What Is A Functional Medicine Doctor?

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Functional (or integrative) medicine is “a systems biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease

This is different from other forms of treatment in the sense that it’s not just a diagnosis of the disease based on the symptoms and treating them. It’s about finding out the root cause and figuring out how to solve the problem.

Now, in this particular case, you might have to go through each symptom individually and see how it is contributing to the overall problem. Needless to say, this is an elaborate process sometimes and requires an expert to take a look.

If you are looking for these doctors, you should know that they are, quite simply, called functional medicine doctors.

It's more important to understand the imbalance in your body's basic systems and restore balance, rather than name the disease and match the pill to the ill.

Mark Hyman MD
Functional Medicine Doctor

Who Is A Functional Medicine Doctor?

These doctors have special training and they use the techniques they have learned during this training to identify the cause of your disease. More often than not, people with complex diseases consult them to figure out what might be causing their ailment.

So, the doctors are trained to look at your overall health and dig into the roots of each symptom that might be causing multiple health conditions. This means looking at your diet, hormonal changes, prescription and OTC medication, genetics and lifestyle factors.

Typically, functional medicine doctors are consulted by individuals who are grappling with chronic diseases that aren’t successfully being managed with a conventional approach.

These doctors do their specialized training after they finish their conventional training. Some alternative therapists, like naturopaths and chiropractors, may also have this specialization.

The model of functional medicine has come a long way, starting with a small group of people who focused more on the approach than the techniques of treatment for individual diseases.

This took a lot of work in the fields of epidemics, genomics, nutritional sciences and more. Some groundbreaking research was done to ensure that the interventions introduced in this treatment process were low risk.

But they focused on modifying cellular and molecular systems so that whatever is causing the diseases could be stopped and reversed.

How Can They Extend Your Life?

As mentioned earlier, doctors who practice functional medicine look at a lot of factors. This usually starts by looking at your full medical history. It might even start with your family history so that clues about the origin of the disease may be revealed.

Obviously, this kind of deep dive will require more time than your average doctor’s appointment. That’s something you should be prepared for. It’s also not something that will happen in a day or two. So, patience is key.

These doctors will also take detailed information from you about your overall lifestyle and the specifics of the disease you are fighting. So, you might have to answer questions related to the following.

  • What has been the timeline of your symptoms?
  • What is your sleep pattern like?
  • What are your exercise habits like?
  • What kind of diet do you consume?
  • Have you experienced any specific stressors currently or during the course of your illness?
  • What is the state of the personal relationships in your life?
  • How has your overall emotional well-being been?

When they get all this information, they are ready to take into account the variety of factors that might be contributing to conditions that are reducing your lifespan. More often than not, these are chronic illnesses.

Sometimes, their treatment is in the form of alternative therapies depending on the type of specialist you are visiting. Sometimes it comes in the conventional form through prescription medicines and/or supplements.

Whatever the approach, they will monitor your progress beyond just pills (if that’s the choice they have made) and suggest changes during the course of it if required. Their approach is obviously different from one patient to another because it is extremely specific to the type of problem and also all the factors that they have taken in.

You will also discover that the relationship you have with your functional medicine doctor is not the same as your primary doctor, much like it isn’t the same with a therapist.

This relationship is classified as a collaborative partnership by the Institute for Functional Medicine because your inputs are the ones that will decide the course of treatment. You will very much be responsible for the choices you make during the course of the treatment too.

Functional medicine care is given based on the system in the body that is being hurt. This is quite different from treatment that starts with the diagnosis of the condition and treatment of the symptoms.

For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness like depression, there will be many different reasons why it might be so. Each of those causes will be discovered and dissected by a functional medicine doctor and a personalized treatment will be created to help you manage it. 

What Is A Functional Medicine Doctor? Wrapping Up

Usually, functional medicine doctors are consulted because there are many health issues that need to be managed. As an example, this might be for individuals who are suffering from conditions like chronic pain such as arthritis, inflammatory diseases like IBD or Celiac disease and depression, which all could stem from multiple factors. 

The treatment these doctors suggest will be able to help you manage everyday pain but also provide a solution in the long term. And it’s not just for people with chronic illnesses but also for those who are seeking preventive care or extension of a healthy life.

Rosemary Richards