A physician might be a nephrologist and specialize in the workings of the kidney. A neurologist’s realm is confined to the nerves and brain – a pulmonologist knows about your lungs.
This subspecialized compartmentalizing of the human condition may be part of the problem with health care. Not a part of the solution. The patient is reduced to an organ system, body part or symptom. It is almost as if we have forgotten how to take care of the entire organism, and to consider the workings of the body as a whole. Not just as a sub-segment of the whole.
A trend is rapidly developing in our country and around the world. It upends the medical convention of what constitutes illness, how it is diagnosed, the lens through which it is identified and finally the modalities which it can be remedied. This communication gap has not yet been bridged by the relatively small number of doctors who have taken the professional risk to expand their thinking. And to put in the time and study to provide a more comprehensive approach to health for their patients. Being a physician who approaches the care of the patient through a functional lens is still somewhat counterculture.
So what is a functional medicine physician?
A doctor who approaches health from a functional standpoint is one who discredits the concept that health is reducible to a set of diagnoses with a prescribed, preordained drug-based approach. A functional medicine physician is not content to simply prescribe the latest, greatest drug to combat a specific symptom. The functional medicine physician looks to the complexities of biological systems taken together to the effect of the body as a whole.
The human body is a miraculous, dynamic stew of chemistry, energy, biology and nature. Our health (or lack thereof) doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It instead results from complex interchanges of our environment, our genetics and our culture. Along with our cumulative exposures to conditions such as medications, toxins, pollutants and infections. Over time these factors weave a tapestry of health or disease – both for us the individual as well as our future generations.
Why do we need functional physicians?
I truly believe the future of human health is incumbent upon the realization that our ability to survive as a species, to reproduce, and to simply exist depends on a reevaluation of what factors are working upon our physiology and contributing to disease. We need to take the appropriate steps, through scientific research, to modify these factors and return ourselves to a state of wellness within our world.
A functional physician has the bravery and insight to acknowledge, explore, test and modify the pressures of modern life that are slowly killing us. Toxins, environmental exposures, nutritional and mineral deficiencies, medicines and our exposure to constant stress. Factors that are permanently altering our biology and the biology of our future generations through the concept of epigenetics – the lasting, heritable changes in the expression of our genetics.
We need to reclaim the sanctity and beauty of our health. We need to take the control away from the profit driven directives of processed food manufacturers, unacceptable farming techniques and pharmaceutical drug companies. Functional treatments are based in the understanding and repair of defective enzymatic and biological pathways that have become ineffective and dysfunctional. And finally, we need to take time to listen, to really know our patients and to make individualized approaches to healing.
We as physicians cannot continue to condone our patient’s poor dietary choices, hormonal and nutritional deficiencies and toxic exposures. To just remedy the ensuing symptoms with a pill. What differentiates a Functional Medicine Doctor from the mainstream is the strength, insight and courage to call out the factors that are slowly depreciating our health as individuals and as a society. We stand poised to educate our patients about defined dietary choices, and the way diet contributes to illness. We look to more natural choices for healing that are supported with extensive scientific research, rather than a newly patented medication.
“I am a Functional Medicine doctor. I take time to listen to the patient and to understand which biological processes have fallen into a state of dysfunction. I use my knowledge and experience to bring the body to a true state of healing using natural means, without simply treating a symptom with a drug.”
I think I’ll just say those words the next time somebody asks.
Dr. Scott Resnick