The prophetic words of Thomas Edison who stated decades ago that, “the doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease” appears to be an extremely accurate vision of today’s health care. The emphasis is now shifting to treating the “whole person” rather than just reactive disease management as the standard of care. Enter functional medicine.
Considering that more and more physicians and health care providers are embracing this new form of medicine that strives to create homeostasis or internal balance in the body by implementing lifestyle medicine and behavioral changes, which includes diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation, stress reduction, and hormone balancing has proven to help patients get well and stay well is exciting.
There now exists several provider organizations whose sole purpose is to educate doctors and health care practitioners on functional and anti-aging medicine with a focus on how to get to the root or underlying cause of disease in their patients by balancing their physiology or body function. These associations include the American Academy of Anti- Aging Medicine (A4M), the Age Management Medicine Group (AMMG), and the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM).
In addition, there are prestigious medical institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, the University of Arizona, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Columbia University, and Harvard Medical School which are leading the way in training young doctors in functional medicine for the future.
It appears for the first time, science and medicine now have in their possession the technology and understanding to appreciate the value of natural therapies. The philosophical roots of natural medicine and natural health can be traced back to Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”.
Current population health statistics make an even stronger case for this paradigm shift in the way medicine is delivered to patients. Consider the following:
- It is estimated that 90% of adults are nutritionally deficient
- More than 50% of adults do not eat the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- 65% of adults have some form of chronic disease in the form of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, and the incidence is going in the wrong direction.
- 80% of chronic disease is preventable or reversible with functional or natural medicine.
- Diabetes is now an epidemic with approximately 30 million Americans having the disease, plus, millions more are pre-diabetic and don’t even know it. Recent studies in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) stated that 1 in 5 adolescents are prediabetic.
Functional medicine- the philosophy of functional or natural medicine, including naturopathy, is to believe in the fundamental concept of the healing power of nature and the ability of the body to heal itself, given the proper opportunity. Its therapeutic premise is based upon the least invasive intervention that will achieve the desired therapeutic effect or outcome. Health is viewed as more than just the absence of disease, as it is considered to be a vital dynamic state which enables a person to thrive in or adapt to a wider range of environments and stresses.
Health and disease can be looked at as points on a continuum, with optimal health at one end of the spectrum and death at the other. The typical person goes through life moving progressively towards dysfunction due in great part to lifestyle and behaviors. This is many times considered to be “normal aging”. By implementing functional medicine which focuses on prevention and on the whole person, this unacceptable trend can be reversed.
The question of health or disease often comes down to individual responsibility. Responsibility means choosing a healthy alternative over a less healthy one. The first step in achieving and maintaining health is taking responsibility for one’s self-care, and secondly, to take the appropriate action to achieve the results you desire.
There is no question that if you have an acute serious infection or are in need of a high- tech procedure, that conventional medicine here in America can deliver exactly what you need. In fact, America has an international reputation for making medical breakthroughs. From pacemakers, defibrillators, birth control pills, kidney transplants, to artificial hearts and robotic surgery, we continue to make headlines. Despite these heroics of modern medicine, our population is becoming less healthy. Considering that conventional medicine is becoming more difficult, complicated, and costly for the patients to navigate, a growing number of people are turning to natural healing modalities.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil M.D., a pioneer from Harvard Medical School and now a professor of alternative or integrative medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, “there has been a real shift in the way people think about their health. People are realizing that conventional medicine is expensive, sometimes dangerous, and not always effective.” A holistic approach means recognizing that the mind and the spirit have a direct, powerful effect on how the body functions.
If there is one thing we have learned regarding choices in health care, it is that there is no magic bullet or one size fits all template. Everyone is biochemically unique and different and sometimes conventional medicine is best, other times functional or natural medicine is a better fit. Again, many times the best option is blending the best of both worlds to effectively optimize your health. The take-home message is to find a practitioner who understands when to say when.