How is Functional Medicine Different?

Shilpa Saxena, MD, describes how Functional Medicine builds upon and expands the skills learned in clinical training. Functional Medicine is a systems approach with a tried-and-tested toolkit.

The illustration to the right uses a tree to visually represent the core aspects of the Functional Medicine paradigm and highlight the difference between conventional medical care and Functional Medicine. The graphic itself has undergone some changes through the years, but its essence remains the same. In order to keep a tree healthy and allow it to flourish, you need to support the most basic and essential elements first; the foundation: the roots and soil. Similarly, if a tree is not healthy, the first place you should look for answers is those same foundational elements.

In Functional Medicine, the same approach applies to patients. The most important factors, and the ones we examine first when gathering information about the patient, are the foundational lifestyle factors; sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress levels, relationships, and genetics. These are the roots and soil, which are in turn influenced by specific predisposing factors (antecedents), discrete events (triggers), and ongoing physiological processes (mediators), and may then result in fundamental imbalances at the trunk. These can eventually result in the signs and symptoms that are grouped into a diagnosable constellation that we call disease, represented by the branches and leaves.

Conventional medicine tends to look at the constellation of symptoms first (the branches and leaves), which usually results in a disease diagnosis. Often, this diagnosis is associated with a drug or drugs that can be prescribed to treat this constellation of symptoms, and that is the end of the story. But this approach neglects the more fundamental aspects of health that reside in the roots and the trunk of the tree. It treats all patients that present with similar symptoms the same and completely neglects both the inherent differences among patients as well as the myriad possible causes that a "disease" can have.

If you are tired of spending your time in the leaves and watching as your patients with chronic disease go through the cycle of diagnosis and drugs without getting any better, IFM invites you to climb down from the canopy and join us at ground level. We will provide you with the tools to make your patients better, without ever needing to leave the ground.