What is Functional Medicine?

Avatar photo Staff March 21, 2018
Functional medicine doctor

Have you ever been to the doctor complaining about certain symptoms, only to have the doctor say that there isn’t anything technically wrong with you – even though you’re sure you don’t feel well?

For millions of Americans who suffer from chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and more, this is an all-too-common occurrence at regular doctors, and it’s precisely what Functional Medicine doctors are solving through research-based testing.

The term Functional Medicine was first adopted by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, who founded the Institute for Functional Medicine with his wife, Susan, in 1991.

At its core, Functional Medicine is based on the belief that each person is biochemically and genetically unique, and that what we need to heal is not the same for everybody. Functional Medicine doctors usually recommend that patients take specialized tests, which allow give doctors a glimpse at how all of your various systems are working together and give you a treatment plan that is tailored to you.

“Functional Medicine is looking at how well the body is functioning,” explains Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner who practices Functional Medicine at the Center for Holistic Medicine. “A regular doctor would treat the symptoms, but Functional Medicine looks at the underlying cause. It looks at more of the big picture.”

For example, if you have high cholesterol, a regular doctor may prescribe you a drug to lower it, but he may not try to find out exactly what is going on in your body to lead to the problem in the first place.

Functional Medicine is also based on the idea that almost all of our health issues are caused by a problem in either our immune system, gastrointestinal system or endocrine system, and when one of those symptoms is out of balance, it can affect all of the others.

How Does Functional Medicine Work?

When you go to see a Functional Medicine doctor, the first thing you will do is give him or her a detailed personal history. Then the doctor will usually recommend that you take a variety of tests to determine how well your gastrointestinal system, endocrine system (which includes your thyroid, adrenal glands and sex hormones), and your immune system are functioning.

For example, Bogaard says she often has patients take a test called GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile, which can determine if you have any infections or inflammation in your gut, how well you’re digesting and absorbing certain nutrients, and if you have any imbalances in your gut flora. Bogaard will then read your individualized report and make recommendations about particular supplements to take or dietary changes you should make.

She may also suggest that her patients take salivary tests and blood tests, which can measure your levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, the level of cortisol produced by your adrenal glands, and your thyroid. Bogaard explains that all of these different systems work together and influence each other, so when one system is not functioning properly, all of the others may be affected.

For example, if you are producing too much estrogen, you could struggle with losing weight, and that could affect your thyroid. Or, if you are under too much stress, your adrenal glands could be producing too much cortisol, which could lead to chronic fatigue and a weakened immune system.

Bogaard says even if you are in general good health can benefit from seeing a Functional Medicine doctor, who could have you take a micronutrient test to determine whether you are on the right supplements and what other supplements you could be taking to optimize your health.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Functional Medicine can help you, you can make an appointment with either Dr. Jerry Gore or Katie Bogaard.