Functional medicine involves understanding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic diseases. It is an integrative, science-based healthcare approach that treats illness and promotes wellness by focusing assessment on the biochemically unique aspects of each patient, and then individually tailoring interventions to restore physiological, psychological and structural balance.
There are seven basic principles underlying the functional medicine approach:
- Science-based medicine that connects the emerging research base to clinical practice.
- Biochemical individuality. Each animal is genetically and environmentally unique, which affects how it expresses both health and disease.
- Patient-centered care (rather than disease-centered) means that the patient, not the diagnosis, is the center of care.
- Dynamic balance describes the ever-changing relationship between internal (mind, body and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning.
- Web-like interconnections among the body’s physiological processes also affect every aspect of functionality. Diabetes, for example, affects the heart and hormone systems ( and is affected by them).
- Health as a positive vitality. The functional medicine practitioner wants to know: Does the patient feel really well, full of vitality and zest for life?
- Promotion of organ reserve. The heart, lungs, glands and everything in the body can achieve greater stamina, better recovery from illness, and a longer “health span”, not just a longer “life span”.
Using these principles, functional medicine practitioners focus on understanding the fundamental physiological processes, the environmental inputs, and the genetic predispositions that influence every patient’s experience of health and disease.
Environmental inputs include the air and water in your community, the diet your pet eats, the quality of that diet, physical exercise, psychosocial factors, and toxic exposures or traumas experienced.
Genetic predisposition does not mean something is inevitable. Your pet’s genes may be influenced by everything in it’s environment, plus it’s experiences and attitudes. That means it is possible to change the way genes are expressed (activated and experienced).
Fundamental physiological processes keep us alive. They involve cellular communication; energy transformation; replication, repair, and maintenance; waste elimination; protection/defense; and transport/circulation. These processes are influenced by environment and by genes, and when they are disturbed or imbalanced, they lead to symptoms, which can lead to disease if effective interventions are not applied.
Most imbalances in functionality can be addressed; some can be completely restored to optimum function and others can be substantially improved. Virtually every complex, chronic disease is preceded by long-term disturbances in functionality that need to be identified and effectively managed- the earlier the better.
The Institute for Functional Medicine teaches practitioners how to assess the patient’s fundamental clinical imbalances through careful history-taking, physical examination, and laboratory testing. Evaluation are made of:
- Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances.
- Redox imbalances, including oxidative stress and mitochondropathy.
- Detoxification, biotransformation and excretory imbalances.
- Immune imbalances.
- Inflammatory imbalances.
- Digestive, absorptive and microbiological imbalances.
- Cellular structure imbalances.
- Nutritional and dietary imbalances.
- Mind/body imbalances, including stress.
Once an assessment has been made, the functional medicine practitioner examines a wide array of interventions and selects those with the most impact on underlying functionality. Changing how the system(s) function(s) can have a major impact on the patient’s health.
The good news is: when you look at functionality, you uncover many different ways of resolving problems- you are not limited to the “drug of choice for condition X”.