Functional medicine goes to the root of the problem


  • Wellness
  • Monday, 21 Oct 2019

Drugs are not the only method used to treat symptoms in functional medicine. — Reuters

The status quo of medical practice is so deeply rooted in society that most people would not think of treatment options other than drugs, in treating chronic conditions or preventing them altogether.

Healthcare as it is currently practised, is reactionary, i.e. you only seek medical attention when you experience symptoms and sickness.

The focus is on diagnosing the immediate problem and curing the symptoms with drugs or supplements.

Additionally, health screenings that are ordered in this current system only go as far as catching a disease already in the body, not in anticipating and preventing it.

Managing the symptoms of an illness alone brings a high risk of allowing the real problem to worsen, and this happens more often than we think.

By administering medication that comes with its own side effects, you are only applying a plaster to a gaping wound that will become worse if you don’t properly identify the root cause of the issue.

The body is denied the opportunity to heal itself while it still has a chance, and by the time you discover the root cause, you may require advanced care and more medications.

A reactionary style of administering healthcare does have its merits, specifically for urgent and life-threatening situations.

A heart attack, an allergic reaction or an infection are certainly not cases where functional healthcare would be practical, and you would need a health provider’s immediate intervention for such problems.

However, when it comes to chronic conditions that are influenced by everyday choices in daily life, such as the food you eat, the intensity of physical activities, travel plans and more, drugs and other quick response treatments may provide short-term fixes, but falter in the long run.

Consider an iceberg, where what you see is less than a third of the entire thing as the remainder is hidden below sea level.

Chronic illnesses like cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia and diabetes are “visible” above sea level, but what causes these illnesses remain submerged, because we aren’t diving deeper for further examination.

On the contrary, functional medicine is a whole-body approach that focuses on customised and personalised care for each person.

This isn’t a new concept either.

As far back as 1889, when the father of modern medicine Sir Dr William Osler was appointed one of the four founding professors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States, he was quoted as saying, ”The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

What is functional medicine?

The concept of functional medicine revolves around the idea that the cause of most chronic illnesses is due to an underlying dysfunction and imbalance in our internal system.

When building a diagnosis, a health provider doesn’t stop at “what is the problem?”. They also go on to ask: “Why did this happen?”

And the follow-up includes diagnostic testing, counselling and other treatments backed by research and science.

The goal is to correct any imbalances, while ensuring that the patient is equipped to maintain a lifestyle that prevents potential conditions from escalating.

These two questions are the foundation of functional medicine, which also includes understanding a patient’s medical history, symptoms, activities and lifestyle.

From there, it is possible to find out what’s lacking in a patient’s physical system and set a course to help correct the imbalance.

Your health provider will also identify the roadblocks and any potential issues that may hinder your progress towards optimal health and function.

Treatment in functional medicine can involve any of the following:

• Making nutritional and lifestyle changes, such as getting better quality sleep and exercising effectively.

• Eating whole foods instead of unhealthy processed foods.

• Taking natural agents like supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals and homeopathics.

• Taking bioidentical hormones.

• Going for emotional counselling.

• Assessing family medical history and using nutrigenomics as a means of prevention.

• Strengthening the body’s normal healing abilities.

• Precribing drugs if necessary, or surgery.

Additionally, teaching patients about what’s going on in their own body enables them to be more proactive about their own health on a daily basis, leading to better results in overall treatment.

Functional medicine, medicine, drugs, Star2.com
Drugs are not the only method used to treat symptoms in functional medicine. — Reuters

Diving into the cause

Currently, conventional healthcare leans towards the practice of prescribing medication to help stop symptoms.

For example, if you have pain, you are prescribed painkillers, or if you have sleep problems, you will be prescribed sleeping pills.

But if it is a chronic problem with deeper underlying issues, the symptoms will come back or you may become addicted to the medications.

Functional medicine doesn’t smooth over the problem with drugs alone.

If drugs are indeed prescribed, the main goal is to shift an individual’s physical wellbeing down a path that will eventually not require the use of drugs, and instead, focus on the underlying causes that trigger the symptoms and improving the body’s natural functions.

For instance, the conventional treatment for heartburn is to take medicines that will alleviate the symptoms temporarily.

In functional medicine, the doctor sets a course of discovery to determine the root cause of the heartburn.

If it turns out that what’s causing it is Helicobacter pylori bacteria, your doctor would then take steps to help to put an end to the bacteria, and along with it, your heartburn woes.

Functional medicine also does not assume that a set of symptoms will always point towards the same common ailments.

Patients may display similar symptoms, but the individual diagnosis may turn out to be vastly different, due to individual medical history, physiological makeup and more.

Functional medicine makes going to the doctor a worthwhile endeavour, because when you are receiving treatment based on the root cause of your symptoms, you lessen the stress of taking short-term medication and increase your chances of getting better.

Although contemporary conventional medicine is very advanced, especially when treating acute diseases, emergency trauma or infections, and will continue to serve society, it is time to start using functional medicine in our treatment rooms more frequently.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.


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