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The What and Why of Functional Medicine

Updated: Sep 19, 2018

Functional Medicine. Some of you may be asking what is Functional Medicine? Is it new? I guess that depends on your perspective. Willoughby Wade, BA, MB, Physician to the General Hospital, Birmingham, England actually coined the term during a lecture on March 5, 1870. This lecture was published in The Lancet on July 1, 1871. “So, what is disease?…The conclusion is that all disease is disordered function. Here, then, I say, is the highest justification for all treatment being based upon the principle of restoring disordered functions to order, and this what I have ventured to term Functional Medicine.” (1) You could argue that it is even older than that, at least some of the underlying principles are. For example, Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” (2) However, Functional Medicine is still new and it is exactly what you need.

The Institute of Functional Medicine defines Functional Medicine as a systems-biology approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. (3) Let’s break that down so that it is easier to understand. Disease is exactly that…dis- ease. This means that something is not working correctly; i.e. disordered function as described by Willoughby Wade. If we address the root cause of this dysfunction, we can return to a state of ease. Our body is extremely complex and all the different systems work together to function as a whole.

Let’s compare Functional Medicine to Conventional Medicine to help our understanding. Conventional Medicine is a system we have all used. The goal is to detect disease early and manage it. The care you receive is led by the doctor or doctors, each with their own specialty. The symptoms of disease are suppressed with the use of medications. Functional Medicine, on the other hand, has the goal of optimizing health. This goal is achieved through a partnership between the client and the practitioner that treats the whole person. Symptoms are addressed by working together to determine and address the root cause of dysfunction.

So, you might be asking why do we need Functional Medicine since we have done well thus far with Conventional Medicine? This question requires a deeper look and we have to examine if we have truly done well with Conventional Medicine. The answer to this question requires context. In the context of life-saving surgeries and acute illness, yes, we have done well with Conventional Medicine. We also have longer lifespans which is good. Right? Well, according to a study published in 2016 by the University of Southern California, “We could be increasing the length of poor-quality life more than good-quality life.” (4) There is also a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that states “this generation is the first that’s expected to have a shorter lifespan that their parents.” (5)

Conventional Medicine also struggles with chronic disease. Look at these stats:

  1. 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic disease

  2. 1 in 4 Americans has multiple chronic diseases (6)

  3. 7 out of 10 deaths in the US caused by chronic disease (7)

If these statistics are not bad enough, let’s look at Healthcare spending and health outcomes in the US.

After looking at these statistics, it does not appear that Conventional Medicine is able to handle Chronic Disease.

It is a New Year and most likely you have new resolutions. These resolutions probably have something to do with your health. Maybe you already have a health condition that you want to manage or you just want to be as healthy as possible. If this sounds like you or if the rest of this article resonates with you, please take action and experience firsthand how you can take control of your health with the help of Functional Medicine.



This article is for educational use only. Nothing contained in this article should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This article does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding personal health or medical conditions. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read in this article. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, you should contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and are experiencing a medical emergency, you should dial 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone.

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