What is Functional Medicine? How does it compare to Western Medicine and to Chinese Medicine?
Functional medicine looks at how your body is functioning in health or wellness. Western medicine tends to see the body as either sick or well. If you are not sick according to their standards (usually lab test results), then you must be well. However, Functional medicine (as well as Chinese medicine) recognizes that sickness and health are two points at opposite ends of a continuum, and just because you are not fully at the “sickness” end of the continuum does not mean you are fully at the “health” end. You can be showing vague symptoms and just not feel “right,” but your doctor may tell you all of your tests are normal, so there is no problem. This just means that you do not yet have an organic problem (a problem in which the organs or body systems are clearly not operating properly and usually requires significant Western medical intervention), but you have a functional problem (the organs or body systems are not functioning at their optimum levels for wellness, but they haven’t gotten completely pathological/diseased).
The beauty of both Functional medicine and Chinese medicine is that they are both able to focus on prevention of disease through identifying imbalances in body function before they become problematic. The difference is in how imbalances are identified—Functional medicine uses lab testing (blood, saliva, stool, etc.) while Chinese medicine uses pulse and tongue analysis as its diagnostic tools. Both types of medicine look at the complex interaction of each patient’s history, lifestyle, and internal (mind, body, spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning. Functional medicine and Chinese medicine are very complementary.
If your blood work or other tests show an organic problem may be going on, you will be referred immediately to your doctor for evaluation.
How do Western standards differ from Functional standards on lab reports?
When you have blood work done, the lab sends a report to your doctor that includes not only your results, but also a “normal” range. Surprisingly, this “normal” range is not a universal range determined by experts who know what a healthy range is. In reality, this range is determined by each individual lab based on samples they have analyzed in the past 6-12 months. They take the results of everyone who has had a particular test done, plot the results on a graph to make a bell-shaped curve, lop off the ends (the “extremes”), and call what’s left “normal.” But, think about who is most likely getting blood tests done—sick people! Most “healthy” people do not get blood work done, especially when insurances won’t pay for it. So, since the “normal” ranges are based on sick people’s results, it’s impossible to use those same ranges to determine wellness and health.
Functional medicine practitioners use narrower ranges determined by studies on healthy people. For example, the functional range for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the main blood tests doctors use to determine thyroid health, is 1.8-3.0. However, lab ranges can be 0.4-4.6, 0.5-5.0, etc., depending on the lab. So, if you are experiencing symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, go to your doctor, and your blood test results show your TSH as 3.5, your doctor will most likely tell you that you are fine. So, why don’t you feel fine? Because you really are suffering from a thyroid that is functioning less than optimally, your doctor just can’t see it yet. By the time a Western medicine practitioner discovers you are sick, you are really sick. You don’t have to wait until you have a disease to get help! I am here to help you so you can keep yourself healthy and avoid disease.
Why do Functional Medicine practitioners order more blood tests than my doctor?
For the past 20-25 years, insurance companies have been setting the standards on what tests doctors can and can’t order. Prior to managed care, doctors ran an extensive number of blood tests that gave a more complete picture of a patient’s overall health. For example, in the past, doctors ran four tests to determine if the thyroid was working properly (Functional medicine practitioners still run these, as they are all necessary to give an accurate picture of thyroid function). Today, they typically run only one (TSH).
Functional medicine practitioners want a complete view of your state of wellness, so they run complete blood profiles. Because we don’t deal with insurance companies, your blood work will cost a fraction of the retail price that insurance companies would be charged.
How long will it take for me to get healthy using Functional Medicine?
There is no easy answer to this question. Once your blood work is completed, it is analyzed for all imbalances, including what Functional medicine practitioners call “deal breakers.” Deal breakers are imbalances that, unless addressed, will prevent any other problem from getting better. Deal breakers include:
Poor oxygen delivery to cells (anemia)
Blood sugar imbalance
Hidden chronic infections (bacterial, viral, parasitic, etc.)
Digestive problems, including food sensitivities
Sometimes, other tests (blood, saliva, or stool) are required to completely determine the extent of the problem. These deal breakers must be addressed before other problems, but the other problems often resolve as a result of addressing the deal breakers (e.g. high cholesterol can improve just by addressing blood sugar balance). If you have more than one deal breaker, you will take longer to recover your health. Healing Point can help you overcome these issues naturally.
What will I have to do to get healthy?
Excellent question! You are an active partner in improving your own health and changing the outcome of disease. We will work closely together to determine what changes you need to make in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. This may include a detoxification program, herbal medicine or other nutritional supplements, a therapeutic diet, stress-management techniques, or a new form of exercise. Each patient’s treatment protocol is individually tailored. The changes you have to make will probably not be easy, but I am here to help you. You are not alone on your journey to wellness!