Functional medicine: far from pseudoscience

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” ~Thomas Edison

My dad sent me this quote a few months ago, and it’s featured on the front page of my website because I think it really embodies what the goal of medicine ought to be. We keep hoping to discover more and more drug treatments without asking ourselves why they are necessary. Meanwhile, iatrogenesis, or doctor-induced disease, remains the third leading cause of death in the United States.1

Functional medicine is sometimes dismissed as pseudoscience by those who don’t really understand it. As someone who has their feet in both camps, I can say from experience that the approach used by quality functional and integrative medicine practitioners is typically more evidence-based than the traditional medical system.

I don’t want to entirely dismiss modern conventional medicine. It saves countless lives every day and is irreplaceable for emergency care. (It’s one of the reasons I decided to get an MD.) If I had an anaphylactic reaction or broke my leg tomorrow, you’d better bet I’d be racing to the nearest hospital to get conventional medical care.

However, the majority of people aren’t suffering from anaphylaxis or a broken leg. They are suffering from chronic, inflammatory diseases that are much more responsive to a more nuanced, integrative approach.

Consider the following statistics:

  • Fifty percent of adults have at least one chronic health condition2
  • Twenty percent of adults have two or more chronic health conditions2
  • Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2014 were chronic diseases3
  • Chronic diseases account for 86% of all healthcare costs ($3.2 trillion in 2015)4
  • Fifty nine percent of adults take prescription drugs, and 39 percent of elderly people take more than five medications5

The bottom line is that the conventional model fails to solve chronic conditions. We need an approach that seeks to find the cause of the condition and avoids unnecessary ongoing pharmaceutical treatment.

Treating disease before it occurs: proactive vs. reactive medicine.

The difference becomes more evident when we talk about testing. Most conventional medical doctors test only a small fraction of the biomarkers at their disposal. This is not their fault of course; it’s a direct consequence of a healthcare system that doesn’t value proactive or preventive medicine. So instead, we wait for disease to occur and then react with drugs. I still remember my boyfriend telling me that he asked his doctor to test his C-reactive protein (CRP, a potent marker of systemic inflammation), only to be told they “don’t test that for liability reasons”. In contrast, with functional lab testing, we test a wide range of evidence-based markers aimed to give us more information about how to optimize total wellness and prevent pathology before it occurs.

Conventional lab ranges are also far too broad, such that you’ll only be “out of range” when you have severe pathology. You could be close to developing a disease, but will still be told that your bloodwork is “normal” according to conventional lab ranges. Functional lab ranges, on the other hand, denote the range of a marker for optimal health and can help to identify and prevent disease before it occurs. This is the difference between proactive and reactive medicine.

The core principles of functional or integrative medicine:

  • Acknowledging biochemical individuality
  • Focusing on a patient-centered approach to treatment
  • Recognizing the interplay of physiological factors in an integrated system
  • Identifying health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease
  • Using scientific evidence to shape care

Want to learn how a functional approach can help you? I offer personal health consultations, designed to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues and optimize your well-being. Check out my work with me page to learn more.

Sources:

  1. Starfield, B. Is US health really the best in the world? JAMA 284, 483–485 (2000).
  2. Ward, B. W., Schiller, J. S. & Goodman, R. A. Multiple chronic conditions among US adults: a 2012 update. Prev. Chronic. Dis. 11, E62 (2014).
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading causes of death and numbers of deaths, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin: United States, 1980 and 2014 (Table 19).
  4. J Gerteis et al. Multiple Chronic Conditions Chartbook. (2014).
  5. Kantor, E. D., Rehm, C. D., Haas, J. S., Chan, A. T. & Giovannucci, E. L. Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012. JAMA 314, 1818–1830 (2015).

Functional medicine: far from pseudoscience

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” ~Thomas Edison

My dad sent me this quote a few months ago, and it’s featured on the front page of my website because I think it really embodies what the goal of medicine ought to be. We keep hoping to discover more and more drug treatments without asking ourselves why they are necessary. Meanwhile, iatrogenesis, or doctor-induced disease, remains the third leading cause of death in the United States.1

Functional medicine is sometimes dismissed as pseudoscience by those who don’t really understand it. As someone who has their feet in both camps, I can say from experience that the approach used by quality functional and integrative medicine practitioners is typically more evidence-based than the traditional medical system.

I don’t want to entirely dismiss modern conventional medicine. It saves countless lives every day and is irreplaceable for emergency care. (It’s one of the reasons I decided to get an MD.) If I had an anaphylactic reaction or broke my leg tomorrow, you’d better bet I’d be racing to the nearest hospital to get conventional medical care.

However, the majority of people aren’t suffering from anaphylaxis or a broken leg. They are suffering from chronic, inflammatory diseases that are much more responsive to a more nuanced, integrative approach.

Consider the following statistics:

  • Fifty percent of adults have at least one chronic health condition2
  • Twenty percent of adults have two or more chronic health conditions2
  • Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2014 were chronic diseases3
  • Chronic diseases account for 86% of all healthcare costs ($3.2 trillion in 2015)4
  • Fifty nine percent of adults take prescription drugs, and 39 percent of elderly people take more than five medications5

The bottom line is that the conventional model fails to solve chronic conditions. We need an approach that seeks to find the cause of the condition and avoids unnecessary ongoing pharmaceutical treatment.

Treating disease before it occurs: proactive vs. reactive medicine.

The difference becomes more evident when we talk about testing. Most conventional medical doctors test only a small fraction of the biomarkers at their disposal. This is not their fault of course; it’s a direct consequence of a healthcare system that doesn’t value proactive or preventive medicine. So instead, we wait for disease to occur and then react with drugs. I still remember my boyfriend telling me that he asked his doctor to test his C-reactive protein (CRP, a potent marker of systemic inflammation), only to be told they “don’t test that for liability reasons”. In contrast, with functional lab testing, we test a wide range of evidence-based markers aimed to give us more information about how to optimize total wellness and prevent pathology before it occurs.

Conventional lab ranges are also far too broad, such that you’ll only be “out of range” when you have severe pathology. You could be close to developing a disease, but will still be told that your bloodwork is “normal” according to conventional lab ranges. Functional lab ranges, on the other hand, denote the range of a marker for optimal health and can help to identify and prevent disease before it occurs. This is the difference between proactive and reactive medicine.

 

The core principles of functional or integrative medicine are:

  • Acknowledging biochemical individuality
  • Focusing on a patient-centered approach to treatment
  • Recognizing the interplay of physiological factors in an integrated system
  • Identifying health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease
  • Using scientific evidence to shape care

Want to learn how a functional approach can help you? I offer personal health consultations, designed to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues and optimize your well-being. Check out my work with me page to learn more.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Starfield, B. Is US health really the best in the world? JAMA 284, 483–485 (2000).
  2. Ward, B. W., Schiller, J. S. & Goodman, R. A. Multiple chronic conditions among US adults: a 2012 update. Prev. Chronic. Dis. 11, E62 (2014).
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading causes of death and numbers of deaths, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin: United States, 1980 and 2014 (Table 19).
  4. J Gerteis et al. Multiple Chronic Conditions Chartbook. (2014).
  5. Kantor, E. D., Rehm, C. D., Haas, J. S., Chan, A. T. & Giovannucci, E. L. Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012. JAMA 314, 1818–1830 (2015).