What is functional medicine?

By Jennifer Simmons, MD

What is functional medicine, you ask?

I have a confession for you.

Three years ago, I didn’t know what functional medicine was.

At that time, I had been a breast surgeon for 15 years. I had developed Graves Disease and I was on a mission to cure myself. I had heard of stories of people curing their thyroid disease using food. As a scientist and a physician, if food could be a cure, I needed to learn why. I decided to get an education around nutrition, something that is not taught to medical doctors. During one of my first lectures in nutrition, a man named Mark Hyman spoke. He introduced himself as a functional medicine physician and I sat there thinking, what the heck is functional medicine? I have never heard of a functional medicine physician. So I started to investigate. Here is what I learned.

Functional medicine is the medicine of why 

Why is your health not ideal? What is driving disease? Functional medicine doctors look at people as a whole, not a sum of their parts. They don’t break the body apart by systems, only handling one thing. They look at the whole person and how each system is tied to one another. Functional medicine doctors know that ideal function centers around promoting the health of the entire system. Instead of focusing on disease, they focus on driving health. They help to identify triggers of illness and help people to eliminate them. Rather than treating symptoms, they promote wellness. In functional medicine, we focus on the pillars of health: nutrient-dense food, proper sleep, daily movement, mindfulness, stress management, avoiding toxins, and promoting social connections.

Functional medicine is the medicine of how  

How do you drive health? By helping people figure out how their body functions most ideally. By giving patients the tools that promote wellness, functional medicine doctors help people to drive their own health. When you do that, disease often goes away.

Functional medicine really applies to everyone. Unlike specialists which tend to focus on one organ or one system, functional medicine principles apply to everyone. Everyone benefits from improving their health. Whether you are dealing with dysfunction in the way of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, depression, anxiety, ADHD, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, digestive disorders, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis, irritable bowel disorder, eczema, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, autoimmune disease, MS, thyroid disease, asthma, allergies, or even cancer, your health can be improved.  

Functional medicine is a proactive pursuit of wellness

Functional medicine doctors know the reasons why medicines don’t work. Medicines are focused on the wrong target (the symptom of disease rather than the cause), and they assume that everyone’s disease is the same. Functional medicine doctors put far less emphasis on diagnosis. The diagnosis is relatively unimportant.  Promoting health is what is important.

You may not be dealing with dysfunction at all. You may have good health now and you want to ensure your good health remains far into old age. Unlike traditional medicine which is reactive, functional medicine is proactive. We help people promote their health.  We help them to build healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Unlike traditional doctors that use standardized testing, functional medicine doctors take a deeper look at you.  We are looking at your nutritional status, at your metabolism, at your genetics, at your microbiome. Your microbiome, that diverse ecosystem that lives in and on you, is the central driver of your health. Helping you to promote a healthy microbiome is the cornerstone of functional medicine.

Once I learned about functional medicine, I knew that was where I belonged. I was able to reverse my own disease and now I spend every day helping people reverse theirs.  

Interested in what functional medicine can do for you? Learn more about Real Health MD and our mission to empower you to live the best health of your life.