Functional Medicine Practitioners - What to Expect

By Dr. Alan Shair

Functional medicine practitioners encourage wellness in their patients by focusing on the various factors in each individual that contribute to both health and disease. In their rigorous training, practitioners learn how to evaluate a patient’s state of health through a comprehensive personal history, lab testing and examinations. They take a number of elements into account to determine the source of disease, including genetics, with the understanding that it is not the only contributor to a person’s state of health. In fact, research has begun to show that human DNA is more fluid than once believed, and can be affected by one’s experiences and beliefs.

In other words, a change in one’s attitude may have a profound effect on physical health, even if one is predisposed to a certain condition. Practitioners also consider environmental influences such as toxins in air and water, diet and nutrition, levels of physical activity, as well as emotional health and stress. The mind-body connection is important to Functional Medicine Practitioners, as they believe that social conflicts, emotional strain and spiritual imbalance can negatively impact health.

By collecting all of this information, functional medicine practitioners have a much more comprehensive picture of the individual’s systems, and a better understanding of where the source of disease might be. Disease in the body is an expression of dysfunction in one or more of the body’s systems; when they are disturbed, it can affect fundamental processes, even on the cellular level, and can make it difficult for the body to rid itself of toxins, regulate hormones and neurotransmitters, digest nutrients, maintain a healthy immune system and produce sufficient energy to function (among many other things). This is the root of disease.

These processes are affected by both environmental factors and genes, but if the focus is on surface problems instead of addressing the root cause, it is much more difficult to find long-term relief. Even when there is imbalance, it is still possible to right it in many systems; in fact, some can be restored to their original state. Others can show significant changes for the better.

Functional medicine practitioners are skilled in finding the root of these imbalances, but they also focused on long-term health. If certain factors over which a patient has control cause disturbances in the body’s system and lead to chronic disease, then it follows that if the patient changes those factors, it is possible to see long-lasting positive changes. With that in mind, the practitioner finds available interventions while developing a plan tailored to each individual, not only to reverse disease, but also to inhibit problems in the future. Interventions could consist of combinations of pharmaceuticals, botanical remedies, nutritional supplements or detoxification programs, in conjunction with improved diet, an exercise regimen, stress-management techniques and other lifestyle changes.

The goal of the practitioner is to give the patient back control of his or her health, working with them as a partner in education, change, and healing.