found really generates an intellectual bridge between the wealthy basic science literature regarding physiological mechanisms of disease and the clinical studies, clinical investigations, and clinical experience obtained during medical training. These core clinical imbalances function to wed the mechanisms of disease with all the reflections and diagnoses of disease.


How is Functional medicine different?

Despite notable advances in preventing and treating infectious disease and injury, the acute-care version that dominated 20th-century medicine hasn’t been effective in preventing and treating chronic disease. Traditional medicine is a western version of medicine where a strong emphasis is placed on characterizing ailments by diagnosis which normally reflects a group of symptoms or behaviors as opposed to the cause of the disease. Treatment relies heavily on the use of synthetic drugs, invasive procedures, and surgery.

Among the most telling differences between conventional medicine and functional medicine is the way diagnostic testing is approached. In traditional medicine, the focus centers on the patient’s presenting symptoms, then medications or treatments are prescribed to help alleviate or manage the symptoms. Functional medicine is much more concerned with a systems approach to medication, where all aspects of a patient’s profile–environment factors, psychological factors, toxins, gut health, food sensitivities–are considered before prescribing remedies.

A diagnosis may be the consequence of more than one cause. For example, depression can be brought on by many different things, including inflammation. Likewise, a cause like inflammation may result in a lot of different diagnoses, including depression. The precise manifestation of every cause is dependent upon the person’s genes, environment, and lifestyle, and only remedies that address the ideal cause will have lasting benefits beyond symptom suppression.

Functional medicine benefits

Traditional medical practices are incorporated with non-conventional clinics – the main criteria being efficacy & safety. It’s practiced by licensed medical professionals initially trained at the reductionistic, diagnosis-based version of traditional medicine and that apply that thought process to appropriate acute medical problems. But when dealing with chronic complex health issues it employs a systems biology approach that views the individual within a holistic framework and their difficulties within a biological network.

Functional medicine uses the latest scientific knowledge regarding our genetics, lifestyle, and environment interact as an entire system to diagnose and cure ailments based on patterns of imbalance and dysfunction — without necessarily treating the particular disease. Functional medicine treats the individual that has the disease, not the disease the person has.

Functional Medicine provides a personalized and integrative approach to health care which entails understanding the avoidance, management, and root causes of complex chronic disease. Functional medicine has obtained from all of the models discussed and provides the most comprehensive and efficient approach to health care in the 21st century.

Specifying the origin of the illness is a vital part of the system to the extent that a doctor who doesn’t practice in this manner isn’t practicing functional medicine. Symptom suppression is just used as a temporizing measure when searching for the root cause and if clinically required to maximize the function of the individual.

Functional medicine is built on the basis of traditional medicine. Functional medicine is holistic in the way that it views the issues they present with. Functional medicine comprises the core theories of naturopathic medicine within its system. Functional medicine incorporates the open-mindedness of integrative medicine when deciding the best modality required to get the patient well. Functional medicine has assembled upon each of these other approaches to health care to make available to the individual the best medical system now known.

Functional Medicine Treatment Plans

A Functional Medication treatment plan may involve one or more of a wide selection of therapies, such as many different dietary interventions (e.g., elimination diet, high phytonutrient diversity diet, low glycemic-load diet), nutraceuticals (e.g., vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, botanicals), and lifestyle changes (e.g., enhancing sleep quality/quantity, increasing physical activity, decreasing stress and learning stress management methods, stopping smoking). Nutrition is so crucial to the practice of Functional Medicine that IFM has generated a core focus on Functional Nutrition and has financed the development of a set of unique, innovative tools for developing and implementing dietary recommendations.

Advancements in Functional Medicine

The Kalish Method relies on Functional Medicine and has taken it a step further. Functional Medicine employs lab-based natural health programs together with lifestyle changes to reverse chronic health issues. Among the things I enjoy most about Functional Medicine is that it is based on lab science. The leader in me is drawn to such cutting edge functional laboratory tests, which differ from traditional lab testing because they are not designed to get a disease after it occurs. Instead, they are made to discover health issues early on so that they can be reversed with natural remedies, preventing the unnecessary use of drugs or surgery.

The Kalish Method isn’t a cure-all; it doesn’t cure cancer, or reverse bone loss or, as you can see from my photograph, prevent baldness. What the Kalish Method does do is work incredibly well as a basis for adjusting the lifestyle generated diseases of our times.

Based on Dr. Kalish, the new guiding principles in his pursuit of ignoring symptoms and fixing body systems, he realized there was a three-part procedure:

1. The stress response is the cause. Folks begin to develop health issues within a year of being under extreme psychological stress as their bodies react to that stress with a rise in cortisol.

2. The high-stress levels along with poor diet options then induce their digestive systems to fall apart, at least for some time, sometimes for lengthy amounts of time.

3. Over time, as you are breathing and eating each day, toxins build up and liver detox pathways break down.

Moving away from symptom-oriented thinking towards a body model, he eventually saw the model was right in front of him all the years of training. We have three basic body systems that may be thrown off: the adrenals, the digestive tract, and our liver detox pathways. Additionally, we have the mind and all its regulatory purposes. The mind affects the gut, and the gut affects the mind. The mind affects the hormones, and the hormones affect the mind. Toxins impact everything. And to top things off, our feelings, ideas, and the psychological events we encounter control it all. The intricacy of the body was shown to me in the easy and predictable breakdown patterns of the three key body systems.

Functional Medicine doctor or practitioner

All Functional Medicine doctors will order tests from various labs, some used in traditional medicine but most distinctive to Functional Medicine. Specialized GI evaluations for your microbiome, measuring nutrient levels, amino acid levels, organic acids for brain health the liver detoxification pathways. Functional Medicine physician recommend lifestyle changes, which are pretty basic common sense ideas. Get to bed early, eat your veggies, get outside, exercise, meditate, do yoga asanas, and be good to other folks. That part is simple. The challenging scientific part is the interpretation of this laboratory work and the development of health programs or health protocols based on the testing. That skill of laboratory analysis and comprehension requires takes years to master and can be quite complex.

Functional medicine doctors can also order Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or Genetic Testing. You may know that Nutrigenomics is the study of the interaction(s) between an individual’s nutrition and their special genes. During the genetic mutation testing, Functional Medicine physicians have the ability to find out which genes aren’t allowing the body to operate properly and how one’s nutrition can be exacerbating the issue.

Functional Medicine actually stands out in this specialization because the labs’ results often reveal hidden issues that have plagued the individual for decades. Chronic low-grade GI pathogens or infections which have interfered with the microbiome. An imbalance in the microbiome itself can be catastrophic and is instantly recognizable in the labs using PCR or DNA technologies to map out the gut bacteria. Toxins like mercury, arsenic, and lead generally aren’t so kind to the human brain and can be detected at a whole lab analysis. The metabolites, or breakdown products of hormones like neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine provides a window into the brain function and salivary hormone measurements for cortisol reveal the stress hormone system’s state of function. There are many other specific data points that can be looked at to provide a root cause analysis.

Functional Medicine is a area of specialty unto itself that is constantly evolving. So you could have a medical doctor that practices medicine or is a specialist in any of the medical fields AND practices Functional Medicine also. These providers are called Functional Medicine doctors. On the other hand, you could have an acupuncturist or naturopath or nurse practitioner that practices acupuncture or naturopathy or nursing and alongside also practices Functional Medicine. These providers are called Functional Medicine Practitioners. They all believe in the root cause healing using a holistic approach.

Scientific studies in Functional Medicine

1. Scientific support for the Functional Medicine approach to therapy is seen in a large and rapidly expanding evidence base about the curative effects of nutrition (including both dietary options as well as the clinical utilization of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like fish oils); botanicals; exercise (aerobics, strength training, flexibility); anxiety management; detoxification; acupuncture; guide medicine (massage, manipulation); and mind/body techniques like meditation, guided imagery, and biofeedback.

See: Conventional vs. Functional medicine

All this work is done within the context of an equal partnership between the patient and practitioner. The practitioner engages the individual in a collaborative relationship, respecting the patient’s function and understanding of self, and ensuring that the patient learns to take responsibility for their own decisions and for complying with all the recommended interventions. Learning How to evaluate a patient’s readiness to change and then providing the necessary guidance, training, and support are equally significant as ordering the Ideal laboratory tests and prescribing the correct therapies

2) Clinical Trials at Cleveland Clinic

– Functional Medicine In Asthma (FAst) Study

The goal of this study is to ascertain whether additional treatment with a functional medicine approach to standard guideline-based asthma care adds benefit to asthma care alone.

– Functional Medicine In Asthma (FAst) Study booklet

– Prostate Cancer Nutrition Program: The simple act of eating the perfect foods can improve your odds of being a prostate cancer survivor.

3. Type 2 Diabetes Research Study at Cleveland Clinic

This is a prospective, randomized, controlled, open-label clinical trial using a 1:1 randomization of patients with diabetes that have been on insulin therapy for at least 12 months, but for less than 96 weeks to receive either Functional Medicine care in addition to usual care or to continue usual care delivered by an endocrinologist. Patient recruitment will start at the Cleveland Clinic main campus Endocrinology practices and might later include Endocrinology clinics at other Cleveland Clinic Health System sites.

See: Functional Medicine physicians near you


A perfectly healthy human being is extremely intricate. Add to this an illness or imbalance and that complexity grows exponentially. Functional Medicine addresses the root causes of illness with a scientific and systems-oriented approach with an innovative process of engaging both practitioner and patient in a therapeutic partnership. All the approaches we’ve discussed have their merits, however, the obvious choice is an integrative holistic approach while searching for the origin of the illness using Systems Biology to unravel the integrated networks which make up who we are as human beings.