Updated: Nov 5, 2019
By Wonder Source Functional Medicine Practitioner, Mirthe Eckl
You may have been hearing the term Functional Medicine pop up in conversations or web pages lately, and have been intrigued by it. But what really is it?
Functional Medicine is an integrative health care approach based on the newest cutting edge research findings in medicine, biochemistry, genetics and technology.
It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease. Instead of asking ‘What drug matches up with this disease?’, Functional Medicine asks the questions ‘What actually triggered the development of this condition, how can we remove these triggers and restore function ?’ and ‘What can we do to optimize health and wellbeing in the long run?’.
It does this by considering the unique interactions in the patient’s history, physiology and lifestyle that can lead to chronic illness and/or faster ageing, along with the unique genetic makeup and ‘epigenetic’ factors like hormones, neurotransmitters (‘brain chemicals’ like serotonin), low grade inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, heavy metal toxicities, the social and emotional state.
Within Functional Medicine, there are two main Areas of Focus
1. Health optimization, predictive biomarker testing & anti-ageing
Rather than accepting the current system of it to be ‘normal’ to not be feeling quite right, or out of nowhere being hit by a disease, Functional Medicine aims to prevent illness, and optimize health, wellbeing and performance. It utilizes predictive biomarker testing to see if you are currently heading in the right direction, or whether some of your markers may be suboptimal, potentially leading towards a chronic condition or contribute to niggling symptoms not deemed quite ‘bad enough’ by the conventional system.
Predictive Biomarkers are specific markers such as found in the blood, that provide prognostic insights. They have been shown to have a high correlation to optimal health vs disease development. Predictive biomarkers may be used to help in the prevention of illness, as they aim to pick up imbalances in the body a lot earlier on. An example is the blood marker homocysteine, which has been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and associated conditions like stroke, heart attack and Alzheimer’s, if elevated over a long period of time.
A Functional Medicine practitioner may also look at your conventional blood tests and place them into much narrower ‘Functional Medicine’ reference ranges. Conventional reference ranges usually only pick up on levels when they are extremely low or elevated, and already at dangerous levels. Within the same objective of prevention, Functional Medicine reference ranges distinguish between optimal (green light!), suboptimal - not dangerous YET, but this less than optimal marker may already cause subtle wear and tear in the system, and, if unchanged over a long period of time, may contribute to the development of chronic problems, or slip into ‘out of range’ (red light!).
Functional Medicine reference ranges allows to apply targeted diet and lifestyle strategies to bring the markers back to ‘optimal ranges’, and make sure every pathway in your body can thrive.
Depending on the training and interest of your Functional Medicine Practitioner, they may initially look at your genes to see where potential weak spots may be, and direct the predictive biomarker testing accordingly, more on this further below.
‘Side effects’ of Functional Medicine for Optimal Health can be reduced ‘age-related’ symptoms such as pains, wrinkles, increased mental performance and energy, improved mood, wellbeing and ‘anti-ageing’.
2. Support of conventional treatment if symptoms are already present
On the other hand, Functional Medicine also helps to support your current care if a chronic condition has already established itself. You may have been told that ‘this is it’, that you just have to live with a certain condition. However, our bodies are uniquely designed to thrive, if only we let it do ‘its thing’. Functional Medicine seeks to uncover the underlying triggers and imbalances that may be contributing to the condition, and aims to restore balance so the body gets the best possible change to heal itself. Conditions Functional Medicine frequently supports the following:
Auto-immune conditions including MS, Crohn’s, Hashimoto’s
Hormone conditions including Sub- or Infertility, PMS, PCOS, Endometriosis, menopausal symptoms
Musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis, gout
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, SIBO, Candida
Mental conditions including anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism
Cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions
‘Burnout’ and Chronic Fatigue
Eczema, hair loss, alopecia.
Inability to achieve and maintain weight loss
How it Works
In an initial consultation, a Functional Medicine Practitioner will make sure to spend time with his/her patient, listen to his/her story, and look at all the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that may be hindering/influencing long-term health, or chronic disease.
If deemed necessary, and the client’s willingness to dig deeper, laboratory tests including genetics, hormones, biomarkers, stool, heavy metal load, low grade inflammation, nutrient deficiencies will be ordered. This will allow for a clearer understanding of the different pieces of the ‘health puzzle’ of the patient and a more targeted approach and ‘precision healthcare’.
Your Functional Medicine Practitioner will look at all the different facets of your health, lifestyle and tests and create a protocol to fit your day-to-day. He/she may prescribe certain nutraceuticals (targeted and high dose nutrients that have been linked to specific biochemical health effects) and other supplements to get you back on track, along with targeted lifestyle suggestions.
Functional Medicine works in conjunction to your current care, and should be applied hand-in-hand with your primary physician. Once you have addressed and corrected the underlying triggers, you may be able to eventually, with the monitoring of your GP, get off certain medications, or at least be able to reduce their dosage.
DNA Testing for Health and Wellbeing - What is it?
You may have heard of DNA testing for health and exercise. This is such an exciting new field, and you may discover things like ‘you may be more prone to cardiovascular illness’, breast cancer, or Alzheimer’s. Now again, there are different ways of using this information. Your conventional health care practitioner may tell you to take more statins and reduce fat intake to prevent the cardiovascular problems, and to get regular breast checks- or, again, address it from a Functional Medicine perspective, utilizing the newest cutting edge research discoveries to prevent and bypass these genetic weaknesses and take our health into our own hands. The genes that get looked at are the same.. The interpretation thereof and suggestions may be very different.
Functional Medicine aims to place the steering wheel of your health into your own hands, by uncovering the hidden triggers, providing you the knowledge of the unique interactions, and allowing your to make your own educated choices.
Mirth Eckl, Functional Medicine Practitioner
View Mirthe's profile page here