What is functional medicine and is it the future?
Do you ever go to the GP, describe your symptoms, pick up a prescription and leave, all in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes, feeling you still don’t really know what’s wrong with you? If so, Functional Medicine (FM) may be an option to consider. FM rejects the ‘what is wrong and what drug can I prescribe?’ approach of conventional medicine and instead examines the underlying causes based on the individual.
Helen Lynam, an FM nutritionist, explains: ‘The key is to look at the person and how their various internal systems function for wellbeing. Rather than treating all health problems as isolated diseases, Functional Medicine identifies and treats the whole patient and the root of disease, as opposed to the most visible symptoms. It attaches enormous importance to digestive health and the intestinal ecosystem.’
ALL ABOUT INTEGRATION
There is no doubt that the conventional approach has saved tens of millions of lives and, for many ailments (heart attacks and broken bones), you will be grateful for the services of modern medicine.
But if you have a chronic disease, including the kinds of digestive, metabolic, hormonal and cardiovascular disorders on the increase in modern society, you may want more than 15 minutes and a prescription to get back to optimum health. This also applies if you suffer from conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, ME, Lupus, or obesity, which are characterised by complex multi-layered symptoms that take years to develop.
‘A typical first appointment will take at least an hour,’ says Helen. ‘A FM practitioner will take blood, saliva and urine tests that will be studied for a number of imbalances, and asks the patient a series of questions around lifestyle, diet, early childhood illnesses, stresses and recent health issues. A good nutritional therapist needs to also be a good detective and a good listener to pick up on clues a client will give in the answers and the language they use when talking.’
Following a highly successful career in finance, David Butcher suddenly found himself suffering from general pain, low levels of energy and was unable to do even the simplest tasks. ‘Even breathing seemed like a huge effort – getting out of bed to go to the bathroom felt like a massive achievement.’
Researching his symptoms, David realised he had ME (chronic fatigue), but after several visits to GPs, who were unable to offer a treatment, he became depressed. On the recommendation of a friend, he turned to Dr Georges Mouton, who operates a private practice, and Helen Lynam at the Optimum Health Clinic, both practitioners in FM. ‘My medical condition was caused by a number of factors: the emotional trauma of losing my wife and father within a short space of time, and becoming a single parent overnight, plus many years of cumulative stress from a demanding job. I was mentally and physically exhausted and I knew my system was breaking down.’
The test results showed David was suffering from a significant dysfunction of the energy- generating mitochondria, as well as adrenal and thyroid glands. He also had imbalances
in the digestive system, food allergies and inflammation of the digestive tract, with low levels of vitamin B3, magnesium, acetyl L-carnitine D-ribose and CoQ10.
David undertook a personally-tailored, strict regime of healing, incorporating lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, natural supplements and re-establishing hormonal balances to take him through to optimum health, along with talking therapy.
‘Functional Medicine addresses nutrition, lifestyle, movement, rest, environment and genetics. Its system-based approach engages the patient to take an active role in their recovery while working in a therapeutic partnership,’ says Helen. ‘The psychology element is equally important when asking a patient to take responsibility for their health by making lifestyle changes.’
ADDRESSING REAL NEEDS
This integrated approach is not readily available on the NHS, even though the World Health Organisation reports that chronic disease accounts for 85% of all deaths in the UK and 70% of the entire NHS annual budget. People with a long-term chronic illness make up for 50% of all GP and 64% of all outpatient appointments – and more than 70% of all inpatient bed days. The NHS recognises it needs to look at chronic disease in conjunction with all contributing factors.
‘Many GPs in the UK do not recognise Functional Medicine,’ says Helen. ‘However, the BBC documentary Doctor in the House in autumn 2015, highlighted the benefits of a GP being able to practise in this way.’
FM can be costly for the patient, but the necessary blood tests can be done by your GP and then looked at by your practitioner. Central to optimising your health is managing your psychological wellbeing and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is widely available on the NHS. Recovery requires commitment, time and the discipline to look after one’s own health.
‘You have to believe your recovery requires you to provide your mind and body with the tools needed to heal themselves,’ says David. ‘Listen to your body, go through a period of trial and error and take back control.’
For more information, visit The Optimum Health Clinic
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Find your balance
5 PRINCIPLES OF FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
1) It treats the individual not the disease
Our bodies are genetically and biochemically unique. FM supports the healing mechanisms
of the body, rather than attacking disease directly.
2) FM is science-based.
Research shows that what happens within us is connected in a complicated network or web of relationships.
3) Provides a dynamic balance of all your body systems.
Our bodies are intelligent and have the capacity for self-regulation.
4) The body has the ability to heal itself and prevent disease.
5) Health is not just the absence of disease.
It is also a state of immense vitality.