In many ways, our medical system in America is broken. Referred to as conventional medicine, it is definitely effective for infections, trauma, medical emergencies, and acute diseases. However, because conventional treatment focuses on diagnosing the symptom and then prescribing a corresponding medication or recommending surgery, this approach fails millions of people each year, especially those with chronic diseases. Early in my career, like many other doctors, I spent less than 15 minutes with each patient. This leaves little time for understanding about the condition they have or why it is happening. This was incredibly discouraging, for me as the doctor. Even more so as a patient, especially if you are one of the many who have been shuffled from specialist to specialist and eventually treated with pain management, without any hope of a cure. I was reminded of this when I recently saw a 14 year old girl who had seen 50 doctors in the past year. Our current system leaves doctors exhausted and unfulfilled in their professions and produces patients who are frustrated and at a dead end health journey. The good news is that I am here to tell you that there is a better way. It’s called Integrative & Functional Medicine and it empowers the doctor and allows the patient to achieve optimal health. I am excited to share more about it with you.
A Better Approach to Medicine
In the last few decades, an increasing number of people discovered that integrative medicine offers care and treatment which improves their health and quality of life in ways that conventional medicine has not been able to. Integrative medicine brings the best of what the evidence teaches us in conventional medicine and combines it with the insight and wisdom of Eastern Medicine. It uses a holistic approach that takes into account your lifestyle, nutrition and environment, not merely your symptoms. We treat the mind, body, and soul of the patient. The practitioner and patient partner to find a plan that promotes the patient’s overall health and wellness. Functional medicine pairs the integrative model with a rigorous scientific and systems-based approach that aims to understand the root cause of diseases. By using Western and Eastern medicine methods, functional medicine can provide a more comprehensive, personalized, and science-based care plan to promote the health of each patient.
To highlight the difference between conventional medicine and functional medicine, imagine you have a headache. In conventional medicine, after interviewing and possibly examining you to rule out life threatening causes of the headache, the doctor most likely would prescribe some form of pain-relieving medicine to treat the pain. The actual cause of your headache would not be explored any further.
Alternatively, if you were a patient of a functional medicine practitioner at Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine, you would be asked a myriad of questions leading to an in-depth discussion about many areas, including your family history as well as your individual history. Some of the areas your doctor would focus on are systems of your body, toxic load, genetics, your individual environment, gut function, cardiovascular history, diet and nutrition, what environmental toxins you may have been exposed to, what drugs and supplements you are taking, and your menstrual history if you are female. We can then begin to formulate a hypothesis about the underlying cause. Could the cause be related to food or environmental sensitivities, or an imbalance of the microbiome (all the bacteria and other things that live and interact in the gut)? Could it result from stress from an overwhelming divorce or job? Perhaps the cause is systemic inflammation from environmental toxins triggering negative effects on the brain? After a thorough, yet focused, exam, treatment focused on the underlying cause would be targeted to prevent your headache from returning and to improve your overall health.
A Holistic, Systematic and Personalized Approach Toward a Healthier You
Functional medicine is a fundamentally different approach from the treatment you typically receive when seeing a conventional doctor. This is why it has gained popularity. With functional medicine, you will not be referred from specialist to specialist. You will not be prescribed unnecessary, potentially dangerous and possibly addictive medication. You will not be treated as just another person with a similar disease or symptom.
Functional medicine practitioners believe that each patient has a unique and individual bodily ecosystem that is affected by a particular genetic, environmental, and psychological history. Due to this basic belief, functional medicine is patient-centered by design. Each treatment plan is tailored to you as an individual, which requires an in-depth look into your medical history. Understanding the complex web of interactions in the body, as well as the individuality of each patient, means that functional medicine practitioners will consider the best personalized health approaches when making a patient care plan. This allows for patients with complex or chronic conditions to receive effective care that conventional medicine has not been able to provide. Additionally, functional medicine is focused on disease prevention.
Functional medicine focuses on a foundation of healthy lifestyle practices, inquiring about sleep patterns and quality, types and amount of physical activity, current nutritional status and meal planning, stress reaction and management as well as relationships in family, community and work. Built on this foundation and at the heart of functional medicine is a desire to heal and balance mind, body and spirit. Looking at your spiritual, emotional and mental health is important to and an essential part of the functional medicine assessment. Often unwanted physical symptoms and manifestations can not be resolved completely until there is spiritual, emotional and mental harmony. Often we will integrate unconventional treatments such as acupuncture, botanical medicine or nutritional supplements. We prescribe metabolic detoxification programs, stress-management techniques, therapeutic diets, chiropractic care, and massage therapy to aid in your body’s recovery with the many interconnected systems.
More than anything, functional medicine relies on the belief that the body has incredible capacities for healing. When healthy, the human body’s own systems can prevent disease, self-regulate, and restore themselves. The intent of functional medicine is to tap into and utilize these natural mechanisms for health and healing so that your body can be brought back into its vital balance.
Our patients love that through a functional medicine approach they learn how to listen to and partner with their body. Despite chronic stress, sedentary lifestyles, and environmental toxins all around us, functional medicine works with you to restore healthy functioning in a body that is made to do exactly that. It moves away from a disease-focused approach to build a strategy for lifelong health and thriving. Our approach becomes more about obtaining optimal health by improving overall function rather than simply looking at health as the absence of disease and medications.
Author: Erik Lundquist, MD
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