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.
All of this subspecialized compartmentalizing of the human condition may be part of the problem with health care, and 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 that upends the medical convention of what constitutes illness, how it is diagnosed, the lens through which it is identified, and finally the modalities with 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, then, 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, but instead results from complex interplays of our environment, our genetics, our culture and our cumulative exposures to conditions such as medications, toxins, pollutants and infections. It is these factors that over time weave a tapestry of health or disease- both for us the individual as well as that of our future generations.
Why is it that we need functional physicians? I truly believe that 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 sound scientific research, to modify these factors and to 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 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, and to wrest the control away from the profit driven directives of processed food manufacturers, unconscionable 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 have to take the 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, just to 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 in which inattention to 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 the 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 that I’ll just say these words the next time somebody asks.
Dr. Scott Resnick
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