Functional medicine is a new way of understanding non-communicable diseases and how to treat it them. Current approaches to medicine focus on symptoms and diseases and treatment with medication. Functional medicine sees chronic illness as a result of lifestyle decisions, and tries to identify causes and underlying factors so that the mechanisms of ill health can be addressed naturally and systemically.
Functional medicine takes a more holistic approach to health, is preventative in nature, and addresses the upstream drivers of disease – diet, environment, and management of stress. It also focuses rigorously on gut health and analyzes the microbiome and its relation to chronic illness. It pays special attention to inflammation and how chronic inflammation internally spawns disease.
This is a major shift in thinking regarding medicine. Most approaches to disease are reductionist, meaning that doctors and scientists look for a single cause which is linked to the problem and in general linked to that disease. In other words, the disease is treated, not the patient. Functional medicine looks at the disease from the position of the patient to see what factors have shifted the patient from good to bad health and how they can be corrected.
According to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, “Our physicians are able to support the healing process by viewing health and illness as part of a cycle in which all components of the human biological system interact dynamically with the environment.”
Proponents of functional medicine believe that it can improve patient outcomes, reduce the burdens of chronic illness, and create healthier communities. Considering that an increasing number of individuals suffer from more than one chronic illness and take multiple medications daily to manage the symptoms without addressing the core health issues, this new style of medicine may be able to help relieve suffering and the costs associated with it.