By Dr. Adonis Makris D.C.
About 16 years ago I discovered Functional Medicine and began studying this ground-breaking method of patient care. This holistic approach to treating patients incorporates the latest genetic science, systems biology, and insights into how environmental and lifestyle factors trigger the emergence and progression of disease. As a medical professional this approach to health care is an important part of my toolkit for treating patients.
What is Functional Medicine
Functional Medicine is truly holistic—it views all the components of the human biological system as a functioning whole. The body is seen as a single, integrated system rather than a bunch of organs and body parts “owned” by different medical specialties. It treats the whole person by looking at how a patient’s complete bio-system interacts dynamically with their environment to produce patterns and effects that change over time.
Bringing the practice of medicine into the 21st century
Conventional medicine today is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of trauma or acute illnesses that require urgent care—for example, pneumonia or appendicitis or a bone fracture. Physicians treat patients with drugs or surgery to try and fix the immediate problem or symptom.
This acute-care approach to medicine, however, is not designed to prevent and treat the complex, chronic diseases that are running rampant in modern Western society. This means that people who have a general sense of not feeling well and those without any confirmed disease often “fall through the cracks” in terms of conventional diagnosis, but can benefit from the principles of Functional Medicine.
The underlying causes of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, reflux, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders such as fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s syndrome are often missed when the approach is limited to managing the symptoms. Most medical training does not look at preventing chronic illnesses through nutrition, diet, and exercise. Although the research and information around managing disease is increasing, time is needed to implement new practices in more traditional professions. Nonetheless, the changes are steadily presenting themselves in the field of medicine.
Heading off chronic disease at the pass
You don’t need to have a chronic disease to benefit from Functional Medicine. The approach addresses the underlying causes of disease even before it has a chance to take root. It engages both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership to support long-term health.
Often one of the early symptoms which is addressed by Functional Medicine is a general sense of feeling unwell. This may be the start of something that could lead to a disease. Functional Medicine can give you a chance to nip conditions in the bud before they blossom into a disease
The major influences that contribute to chronic disease include:
- Poor nutrition
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Chronic stress
- Environmental toxicity
- Fragmented social networks
- Chronic infections
How does Functional Medicine Help?
Functional Medicine integrates a patient’s signs, symptoms, and common pathways of disease with seven biological systems where core clinical imbalances are found. These core clinical imbalances bring together the mechanisms of disease with the manifestations and diagnoses of disease:
- Assimilation: digestion, absorption, microbiota/GI, respiration
- Defense and repair: immune, inflammation, infection/microbiota
- Energy: energy regulation, mitochondrial function
- Biotransformation and elimination: toxicity, detoxification
- Transport: cardiovascular and lymphatic systems
- Communication: endocrine, neurotransmitters, immune messengers
- Structural integrity: sub-cellular membranes to musculoskeletal integrity
In this way we can see that one disease/condition may have multiple causes (that is, multiple clinical imbalances), just as one fundamental imbalance may cause many seemingly different conditions.
For example, obesity is a condition that can result from numerous imbalances—hormones, mood disorders, diet and exercise, genetics, inflammation. But also a single imbalance, such as inflammation, can cause many conditions (diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis, cancer). Functional Medicine seeks to restore balance in the patient’s environmental inputs and in the body’s fundamental physiological processes because balance is the key to restoring health.
Functional medicine, nutrition and science
Scientific research around the therapeutic effects of nutrition give credibility to the Functional Medicine approach. A large and rapidly expanding evidence base about the benefits of clean eating, and the clinical use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as fish oils, support the treatment method.
This also applies to Mother Nature’s botanicals (organic fruits, veggies, herbal medicine); exercise (aerobics, strength training, flexibility); stress management; detoxification; acupuncture; manual medicine (massage, manipulation); and mind/body techniques such as meditation. We also use guided imagery and biofeedback. All these alternative tools and practices are gaining more credibility within the medical community based on the growing body of research to support their value.
Because chronic disease is a food and lifestyle-driven, environment and genetics-influenced phenomenon, we need an approach to healthcare that integrates all these elements within the scope of each patient’s personal journey. With Functional Medicine we have a proactive approach to solving the modern epidemic of chronic disease that is creating a global health crisis.
As a Functional Medicine practitioner I spend time with patients, listening to their histories and asking questions to uncover the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. With science, clinical wisdom, and innovative tools, we can identify many of the underlying causes of chronic disease and intervene to correct the clinical imbalances, even before actual disease is present. Even for people who feel relatively healthy but may have a few complaints Functional Medicine optimizes your health and gives you strategies to prevent disease before it takes root. For example this approach can benefit you if you have any of the following concerns:
- poor sleep patterns
For my patients, it begins with getting a complete history of your illnesses and injuries (about an hour-long interview), answering a series of in-depth health appraisal forms and questionnaires about food intake, plus a commitment to keeping a daily food diary to track eating habits. There’s also a physical examination that involves tests (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, neurological screening) and blood work done with a chemistry lab to assess hormonal balances and metabolic function.
Ultimately, your health is your biggest asset. To get an in-depth understanding of how Functional Medicine can work for you, an initial consultation with a Functional Medicine practitioner is a great investment in preserving that asset for years to come. Contact Dr. Adonis Makris at the Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic to set up an appointment for a thorough assessment and to discuss whether Functional Medicine is a treatment option for you. firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-925-4687.
This information is not meant to replace medical/health advice. Contact your health professional to ensure the diagnosis and treatment options are appropriate for your condition.
 (Currently Dr. Adonis Makris is a post-graduate Doctorate candidate at Functional Medicine University.
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