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Functional Medicine
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Functional Medicine

What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine views at an individual from a perspective of health rather than disease. Instead of "treating" a group of symptoms that have collectively been given a label, such as metabolic syndrome, or chronic fatigue a functional medicine approach seeks to unravel the cause or triggers of why the symptom/s have arisen on the first place, and views the body as one intergrated and connected system.

What do I mean by systems?
Your body is made up of cells, which form tissue and organs and are then formed into "systems" i.e.: - cardiovascular, digestive, immune, neuro-endocrine. Through 1000's of complex biochemical pathways these systems function optimally and they are also interconnected. The body is totally dynamic we can't departmentalize it. Modern medicine in many ways has tried to do this, if you have a persistent "digestive" complaint for example such as chronic constipation and bloating you invariably receive a referral to see a gastroenterologist. There is no place to consider that the bloating, distention and constipation you are feeling may actually all be symptoms as a result of a poorly functioning thyroid for example.

All our systems operate via complex biochemical pathways. If these become blocked, slow or even halt there is an effect at a cellular level and if left unchecked whole systems move away form balance - homeostasis- resulting in a domino effect of system dysfunction and symptoms, such as fatigue, brain-fog, bloating, pain. Disease can be, and is often a long way off or may not ever eventuate BUT the balance of homeostasis has been tipped enough to result in a sub-optimal dysfunction or ill health.  On a blood chemistry parameters often fall into reference ranges and the patient is informed that everything is "normal". However, for the functional medicine trained practitioner there are “patterns” and flags that show indicating where the system is letting you down. And so we can get to work.

Why I recommend including a comprehensive blood chemistry with every first case review appointment:
A comprehensive blood chemistry panel is the single most efficient and effective tool for evaluating all these inter-connecting systems and therefore your overall health, it screens for a wide range of conditions, including several types of anemia; indications of gut, viral and bacterial infections; insulin resistance and hypoglycemia; liver and kidney issues; and thyroid and adrenal problems. But, many of these functions listed here can only be illuminated when interpreting the results, as it is in functional medicine, within a patterns analysis model. Such a model recognizes that the bodily systems i.e. digestive, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular are not separated silos but interconnected through our biochemistry of hormones, neurotransmitters enzymes and chemical reactions that occur 24-7 and have a causative effect upon each other.

A blood chemistry test is a snapshot in time of the culmination of all these reactions, and therefore can tell an overall story of where to dig deeper, if interpreted in this way. A patterns analysis goes far beyond the concept of “ideal” ranges for individual markers i.e.: - “your total cholesterol is high this needs to be lowered” or “everything on you blood test is in-range, nothing is wrong”. As markers begin to shift away from “range” and symptoms start to occur, a picture begins to emerge. The training of understanding blood chemistry from a view of patterns analysis, identifies more subtle physiological imbalances or highlights system/s moving away from “homeostasis” and edging into sub-optimal function, that presents as symptoms. Thus looking for patterns of function better explains or provides more targeted reasoning as to why a marker is raised and or what system/s are involved. I’ll return to the high cholesterol marker as an example to demonstrate this here:

In terms of why the total cholesterol is high, we must analyse not only the “total” cholesterol, we must also pay attention to: the LDL/HDL ratio, the triglycerides, glucose, inflammatory markers (such as CRP), electrolyte activity, liver-related markers, adrenal-related markers, thyroid functions and GI inflammatory markers. All of these pathways can play into why cholesterol can be raised. By reviewing these markers and categories, we can form a more truly intergrated impression that seeks to understand what is taking place within the many complex layers of the body. We don’t simply say you require a statin or the nutritional equivalent – red yeast extract to lower the cholesterol. We keep digging to assess the why.

A FM approach looks to uncover why or what has caused a slowing down in one or a number of these pathways or systems. Most of the clients I see have not got a full blown "disease", but they certainly have enough symptoms to indicate that a system of a number of systems have moved away form homeostasis. Functional medicine is about, removing causes of system dysfunction, recalibrating and restoring optimal function - excellent health in other words!

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