mortar and pestle, turmeric, ginger, and supplement pills with text overlay - Autoimmune Disease Treatment: What is Functional Medicine & Why You Should Give it a Shot

What is Functional Medicine & Why You Should Give It a Shot

Frank Disease Management & Treatment, Living Well with Autoimmune Disease 2 Comments

mortar and pestle, turmeric, ginger, and supplement pills with text overlay - Autoimmune Disease Treatment: What is Functional Medicine & Why You Should Give it a ShotI probably shouldn’t open like this, but… have you ever pooped your pants – as an adult?

I have (more than once).  Which led to my Celiac Disease Diagnosis!

Maybe I seem excited now, but it was a very clunky experience.  For one, I was diagnosed wrong, initially – they thought I only had a mild wheat sensitivity.  And even after going gluten-free, I still didn’t feel better!

After more digging, and more food eliminating, I discovered a few other food-related triggers.

Eliminating dairy improved my “movements”, reduced my cramping, and gave me even more energy.  Removing corn resolved my eczema!

But I still needed answers. Why was this happening NOW?

Did something trigger all of my issues?  Were they there the whole time?

So I went to see my doctor again.  He said something that abruptly ended our relationship…

“I don’t know what’s going on, but just stop eating those foods.”

Dude.  You went to school for how long, get paid how much, and that’s all you’ve got?

Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t expecting a final explanation.  But I expect a doctor out of all people to want to understand the problem as much as me.

Frustrated and alone, I found a functional medicine practitioner – after 7 YEARS!  Within 6 weeks I had answers to questions I didn’t even ask!

Based on the results, I made some slight modifications to my supplements and diet and have literally never felt better!

Now, hopefully you’re wondering (or maybe you know but want more info)…

What is Functional Medicine?

I’ll tell you exactly what it is: a form of medicine that focuses on the patient and uses a systems-based approach to determine the root cause of disease.

The most powerful part of functional medicine is the completeness of the approach.  It combines conventional medicine best-practices with the integrative medicine approach of lifestyle improvements.

Basically, doctors that practice functional medicine have the biggest toolkit, if ya know what I mean??

To understand the difference a functional medicine practitioner can make, you have to compare it to what we are all used to: conventional medicine.

The Difference Between Conventional and Functional Medicine

Conventional medicine, the system many of us grew up with and still use today, has a pretty standard way of treating patients:

  • Long wait times.
  • Short, rushed appointments.
  • Treatment of symptoms, rather than treating the root cause of symptoms.
  • Expensive prescription drugs that do not HEAL, but suppress.  Many of the drugs carry dangerous and/or addictive side-effects.
  • A limitation on the teamwork that should exist between a doctor and patient.
  • Surgery is an all too common alternative when drugs are not an option or fail.

But most importantly, conventional medicine has a tough time SOLVING the rising rates of chronic disease.

If it worked, then we wouldn’t all be so sick.

There are A LOT of people who have chronic diseases in the United States.  The CDC estimates the number at 50% of the adult population.

They also estimate that 1 in 4 adults have two or MORE chronic diseases.  If you still don’t think the system is failing, I don’t know what to tell you – it is. 

But functional medicine offers an approach that CAN solve the chronic disease epidemic. 

Which is another way of saying… give it a shot!

What if instead of long waits, rushed appointments, and a one-size fits all approach, you got:

  • Long appointments (sometimes even hours) to discuss your condition.
  • Questions that go deeper than just symptoms.
  • A partnership with your doctor and working as an actual team.
  • Many options including various lifestyle interventions (diet, targeted supplementation, alternative therapies, etc.), rather than just 1 or 2 (or way more) drugs.
  • Testing that uncovers the ROOT CAUSE of your condition, rather than just a diagnosis
  • A systems-based approach to treating chronic disease

Functional medicine gives the necessary time, companionship, and holistic approach needed to achieve true healing, rather than just drug-forced suppression.

OK… Tell me more about the systems-based approach.

Your body is comprised of systems.  Like, a lot of them.  The interesting thing about systems, is that they don’t operate individually.

Take me for example.  If I eat corn, then…

  • My digestive tract becomes inflamed and I get constipated.
  • My skin breaks out in a rash and becomes uncontrollably itchy.
  • The immune response I have is mild, but will also lead to low levels of inflammation.

Repeated exposure brings more problems:

  • Leaky gut
  • Sores on my joints
  • Foot odor

Why does this happen?  Because my immune system, digestive system, and skin (organ) system are all connected!

Functional medicine builds it’s diagnoses and treatments on all of the interactions between the systems of your body.  As a result, food, water, toxins, sleep, stress, medications, vaccines, birth-type, genetics, life events, and a million other things play a MASSIVE role!

Functional medicine docs have that huge toolkit that crosses over all forms of medicine to be able to help your body to heal, and return back to homeostasis (neutral).

But… I’m not being totally fair.

So now I have to defend conventional medicine.  Functional medicine has so many upsides: long patient focused appointments, a system-based approach, and intent to improve lifestyle.  But it is SLOW.

Therefore, conventional medicine is absolutely the best alternative if your life is in immediate danger.

I’m sitting here unable to write down all of the reasons you should go to an emergency room, or use the life-saving tools that the conventional system has developed – because there are SO MANY.

The point is, the two versions of healthcare should seamlessly coexist.  For autoimmune disease (and many other chronic illnesses) though, I’ll say it again – functional medicine is the best choice.

Who Practices Functional Medicine?

Different types of doctors practice functional medicine, though some are not technically “doctors” (instead known as practitioners).  Below is a list of the MANY different types:

  • Medical Doctors (MD)
  • Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Physician’s Assistant (PA)
  • Naturopathic Doctors (ND)
  • Licensed Acupuncturist (typically – LAc)
  • Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
  • Nutritional Therapists / Dieticians
  • And I might even be forgetting some!

The good news is that the wide range of practitioners makes it easier to find one, but the field is still growing, so they aren’t common enough yet.

Unfortunately, the other trouble with this medical practice is that insurance does not usually cover it.  HSA plans can be used, so that’s a tax-free benefit, but standard insurance looks at most of these docs as “alternative.”

Why Should YOU Try Functional Medicine Anyway?

I’ve covered some of the benefits of functional medicine for chronic disease, but let’s dive deeper into the why.

A Plethora of Unique and Useful Tests

To find the root cause of disease you must understand the inner-workings of the body.  Then, correctly trace the symptoms back to the source.

So, to build the complete understanding of your body, functional medicine uses some of the following tests:

  • Stool tests – analyzes food digestion, bacterial make-up, some look for viruses and other microbes, enzymatic production, and other markers like fat content and color (I know, super gross, but can be super helpful).
  • Urine analysis – complete analysis of metabolic processes, bacterial information, toxin indication (heavy metals in particular), and additional unique information.
  • Blood tests – markers for nutrients, cell counts, antibodies, and cellular process function (Ex: Krebs cycle).
  • Saliva tests – a range of hormone testing (testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, etc.) to see if you have low or high points.
  • Hair tests – examine heavy metals and micro-nutrients.  Different than blood or urine tests due to the excretion processes and give additional (different) information.

This list is not comprehensive, but provides details into the different tests that a functional medicine practitioner might use.

The doctor will use these tests to find low nutrient levels, genetic mutations that need additional support, or processes in the body that are not functioning optimally.

These tests are also inexpensive when compared to CAT scans and MRIs which offer great detail but only show the aftermath of disease.  And conventional blood and urine analyses are less comprehensive than the tests a functional doctor will use.

Overall, functional testing points out what the body is lacking, and gives specific direction to diet, supplement, sleep and stress improvements (to name a few), for a relatively low cost.

REAL Patient Care 

Functional medicine uses long patient appointments to the fullest.

And the first visit might not even have a limit (mine went for 2.5 hours).

Maybe you’re thinking: “OK, so you get a bunch of time with the doctor – big whoop…”

Well, think about it this way, you get emotional AND physical therapy wrapped up in one visit.  This takes time.

And the time allows for discussions like the following:

  • Vaginal or cesarean birth
  • Bottle or breast fed
  • History of allergies, asthma, or skin disorders (rashes, eczema, etc.) while growing up and now
  • Acute injuries
  • Diet while growing up
  • Diet now
  • Emotional load growing up
  • Emotional load now
  • Sleep schedule
  • Exercise practices
  • Whether or not you practice a religion or have any other form of spiritual identity
  • The strength of your intimate relationships
  • How you cope with stress
  • How you cope with strong emotions
  • Condition of your stool
  • Any pain associated with your daily function
  • Seriously, this list is going to be a mile long – hopefully you see where I am going

Oodles of one-on-one time with a vested, caring doctor allows you to cover every single detail, in detail, of your life.  Details matter because the interactions of all these things have a shocking effect on your health.

For instance, vaginal vs C-section births, or breastfed vs bottle fed can indicate how your gut microbiome (bacterial composition) developed over time.  Poor gut health is a major player in autoimmune disease.

Long-term Health, Instead of Annual Patchwork

Hopefully you are convinced that functional medicine has a place in healthcare.  But we haven’t covered one overlooked part.

Functional medicine has long-term benefits.

Drugs have side-effects.  Conventional medical practice usually resorts to implementing pharmaceutical drugs or surgery to control a symptom.

Therefore, if you control one symptom with a drug, and the drug causes side-effects, you end up controlling them with… another drug.  That’s an expensive, and messy cycle.

The real issue?  What was broken never got fixed to begin with.  It’s just a Band-Aid, or series of Band-Aids that keep piling up as you feel worse and worse.

And so, the functional medicine approach steps forth.  Critical step one: find the root.  The root is the deepest part of the issue, the beginning.  Without finding it, or at least coming close – no dice.

Plus, your health can usually MAJORLY improve just by using natural Band-Aids like diet changes, supplementation, reducing toxic exposure, and proper exercise.

Really smacking your disease into remission requires you to identify the root and destroy!

It’s not always possible to find the root, unfortunately.  I don’t want to sell you snake oil here.

Sometimes, the body’s interactions are just too deep and complex.  I still encourage you to try though.  The changes that a functional medical practitioner will recommend, will absolutely make quality of life so much better!

Initial Cost vs Long-term Cost

Finally, the costs.

Since it’s usually not covered by insurance, functional medicine seems a little expensive at first.

However!  Costs need to be viewed over time, not just in the moment.

Initially, the out of pocket cost of seeing a functional medicine practitioner can climb anywhere from $1000 to $5,000 (or more if you are an exceedingly tough case) in the first year.

But after you gain some traction, receive your test results, and start your treatment, the costs drop down to that of routine bloodwork, supplements, and a stocked refrigerator of organic fruits, veggies, and meats.

Overtime, these changes allow your body to function better, and require less money.

You reduce the chronic nature of your disease, so you’re healthier and don’t have to spend as much time and money maintaining your condition.

In comparison, if you didn’t make any changes, your health would probably get worse and the costs would pile up year-over-year, not to mention your quality of life would decrease.  Not worth it.

Even though insurance helps to offset medical expenses, it is not free.  The end totals favor the functional route because it is only a high initial cost (think – putting money in a 401k).  The conventional route consists of ever-increasing prescriptions that cause more problems, more money, and more doctor appointments.

Plus, you never feel as great as your body SHOULD feel.  You just get patched up, and never fixed.  That has a cost too.

Point is, functional medicine is like ripping off the Band-Aid.

It hurts at first, but then the wound is healed and you forget it ever happened because you just feel good!

Start Looking Today…

If you have already crossed into the chronically ill territory, I am deeply sorry.  But, there is so much hope for you to get better!

I urge you to reach out to a functional medicine practitioner and start the process of returning to a truly healthy status.

It’s cheaper in the long run.  You will work with a practitioner that seems more like a friend.

And you get to experience a healthcare approach that is fascinating – learning how your condition has manifested makes finding out worth the effort.

So, I leave you with two things:

  1. Hope. Go and find the practitioner that will help you achieve the health you deserve, because you do deserve to feel well.
  2. Some resources to get you by if you can’t afford or can’t find a functional medicine practitioner just yet.

Chris Kresser’s Website

Dr. Mark Hyman’s Website

Dr. Amy Meyers Website

These doctors give so much information out for free and can be the first step in your functional medicine journey.  I hope you’ll check them out and be even more convinced to give functional medicine a try!

Are you interested in trying functional medicine?  Have you already tried it?  Share in the comments below!

mortar and pestle, turmeric, ginger, and supplement pills with text overlay - Autoimmune Disease Treatment: What is Functional Medicine & Why You Should Give it a Shot

Comments 2

  1. My fiancé has myopathy and neuropathy. Joint pain etc. he is always in a degree of pain. I don’t think his doctor knows how to deal with it.
    Is there a doctor in the Anacortes Washington area or close by you can recommend. Thank you

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