Written by Nancy Palermo Lietz, MD
If you are standing on a tack, no amount of aspirin or pain medication will make the discomfort of the tack completely disappear. The medicine will only subdue the pain temporarily. You must remove the tack to allow the discomfort to abate. If you are standing on two tacks, removing only one is not enough to make you feel better. You must address both triggers to be completely free of the pain. Unfortunately, our current medical system addresses disease just this way. Instead of getting to the root cause of a problem, symptoms are simply treated with disregard for what is causing the problem in the first place. When a disease process has multiple symptoms, often patients end up on multiple medications—essentially “a pill for every ill” as many who practice Functional Medicine like to say.
Functional Medicine is different in that it aims to get to the root cause of disease by identifying specific details of a patient’s physiology, history, lifestyle or genetic makeup which might be contributing to the problem. Functional Medicine practitioners also consider an individual’s internal (mind, body and spirit) and external (physical and social) environment as factors that contribute to overall functioning. Functional Medicine treats the whole individual, not just organ systems. Disease affects all organ systems, so it only makes sense not to isolate separate systems. Functional Medicine practitioners apply strategies such as nutrition, diet and exercise to both treat and prevent chronic illnesses in their patients. Functional Medicine teaches individuals how to eat, think and be healthy by engaging them in their own healthcare. This empowers patients to take an active role in their own healthcare and not simply be prescription fillers. This focus on care not only relieves symptoms, it also provides a positive vitality, beyond just the absence of disease.
Functional Medicine integrates the best of traditional Western medicine with some practices considered “alternative” or “integrative.” Functional Medicine uses evidence-based research and the latest in laboratory testing and diagnostic techniques and medical therapies, as well as less traditional practices which may include botanicals, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, and individualized exercise and stress-reduction programs to achieve optimal health.
We are at a crossroads in the practice of medicine. We must stop treating the effects of disease and start treating the causes of disease. We need to move to a preventative model that aims to get to the root cause of disease. New medical practices must be designed as environments that give patients the tools they need to become disease-free and get on the path towards optimal health. Health clinics of the future must combine the best of Traditional Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine, Integrative Medicine and Functional Medicine all under one roof. The certified physicians and staff will provide the tools individuals need to live healthy and vibrant lives. Workshops and group classes educate and motivate patients in a supportive and healing environment. Teaching kitchens might offer healthy cooking classes that are nutritionally and medically themed. Mind/body/spirit programs help to personalize exercise and self-care tools of stress reduction and meditation to help individuals restore balance and health. Patients must play an active role in designing and implementing such practices and ultimately become pillars of health in their own lives and in the lives of our community.
Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.