“I don’t really know what to tell you,” my doctor said, shrugging as he quickly rushed me out the door. Last year was a difficult one for my health as I was suffering from some unexplained symptoms that had my doctor stumped. I left his office feeling dismissed with no direction of where to go next. It was clear he had grown disinterested.
Good medical care is hard to come by, especially in a big city. And, unfortunately, there are many others with stories like mine.
But if you’re determined to find better care, you don’t have to look far. Functional medicine doctors are here to pave the way for a future with better health care.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a science-based medicine approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. The premise is to treat the patient, not the illness, which is unlike conventional practice. The best part is it is almost entirely natural. It is also similar to integrated medicine, which focuses on mind-body health. This theory differs from conventional medicine practitioners whose primary focus is treating symptoms and diseases instead of looking at the person to uncover the root cause of their illness.
There are also many environmental and lifestyle factors that can leave you predisposed to disease and illness. That’s where functional medicine really shines. A functional medicine physician’s job is to study your individual health history and genetic makeup in order to come up with a plan of care (otherwise known as preventative medicine). By getting to know patients and listening to their histories, functional medicine physicians can uncover any issues that might influence their patients’ long-term health.
Functional medicine is also described as anti-aging, meaning the prolongation of life through health optimization, otherwise known as the practice of life extension. Basically, that means that your functional medicine physician will design a care plan to help you live longer by keeping diseases at bay.
Why Do We Need Functional Medicine?
With over 23 million Americans suffering from autoimmune diseases and an additional 30 million suffering from undiagnosed diseases, functional medicine is more important than ever. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Functional medicine’s purpose is to help patients by providing a plan of care tailored to each individual to find a solution that takes into account an individual’s health and genetic history. It can be especially beneficial for people who feel like they have run out of options.
It seems more people are turning towards a preventative method of care as opposed to a conventional one. There are now more general practitioners and specialists than ever who have dedicated their practices to incorporating functional medicine.
With a functional medicine doctor, a typical visit lasts about one hour while they gather your medical history and background. Functional medicine doctors take adequate time with their patients while they assess their health, including complex and chronic issues. This is useful because, if you think about it, so much can be overlooked when doctors treat every patient with a general practice instead of taking the time to really get to know you and your health history.
It is important to remember that each patient’s plan of care is unique, as each patient has their own unique history and genetic makeup. This is why a comprehensive exam can be so beneficial when trying to determine underlying diseases.
How Does It Work?
Functional medicine doctors help you dig deeper to figure out the root cause of your health problems. For example, let’s look at the work of Dr. Elliot Dinetz, MD, whose enthusiasm for functional medicine and helping his patients have gained him a loyal following. His M.O. is simple – test, don’t guess. His practice mirrors the same ideas of Mark Hyman, MD, and Board President of the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Dinetz’s describes his approach saying, “I like to say my practice is evidence-based medicine instead of the kitchen sink method that can costs patients lots of money.” His primary focus is to get you to your optimal level of health. Now there’s an idea we can all get behind.
Having trained in both Functional and Integrative Medicine, Dr. Dinetz has pursued Longevity Medicine his entire career. Incorporating genetics training into his practice, he has taken it from a progressive style of practice to what they refer to is the only kind, the one for the unique you.
To understand a person’s individual health needs for maximal health span, he evaluates your genetic makeup and microbiome, together with the patient to uncover what nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise are appropriate to maximize total body wellness. From here, construct the elite health and longevity.
In order to piece together your health care plan, there are a series of investigatory tools that allow functional medicine doctors to uncover your health needs. Through evaluating advanced markers in saliva, urine, and even blood, they look at a range of factors from hormone balance to key nutrients and inflammation that reveal what’s really going on under the hood of your health; this is often years before they become symptoms or are picked up in a conventional health exam.
He examines your micronutrients and hormone balance, then takes a look at the severity of inflammation in your body at a much deeper level than most primary care physicians, as there are many factors that can influence complex and chronic disease. He explains there’s a lot that goes into determining your best plan of care. It all begins by uncovering any problem and any predisposed genetic weaknesses and then coming up with a solution.
That’s where the five R’s come into play: Remove, Replace, Repopulate, Repair, and Rebalance. These are the fundamentals and sequences he follows, as he helps your body align itself for anti-aging purposes.
He begins by helping the patient remove any toxins from the body and replace them with vital nutrients, making sure they are also the right nutrients your body needs. Then, he works to repopulate and repair your autoimmune system so it will rebalance itself. Seems simple right?
The beauty of functional medicine is that, with the right care and lifestyle adjustments, your body will be able to perform at its optimal level, giving you a better quality of life. And if you’re proactive about it, you can put at bay any diseases you might be susceptible to.
Functional medicine is the ultimate in preventive care but also a true health rejuvenation from the inside out. Just like the saying ‘there is no I in team,’ there certainly is no we in what’s right for you. Wellness has a new frontier, and it goes beyond living longer. Performance both professionally and personally have been documented to improve, including sharpened mental clarity, and increasing vitality. This field brings optimization to the table for near everyone who is health-conscious. After all, it is your health, and nothing is more valuable.
Your Health ROI
The only downside to functional medicine is its lack of support from insurance providers. Most integrative medicine doctors do not accept insurance, as most of their treatments are not covered by insurance companies. While some doctors can charge you up to as much as a full month’s rent, there are many functional medicine practitioners who have designed payment programs and plans to help make their services more affordable. There are also many physicians who try to make their services available to individuals of all financial backgrounds.
Ok, so paying out of pocket for health care might sound a little steep to some. But fear not. If you change the way you think about it, you might find room in your budget for functional medicine. Instead of thinking of it as a healthcare cost, try to understand it as an investment in your health. From careers to education, we spend so much money investing in ourselves. Why don’t we do the same for our health? After all, when we’re healthy, we can work harder, be more productive, and make more money.
A “health is wealth” mentality must be developed to understand the value of investing you your well-being and your future. Because when you’re at your optimal health, the world is at your fingertips.
To learn more about fuctional medicine, check out Dr. Dinetz’s practice here.