The number of individuals who suffer from complex chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders is on the rise.
The conventional care provided by allopathic medicine is oriented toward acute care and the diagnosis of trauma or disease of limited duration, such as a broken limb or heart attack.
Medical physicians practicing in this model typically prescribe drugs or surgery with the goal of ameliorating the immediate condition and symptoms. If, as a DC, you are frustrated by watching your patients suffer from chronic disease and be cycled through the system of diagnosis and drugs without improvement, Functional Medicine (FM) can provide you with powerful tools and strategies to help your patients regain their health.
Why Functional Medicine?
The acute-care approach is ill-equipped to handle the multifaceted issues that accompany most chronic diseases. It’s also a model that fails to address the unique genetic background of each individual. It also does not take into account the impact of modern lifestyles and environmental factors that can lead to an increase in chronic diseases. These factors include diet, exercise, exposure to toxins, and stress. For these reasons, most doctors are unequipped to assess the underlying causes of disease. They do not know how to utilize diet, exercise, and nutrition as preventive factors in combating chronic disease.
From an allopathic perspective, FM offers a novel approach and methodology to treating and preventing chronic diseases. From a chiropractic perspective, seeking to discover the underlying cause of disease by examining how structure impacts function is a foundational principal for the profession.
By joining forces, either through collaboration or in a more formal integrative or multidisciplinary practice setting, allopathic physicians and chiropractors can help their patients derive the greatest benefit from both perspectives. Practitioners of FM develop individualized treatment programs that address the interaction between the external environment and the internal environment of the body, including the immune, endocrine, and gastrointestinal systems.
How is Functional Medicine different?
From an FM perspective, the primary factors considered during a patient assessment include foundational lifestyle factors: nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress level, interpersonal relationships, and genetics. These primary factors are, in turn, influenced by certain predisposing factors, ongoing physiological processes, and discrete events that result in an imbalance in the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
Conventional medicine focuses on the constellation of symptoms the patient presents with and the grouping of these symptoms under the label of a diagnosed disease. The diagnosis is then accompanied by the prescription of a drug (or group of drugs), and in some cases therapy, in an attempt to mitigate or ameliorate the patient’s symptoms.
Beyond this point, traditional medicine finds itself at a loss. This approach to the treatment of disease neglects fundamental aspects of health that are often the underlying cause of the patient’s condition. It also groups patients together who present with similar signs and symptoms, and thus neglects the differences between patients as well as the multiple potential causes that a “disease” may have.
What are the hallmarks of a Functional Medicine practice?
FM practitioners tend to spend considerably more time with their patients than conventional medical doctors do. The level of evaluation provided is more consistent with a chiropractic intake examination and history than that of a medical examination.
Critical information is collected about underlying factors that may be contributing to the patient’s condition. These include an analysis of the patient’s lifestyle, daily living habits, history of trauma and prior illnesses, environmental exposures, and genetic influences.
Patients are often asked to complete extensive questionnaires that cover topics not usually addressed in a traditional medical setting. These include toxic exposures in the home and workplace, a daily diet history, and a specific history of the characteristics of both the patient’s acute and chronic symptoms. The responses provided by the patient offer the clinician insights into health-related information that might not be easily gathered during a typical patient history.
FM practitioners may also recommend laboratory testing, including routine tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), as well as less conventional tests, such as stool, saliva, hormone levels, and genetic testing. These tests help determine which biological processes may be functioning at less than optimal levels. This information is then compiled to develop a comprehensive customized plan of care to restore the patient to good health.
FM therapies may include chiropractic adjustments, nutritional supplements, nutraceuticals, botanical medicines, bio-identical hormones, detoxification programs, and therapeutic diets. A regimen of care will also typically include lifestyle counseling relating to exercise and stress- management techniques. The goal is to empower the patient to be active in the healing process and to improve their own health to change the course of their underlying dysfunction.
Functional Medicine in clinical practice
Chiropractors have long known that chronic disease is driven primarily by factors related to lifestyle choices. New approaches to prevention and health management are required to turn back the tide of chronic disease that is now on course to outpace deaths from infectious disease over the next decade.
This can be accomplished by integrating what both chiropractic and allopathic practitioners know about how the human body functions. This results in a level of care that is both patient centered and science based, that addresses the causes of chronic disease rooted in lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic influences. This is precisely what FM does and it is perfectly aligned to address the health challenges confronting the majority of our population today.
FM integrates the art and science of healthcare. There is extensive research and science-based evidence that supports the collaborative approach at the foundation of FM. Research shows outcomes are improved when an effective therapeutic partnership exists between doctor and patient.
This partnership engages the body, mind, and spirit. It encourages deep insight and a more comprehensive answer to challenging and complex health problems. One way to increase your satisfaction in practice is by providing your patients with answers that are unavailable to them elsewhere.
FM may provide you with a source for those answers.
Mark Sanna, DC, ACRB Level II, FICC, is a member of the Chiropractic Summit, the aCa Governor’s advisory Cabinet, and a board member of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. He is the president and CEO of Breakthrough Coaching. He can be reached at 800-723- 8423 or through mybreakthrough.com.