The Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Illness
You’ve heard me say it time and time again in my books and in articles, “conventional medicine failed me and it’s my mission to not have it fail you, too.”
It truly is my mission as a functional medicine doctor and health and wellness brand founder to help you avoid the pitfalls of conventional medicine and empower you to take control of your health. I have a vision of creating a clear path to optimal health and wellness, something that is better than what we all know through conventional physicians and medications.
Let me explain why.
The Problem With Conventional Medicine
Conventional medicine focuses on acute care. Think of the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or illness that needs urgent attention, such as heart attack or a broken leg. Physicians apply specific, prescribed treatments such as medications or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom.
Believe me, as a former emergency room physician, I’m not disputing conventional medicine’s role in acute and urgent care. It’s absolutely necessary in certain situations. However, this approach does not work for chronic illness.
Chronic illness is so much more prevalent in today’s society. More than half of adults over the age of 65 have three or more chronic illnesses. While genetics do play a part, research is proving what functional medicine practitioners have known for years – environment, diet, and lifestyle is 75% of the root cause of chronic illness. And if you have one, you are three times more likely to develop another. A magic pill isn’t going to do the trick in reversing your illness.1
When an autoimmune disease (one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses), your immune system mistakes your joints, your skin, and even your organs as foreign invaders. Regardless of what type of autoimmune disease you have, functional medicine understands that the true problem lies with your immune system. Conventional medicine does not recognize autoimmune diseases as diseases of the immune system as a whole. Instead, they are treated as diseases of particular organs.
Conventional medicine also does not recognize common root cause conditions of serious illness such as leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). I’ll discuss how conventional medicine gets this wrong and how functional medicine’s approach to chronic illness can help you get to the true root cause of your symptoms so you can achieve optimal health.
What is Functional Medicine?
In today’s world of managed healthcare and doctors spending only minutes with a patient, it would seem difficult to imagine a physician that is compassionate and empathetic, talks with you for an hour or two, and listens attentively to every detail about your health so that you can get to the root cause of your symptoms. If you are like many of us, this is truly whom you want for your physician and what you want out of your healthcare.
The great news is that there are physicians like the one I’ve described. We are called functional medicine doctors. We are physicians who in addition to graduating from medical school and completing a residency program, finish the Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) training program with the Institute of Functional Medicine.
Functional medicine is often described as 21st century medicine. It is a science-based approach that looks at the function of all of the body’s systems and how they interact with one another rather than naming a disease and giving a pill.
We look at EVERYTHING. We begin with a detailed medical history from preconception to the present. Functional medicine also looks at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors to determine if your symptoms are caused by toxic mold, a food sensitivity, or family history first.2
As I mentioned, genetics plays about 25% of the reason you develop chronic illness. However, factors such as environmental toxins that can get in your skin through body products or at home cleaning supplies, the food we eat, and lifestyle choices such as smoking is 75% of the root cause of chronic illness. The empowering part is that you have control over those factors.
Functional Medicine Looks At The Individual As Unique
The basic tenant of functional medicine is that each person is biochemically unique and, therefore, no one treatment is right for everyone. Functional medicine does not look at each individual named disease in a silo. Instead, functional medicine digs deeper to find the common link between them.
Conventional medicine, on the other hand, views people in terms of their disease – a “one-size-fits-all” model. It focuses on naming a disease, sending you to a specialist in that part of the body, and giving a pill for that disease rather than trying to help you prevent chronic illness in the first place. The truth is, everyone is built differently and that “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work.
I know from my own personal experience that there IS a better way, and you CAN find relief from your symptoms by getting to the root of what’s causing them.
What Conventional Medicine Gets Wrong
It’s All In Your Genes
Conventional medicine would have you believe that autoimmunity is all in your genes, and you are essentially a victim of the genetic lottery. It is true there is a genetic component that accounts for roughly 25% of your risk of developing an autoimmune condition. However, that means 75% of your risk is environmental, whether due to leaky gut, food sensitivities, toxins, infections, stress, or a combination of these factors. I find that an incredibly empowering statistic! It means you have the ability to address the external triggers of your autoimmunity and reverse your condition.
Once You’re Diagnosed, Your Symptoms Will Only Get Worse
Joint pain, weakness, gastrointestinal distress, skin rashes, and fatigue – these are all symptoms of autoimmunity that your conventional medicine doctor may tell you that you will be with for the rest of your life or you can only expect them to worsen over time. You might also be prescribed ever-larger doses of medications that may or may not help and only treat your symptoms, not your condition.
The fact is, the above symptoms are signs of autoimmunity, and it is not a black-and-white issue. Instead, there is what I call the autoimmune spectrum, and depending on how much inflammation your body has at any given time, you can move up or down on that spectrum. On one end you have full-blown autoimmune disease and all its accompanying symptoms. On the other end you have zero inflammation and no symptoms – although this is rare even in the healthiest of people because of the toxic modern world we live in.
Functional medicine believes that as you reduce your inflammation, you can reverse your symptoms and even see them disappear!
Autoimmunity is a Disease of a Single Organ
The conventional medicine approach to autoimmune disease is one of specialization. If you have a thyroid condition, you see an endocrinologist; if you have IBS, you visit your gastroenterologist, and so on. All of these specialists treat autoimmune disease as if it only affected the symptomatic organ. This type of treatment is fundamentally flawed.
Functional medicine approaches autoimmunity as a disease of the immune system. Without addressing what it is that caused your immune system to go awry in the first place, you are just circling the wagon. It is functional medicine’s approach of viewing the body as the complex, interconnected system that it is, that makes it possible to reverse autoimmune conditions so we can properly address the autoimmune epidemic we are facing today.
Medications Are the Only Way to Relieve Your Symptoms
The first line of defense in conventional medicine is not prevention… it’s medication. Not all medications are bad. Medications are sometimes necessary for treating acute conditions and infections.
The problem with conventional treatment is that you are given no other option. These medications often come with a long list of side effects that can make you feel worse than you did before, including weight gain, depression or increased infection rates. What’s more, the type of medications given to patients with autoimmunity typically work by suppressing the immune system, which is the opposite of what functional medicine aims to do — support it!
There are two types of medications that you should specifically avoid when possible: NAISDs and antibiotics.
NAISDs such as Advil and Mortin, damage your gut and overuse can lead to leaky gut, bacteria imbalance and autoimmune disease. The functional medicine approach is to support a healthy inflammatory response by supplementing with Liposomal Curcumin and Complete Omega-3s.
Antibiotics are like a blanket smothering the good and bad bacteria in your gut. They disrupt your gut’s delicate ecosystem because they cannot tell the difference between good and bad bacteria. If you must take antibiotics, I recommend using a high-quality probiotic to maintain a healthy gut.
Diet Plays No Role in Autoimmune Disorders
If you really think about it, it shouldn’t shock you that food plays a role in your immune health. Your immune system cannot function without the right fuel. Nearly 80% of your immune system is housed in your gut where your body digests food and absorbs nutrients for energy. The primary food culprit of autoimmunity is gluten, which causes leaky gut. There are a number of other foods that contribute to inflammation, including dairy, corn, soy, grains, and legumes, not to mention the toxic substances we invite into our bodies every day such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, pesticides, GMOs, and artificial ingredients found in packaged goods.
Diet plays a huge role in autoimmunity, so it makes sense that it’s one of the easiest ways you can take control of your health by making smart choices about what you put on your plate.
Autoimmune Disease Can’t Be Reversed
This is one of the biggest myths of conventional medicine, and why I went into functional medicine after my own battle with autoimmune disease. It’s also why I created The Myers Way®. This four pronged approach is based in functional medicine and looks at how all the body’s systems interact and seeks to get them function optimally.
By following The Myers Way® you CAN reverse your autoimmune disease by:
- Repairing your gut
- Ditching inflammatory foods (gluten and dairy in particular)
- Taming your toxic burden
- Healing your infections, and relieving your stress.
By uncovering the root cause of your condition, you can address the factors that are contributing to your autoimmunity and work your way back down the autoimmune spectrum. With some simple changes, you can watch your symptoms vanish and start feeling your best again.
Why Functional Medicine Is So Important Now
Aside from the shortcomings inherent in conventional medicine’s approach, several trends are creating a perfect storm of crisis in the healthcare industry. The prevalence of chronic illness is rising, as are the costs to treat chronic conditions. This predicament is highly profitable for many big industries, so it’s not in their best interest to find a solution to these problems.
So, why is functional medicine the answer to chronic illness? Let’s compare the key differences in conventional medicine and functional medicine. You’ll quickly see why functional medicine offers a better solution to treating and reversing chronic disease.
- Seeks to treat symptoms of chronic illness, not resolve the underlying cause
- Treats the disease or particular organ as isolated
- Offers prescriptions, often with negative side effects, to mask symptoms of underlying disease
- Relies on large practice groups
- Beholden to insurance company policies and prices
- Focuses on illness, not wellness
- Less control over information
- Data-driven approach to decision making
- Seeks to address the root cause of illness
- Views and treats the body as a whole
- Offers a customized diet and lifestyle strategy, in addition to other natural therapies, to treat the entire body
- Patient-centered Individual or small practices
- In-depth consultations not driven by insurance company policies
- Focuses on overall wellbeing
- Simplified information control
- Focus on what works for your specific body averaged data
When I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, conventional medicine advised me to surgically remove my thyroid gland or kill it with radiation. I opted for the second choice and it is the biggest regret of my life. Functional medicine would have addressed the fact that my immune system was attacking my thyroid, not attacked it as a source of my issues. The reality is I would still have my thyroid if I had sought the care of a functional medicine practitioner.
Make no mistake — access to conventional medicine for urgent care and surgical procedures is critical. As a medical doctor, I would not treat injuries from a car wreck with a change in diet. I would never forgo treating a life-threatening infection with antibiotics!
However, as a functional medicine physician, I’ve seen another side to chronic illness. I’ve helped tens of thousands of people take back control of their health using functional medicine principles. You can use these same principles to take back control of your health!
Functional Medicine FAQS
What is functional medicine?
What is functional medicine?
Functional Medicine is a medical approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.
Is functional medicine science based?
Is functional medicine science based?
Yes. Functional medicine is biology-based the same as conventional medicines. Functional medicine doctors go to medical school and complete a residency program, along with finishing the Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) training program with the Institute of Functional Medicine.
What does a functional medicine doctor do?
What does a functional medicine doctor do?
In functional medicine, we begin with a detailed history from preconception to the present. Functional medicine also looks at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. It takes into account the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual to get to the root cause of your symptoms.
- An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Visual Analytics Approach to Public Health. Wullianallur Raghupathi and Viju Raghupathi. . .
- Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual. The Institute For Functional Medicine. 2021.
Updated on: Published on: