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Great article by:  Dr. Mark Hyman, who explains the foundation of Functional Medicine!


This new approach is called functional medicine.

So what exactly is functional medicine? First, it is deeply science-based.  It has emerged from new discoveries in what we call systems biology — the understanding of the deep interconnections of the basic systems of the body.  Systems biology is so important that it’s a key part of the agenda of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and their New Roadmap Initiative.

The director of NIH, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, is attempting to completely reorganize scientific research and knowledge around systems biology and is spending hundreds of millions of dollars toward this effort. And that’s not all.

Entire new organizations, such as the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), have been established to bring these discoveries to the consumer.  Dr. Leroy Hood, the founder of the ISB, is a Nobel prize-winning biologist who has devoted his work to exploring this radical and paradigm-shifting notion.  He says:

“Studying the interaction and interplay of many levels of biological information, systems biology will enable us to not only cure complex disease but to predict an individual’s health and extend the human body’s natural lifespan by preventing diseases.  The new era of predictive, preventive and personalized medicine – made possible by application of systems biology – represents a profound shift in the practice of medicine and will reach into many corners of our lives.”

That’s because, in systems biology, NAMING diseases becomes increasingly meaningless as we understand the inner workings and function of our cells and biological systems within the context of our entire organism.  You see, disease occurs because of the body’s attempt to correct underlying imbalances. It is the body’s best attempt to deal with a difficult set of circumstances.

Doctors who practice functional medicine believe that health depends on your constitution, which is partly genetic, and partly determined by your lifestyle and environment.  Your constitution can also be called your “biological terrain.”  This determines your resilience and capacity for self-repair and healing.

In fact, functional medicine is founded a number of key principles.

  • First -we are all different and genetically and biochemically unique and have to be treated as such.
  • Second -everything that happens within us is connected in a complicated network or web of relationships. Understanding those relationships allows us to see deep into the functioning of the body.
  • Third – your body has the capacity for self-regulation, which expresses itself through a dynamic balance of all your body systems.
  • Fourth – we have the capacity to enhance and optimize our organ reserve and prevent nearly all the disease of aging.

And last but not least – health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of profound and resilient positive vitality.

This new medicine is personalized.  It treats the individual, not diseases.  And it supports the normal healing mechanisms of the body, rather then attacking disease directly.

But what does this mean for you? Well, it means that an infection or cancer requires a weakened immune system to take root.

It means that imbalances in your intestinal tract’s bacteria flora trigger inflammation throughout your body and can lead to autoimmune diseases and arthritis.  And it means that deficiencies in folate and vitamin B12 prevent your body from producing the neurotransmitters that help to balance your mood.  When you have health problems like these, you have a choice.  You can choose the drug-heavy treatments of conventional medicine.

Or you can help heal your body with functional medicine.

So you can either take antibiotics or use toxic chemotherapy drugs to attack the infection or cancer, or you can discover how and why your immune system is not protecting you. You can take powerful anti-inflammatory drugs for autoimmune diseases or you can change your diet and feed the healthy bacteria the fiber they love, and even help to “re-plant” new healthy bacteria back in your gut.

You can take an antidepressant for depression or you can take folate and vitamins B12 and B6 to help your neurotransmitters, including serotonin, function better.

I think the choice is clear!

So what’s an appointment with a doctor of functional medicine like? First, rather than diseases, I investigate systems.  These are the new systems to consider when analyzing patterns of imbalance or dysfunction that give rise to symptoms.  These are the new concepts that can help us to solve the puzzle of complex chronic diseases.

They are:

  • Your immune system
  • Your detoxification system
  • Your hormonal and neurotransmitter system
  • Your energy production system
  • Your acid-base system
  • Your redox system (the balance of oxidants and antioxidants in your body)
  • Your structural system
  • Your mind-body/body-mind system
  • Your nutritional balance

All these systems form my roadmap – my new GPS system that prevents me from getting lost in the sea of diseases.

During our appointment, I ask many questions about every aspect of your genetics, lifestyle, medical history, environment, beliefs, and attitudes.  These deeply influence these systems and provide clues to the source and cure of the imbalances.

Then I investigate the landscape, your “biological terrain.” I try to find out the nutritional imbalances you have, the toxins you are exposed to, whether you have hidden infections, which allergens affect you, what types of stress you’re under – in other words, I learn what things are pushing you off balance.

Next, I work persistently to discover those things (often with the use of specialized testing) and help you eliminate them or get rid of them. Simply put, you cannot heal if you don’t deal with the cause of your imbalance or symptoms.  Sure, you can treat the symptoms, but you’re not getting at the root of your problems.

One of my teachers likes to say, “If you are standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to feel better.” The treatment, of course, is to take out the tack – not take more aspirin! So if you have high cholesterol, you can take all the Lipitor you want, but if you eat cheeseburgers and fries and drink a Coke every night for dinner and don’t exercise, you won’t get much benefit.


You’ve got to treat the CAUSE of your problem!

Let’s get back to our appointment.  After I’ve identified that cause of your imbalance, I look at what you might be missing that you need to thrive.  To know what’s missing, you have to know what makes you thrive — and what it means to be healthy.

Health is the ability to maintain resiliency and balance and to respond effectively to life’s challenges, whether these challenges are germs, toxins, allergens, stresses, or poor food choices.

So how can you stay healthy and resilient? Actually, it’s quite simple.

You need to learn what makes you run and make sure you provide it to yourself.  You have to learn what works for you and doesn’t.  And you must learn what makes you thrive and what depletes your health and life force.  Sounds easy, but it isn’t always.

Here are the things we all need to thrive.

  • A live, fresh, whole foods diet (ideally organic), comprised of predominately plant proteins, unrefined and whole fiber, phytonutrient-rich carbohydrates, and essential fats.
  • Adequate clean water (6 to 8 glasses a day).
  • Optimal cellular levels of all essential vitamins and minerals (which may differ from person to person).
  • Optimal levels of “non-essential” nutrients that become essential with disease, age, and stress.
  • Movement and play.
  • Clean air and deep breathing.
  • Optimal sleep — at least 7 to 9 hours for most people.
  • Deep and profound relaxation, which activates the vagus nerve — the relaxation nerve that heals and promotes longevity and renewal and even helps promote the development of our own stem cells.
  • Rhythm — regular patterns of waking, sleeping, eating, and activity.
  • Love and community.

That’s it – really!

The trick is identifying YOUR particular needs and the right balance for you.

How can you get and stay healthy? For 80 percent of people, simply getting what you need to thrive will lead to robust good health. For those other 20 percent who are still sick, medical guidance is necessary.

With functional medicine, your physician can pinpoint exactly what is pushing you off balance and exactly what you need and in what amounts to repair and heal. Unfortunately, functional medicine is so different that only a few dedicated practitioners currently practice it. But that doesn’t mean that your physician can’t learn more about it.

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