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What is Functional Medicine? – A Comprehensive Guide

ESTIMATED READING TIME 11 MINUTES

What is Functional Medicine? A Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve ever asked the question, what is functional medicine? If you’ve wondered how it differs from other forms of healthcare, you’re in the right place. This article will delve into the intricacies of functional medicine and discover some of its advantages.

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a patient-centred approach aiming to treat the underlying causes of disease. This is opposed to addressing and managing symptoms, the focus of traditional medicine. It believes everyone is unique, so no-one’s route to optimal health will be the same.

It delves deep into the root causes of ill health. Therapists consider factors like genetics, environment, health history, diet, behaviour, and lifestyle. These factors all interact to influence health. The goal of functional medicine is to create a personalised treatment plan to restore health and promote long-term wellness.

Functional medicine practitioners devote considerable time to understanding your complete health history. Typically, your practitioner will investigate aspects like gut health, nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances to develop your tailored treatment plan. Treatment recommendations will not be static but will change over time as your body changes and heals.

Is Functional Medicine Natural?

Functional medicine has at its heart natural methods used to support health. These include dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle techniques. However, it may incorporate and work alongside conventional medicine practices where necessary. This blended approach ensures the most appropriate and effective treatment for your specific needs. The goal is to restore and maintain optimal health using the best of both worlds.

Is Functional Medicine Recognised in the UK?

Many healthcare providers and patients are turning to the functional medicine approach to provide solutions. Organisations like the IFM offer certification programmes for UK practitioners to expand their knowledge. An increasing number of GPs in the UK work as functional medicine practitioners too, integrating functional medicine with traditional medicine.

Conventional medicine gives drugs to correct symptoms, and typically considers diseases in isolation. This approach can be very effective in treating diseases with a specific cause, such as infections causes by certain bacteria. However, conventional medicine can be less effective when applied to chronic disorders resulting from multiple functional imbalances 1. This is an increasing issue since non-communicable diseases now account for more than 70% of all deaths worldwide 2. On the other hand, functional medicine aims to address the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

Is Functional Medicine Legitimate?

Functional medicine is evidence-based. Practitioners use functional tests to uncover the root causes of disease. Blood, urine and saliva tests, and genetic screens alongside a comprehensive patient health history are all crucial components in creating your personalised treatment plan.

The beauty of functional testing is that retesting after a certain period can monitor progress and enable you to see your progress towards your health goals. This is very motivating.

Is There Scientific Evidence for Functional Medicine?

What is Functional Medicine? It is a science based approach to patient centred healthcare

Evidence to support it is growing. Studies have shown positive outcomes in alleviating chronic conditions like autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis 3 and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis 4. It has also been shown to be effective for lifestyle disease such as Type 2 diabetes 5.

One study compared outcomes and quality of life scores in people with chronic health conditions when receiving care from a functional medicine clinic with those receiving traditional healthcare. Patients treated under the functional medicine model had statistically better quality-of-life scores 6.

By focusing on prevention and addressing root causes, it aims to restore health for the long term. Practitioners always seek to stay abreast with the latest research on diet, lifestyle, and health. Functional medicine is keen to embrace cutting-edge functional tests and technologies to assist with uncovering imbalances within the body’s organs and systems.

As healthcare evolves, the demand for more personalised, patient-centred approaches looks set to increase, meaning exciting times are ahead for the functional medicine approach. Patients are becoming more informed and involved in their healthcare decisions. They are seeking therapies to not only address immediate symptoms but also improve long-term health and well-being.

What Conditions May Functional Medicine Support?

Functional medicine looks for root causes, arising from imbalances in organs or systems, and it considers all parts of your body as being interconnected. Because of this, the functional medicine model can be applied to a broad range of diseases. In fact, functional medicine practitioners look at a person irrespective of the labelled disease they are suffering from. This is because the factors causing disharmony in the body can manifest themselves in many different diseases.

Commonly, practitioners see clients with autoimmune diseases, metabolic conditions like cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, and hormonal imbalances. For a list of some of the conditions we frequently support, visit our conditions page.

The Difference Between Holistic and Functional Medicine

What is functional medicine? Is it the same as holistic medicine?

Both holistic and functional medicine aim to promote overall wellbeing, but they have distinct differences. Holistic medicine focuses on treating the whole person – body, mind and spirit. This is important in functional medicine, too, with emphasis placed on the interaction between body and mind, particularly the effect of stress, anxiety and mood on the body’s chemistry. However, functional medicine is science-based and uses laboratory testing to diagnose the underlying causes of ill health. These may be chemical imbalances in cells, levels of nutrients in the blood or tissues, or imbalances in the body’s hormone network.

Is Homeopathy the Same as Functional Medicine?

Homeopathy and functional medicine are distinct and with different approaches. Homeopathy is based on the principle of ‘like cures like.’ It uses highly diluted substances to trigger the body’s natural healing processes.

Functional medicine, on the other hand, employs an integrated approach. It uses a variety of diagnostic tools and treatment approaches including dietary modifications, supplements, and lifestyle changes. However, practitioners may call on other therapies as and when appropriate. For example, your therapist may integrate physiotherapy, massage, breathwork or nutritional dentistry into your treatment plan if they would be of benefit.

Is Functional Medicine Expensive?

What is Functional Medicine and is it expensive? Your health is an investment, not an expense

Typically, the NHS in the UK does not cover the cost of functional medicine consultations, although things are changing. The NHS is increasingly moving towards a personalised medicine approach, recognising the environmental and lifestyle factors contributing to disease 7.

Remember, too, an average consultation with a private doctor is typically a maximum of only 30 minutes, whereas your initial consultation with one of our highly qualified therapists allows 90 minutes to fully explore your personal circumstances.

Optimum health is an investment for your future. Increasingly, people are less concerned about lifespan (the number of years you are alive) and more with healthspan (the number of years you are able to live a healthy life).

Sadly, recent research has revealed healthspan in the UK is falling. For babies born in England between 2020 and 2022, the average time they can expect to live in good health is now only just over 62 years 8. This contrasts with an average expected lifespan for these babies of 80 years. This means on average people will live a shocking 18 years in poor health. This situation has wide-ranging financial implications, for example on ability to work, and the need for costly NHS prescriptions, private care, or adaptations to the home. By optimising your health into later life, you can retain the ability to work if you wish to and reduce your future reliance on costly care.

Are supplements expensive?

Many people ask why some nutritional supplements are so expensive. The answer to this is all nutritional supplements are not created equally, and the price often reflects the quality. Good quality supplements are easy for your body to absorb and use, contain nutrients in the correct ratios, and are free of additives which may hinder healing. In addition, they will contain natural rather than synthetic nutrients, and these are sourced ethically. Your practitioner will have spent considerable time researching the most effective supplements for your health plan, and cheaper varieties are almost never of equivalent effectiveness.

Embracing a New Approach to Healthcare

Functional medicine offers a positive approach to understanding and addressing complex health issues. Its emphasis on individualised care, root-cause analysis and integrative assessment of health issues makes it a compelling option if you are seeking comprehensive health solutions. Our practitioners take time to really listen to you, the patient.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of personalised healthcare that addresses the core issues of your health concerns rather than simply masking your symptoms, you’ve come to the right place. Our team of therapists are waiting to hear from you.

References

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