You may start hearing the term Functional Medicine. Some people call in Lifestyle Medicine. You may not have heard it at all. I did not hear of it until several years ago.
Going into medicine was a natural choice for me. I have vivid childhood memories of visiting both of my grandmothers in the hospital. My father was busy working at his neighborhood pharmacy supporting all of us and my mother was left to attend to both my grandmothers. Unfortunately, they were in the hospital at the same time and since I was the youngest and not old enough to be left alone I tagged along with my mother. (I never met my grandfathers because they passed before I was born.) Not much was explained to me and I remember being overwhelmed with feelings and questions. Looking back I am sure my mother was overwhelmed herself and not able to address my feelings and questions.
When the time came to choose a career path medicine was the obvious answer. Learning science was easy for me. My father was a pharmacist. And, of course, the vivid childhood memories of my grandmothers’ illnesses and hospitalizations. It was as if they happened the day before. So when I went to medical school I wanted to focus on the person, as if they were one of my grandmothers, and the family, like my mother and me. However, medical school was focused on teaching the enormous amount of relevant science and the approach to the individual seemed to be missing. The focus was pathology or health, disease or not. I was taught to find out what was wrong with the patient and fix it. Find the pathology and treat it. But I was thinking of my grandmothers, mother and myself and thought it was best to focus first on the person and then what was wrong. How did the illness affect the person, their life and their family? When they got better how could more illness be prevented? How can their family prevent similar illnesses from occurring? As I developed into a physician I focused on the doctor patient partnership. I encouraged my patients to take an active role in their treatment. Intuitively, I have always practiced a person centered approach keeping in mind not only pathology but health and prevention.
Several years ago, a professional colleague told me about a conference she recently attended. She was quite enamored by what she learned that weekend and encouraged me to investigate Functional Medicine. The term Functional Medicine had absolutely no meaning to me at that time. I had been a medical doctor for over two decades and considered myself well informed. A few days later I did look for information about functional medicine and found the website of the Institute of Functional Medicine. The website explained that Functional Medicine looks at disease on a continuum with health. Further, FM described looking upstream for causes and contributions to the development of disease. As well as, embracing the most recent scientific advances including the most individualized science of genetics while fostering a partnership between doctor and patient. As I read I knew I already had been practicing the fundamentals of FM.
I attended the next foundational conference that the Institute offered. Despite being quite overwhelmed by the sheer outrageous quantity of science presented during that course I knew I began on a journey in which I could not turn back. Since that course I have attended many more advanced practice conferences. While I am no longer overwhelmed I continue to remain in awe.
Functional Medicine is a much needed paradigm shift to deal with the chronicity of diseases that plague our society today.
Our current healthcare system tries to address diseases in an acute care model despite whether or not it is an acute or chronic disease. However, 90% of the illnesses that plague us are in fact chronic diseases. Diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, depression, arthritis, and heart disease are chronic and on the rise. The good news is that a whopping 95% of a chronic disease is due to lifestyle choices. Lifestyle choices including diet, exercise, sleep and stress. In addition, environmental toxins and drugs also have a profound impact on these diseases.
The bad news is that means we are each responsible for 95% of our disease. But, if we alter our lifestyle choices and limit our toxin exposures, we can change and improve our own health! There is something each one of us can do to improve our own health after all. We don’t have to be overwhelmed and helpless like my mother and me with my grandmothers.
I think that is why I went to medical school after all. I wanted to be empowered and empower others to change and take care of their own health!