Seeds of Wisdom with Dr. Davidson Presents
“What is Functional Medicine and Why do You Need It?”
Simply put, functional medicine is a more well thought-out approach to healthcare. Rather than merely suppressing or managing symptoms (i.e. covering symptoms up with “band-aid” measures), it is a healthcare model that addresses and attempts to correct the underlying cause(s) at the root of the patient’s health problem(s). Moreover, beyond just treating disease, it focuses on prevention, and seeks to improve both the physical and psychological resilience and well-being of the person as a whole. As an example, let’s take a look at the conventional versus the functional medicine model in the context of helping a patient with a respiratory infection. The conventional practitioner may just prescribe an antibiotic to ty to poison the bad bacteria that may play a role in the infection, along with some other drugs to suppress symptoms such as fever or cough. This style of medicine is well suited to the HMO doctor, for instance, as it requires the least amount of time and effort on the part of the practitioner. Indeed, it requires little more than the time necessary to write a script for a couple of pills and foregoes the effort required to investigate what caused the infection in the first place and how to prevent it from recurring.
While it’s true that pharmaceutical medications may be necessary at times, and may even help to solve the problem in the short-term, they are often only a stopgap measure at best. This is because they don’t address the underlying causes of the health problem and don’t help to prevent the problem from recurring. On the contrary, by giving the patient antibiotics, the conventional medicine practitioner may be doing irreparable collateral damage to the patient. Why is this?
Antibiotics don’t discriminate well, and while killing off the harmful bacteria that may have been involved in the infection, they have also eliminated beneficial, health-sustaining microbes or “good bacteria”. The many vital roles of these good bacteria include maintaining a healthy and robust immune system. Thus, even as the patient may begin to feel better and recover from the infection, with the death of these vital microscopic allies, the likelihood of a multitude of future health problems for this patient, including more severe and resistant reinfections, is climbing dramatically. Bear in mind, antibiotics may still be necessary in certain cases; however, any potential benefit they provide must be carefully weighed against the numerous significant health problems that they may cause or contribute to in the future.
By contrast, a functional medicine practitioner, rather than merely treating the disease or attempting to mask its symptoms, would focus on discovering and attempting to correct the root cause of the infection. Thus, instead of merely trying to kill off bad bacteria, the functional medicine approach may involve upregulating the patient’s own immune system; thus better equipping the body to fight off the infection on its own as well as preventing future infections. This approach would also focus on assessing why the infection occurred in the first place. Was the immune system weakened? If so, why was it weakened? Was this weakness temporary or long-term? All of these questions would need to be asked and investigated in order to discover the root cause of the problem. For instance, common causes of temporary immune system depression include lack of sleep, excessive (physical or psychological) stress, a poor diet (which can result in a deficiency of nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system, exposure to certain toxins such as heavy metals, and intestinal dysbiosis), a sedentary lifestyle, moderate to severe dehydration, ionizing radiation (e.g. x-rays or prolonged close proximity to cell phones), etc. Indeed, when compared to the conventional approach of simply writing a prescription for a few pills, the functional medicine clinician has to put in far more time and effort to consider and assess all of these potential contributing factors and formulate a plan to support the patient’s immune system by addressing these factors. So is it worthwhile?
Let’s recap: In the conventional model, the patient comes in with a respiratory infection, the doctor spends 5-10 minutes with the patient before writing a prescription for antibiotics intended to kill off harmful bacteria and/or other medications meant simply to mask symptoms of the infection (as in most cases, upper respiratory infections are not caused by bacteria but by viruses). The symptom-suppressing medications may provide some temporary relief for the patient but may actually aggravate the infection by suppressing the body’s own defense mechanisms (e.g. cough-suppressing drugs may prevent the body from eliminating pathogens trapped in phlegm by suppressing the cough reflex). The antibiotics may or may not help to resolve the infection in the short-term, and have both short-term adverse effects and long-term detrimental health consequences by killing off good, health-promoting bacteria in our intestine, some of which are unique to us individually, and can never be restored. On the other hand, in the functional medicine model, the doctor spends 30 minutes or more with the patient investigating potential factors that may have contributed to the infection, and formulating a support plan that would:
- Eliminate any potential invading pathogens (with no or minimal harm to beneficial bacteria).
- Upregulate the innate immune system to fight off the infection in the short term.
- Enhance and strengthen the immune system in the long-term, thereby preventing reinfection.
Moreover, this model doesn’t merely treat the disease, but also enhances the patient’s health on a global level, as strengthening the innate immune system also improves the health of other organ systems and reduces the risk of a multitude of other pathologies including cancer, autoimmune disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma, etc. Beyond this, the lifestyle factors that would specifically strengthen the immune system are also factors that would improve overall health (such as exercise, a healthy diet, adequate rest and sleep, stress coping techniques, etc.), such that applying them would result in synergistic, profound, and global improvements in overall health. So which approach would you want your doctor to take with you? The choice is yours.
With Dr. Davidson, the integrative or functional model, which focuses on improving the health of each organ system and indeed the whole person, is the only acceptable approach. Remember, there is no limit to how healthy you can be or how good you can feel. Make an appointment today and embark on your journey to more robust and vibrant health with no limits!
To set an appointment please use the contact form on the website or email: DrMD@DrMDavidson.com.
© 04/10/2016 Dr. Michael Davidson
Michael Davidson, PharmD, BCPS, ACN
Dr. Davidson Integrative Medicine
“Helping to Correct Your Health Problems at the Root”
The information provided in this article should not be construed as a claim or representation that any formula, procedure, or product mentioned constitutes a specific cure, palliative, or ameliorative for any condition. The material contained herein has not been reviewed by the FDA and is not for the diagnosis or treatment of any disease.This article and the information it contains is for educational purposes only; it is not a substitute for individualized guidance from a qualified healthcare professional. Readers are cautioned not to use any substance or product mentioned herein without reviewing it with their qualified healthcare professional to determine if it is appropriate for them.