By Rachel Fischer, MD, MPH, Restore Health Center Physician
If you asked your primary care provider why you’re so tired, how would she or he answer?
What if you asked about your constant abdominal bloating, weight gain, whether you need replacement hormones or if your thyroid was optimally functioning? I was trained in internal medicine, so I know how I would have answered these questions. Your treatment would likely consisted of a prescription for your fatigue and bloating. For weight gain, eat less and exercise more, but hormones? I would refer you to a gynecologist. Optimal thyroid function? I would check your TSH and T4, both of which would likely be in reference range, and tell you you’re fine. You would probably be frustrated.
How is functional medicine different?
First, we gather a lot more information. Essentially, I want to know about your health from birth until the moment you step in my office. I want to know what you eat, how you sleep (or not), your daily routines, exercise, and your level of stress and coping strategies. These are all modifiable lifestyle factors and if I don’t know them, how can I help you change them? I will obtain labs that tell me about vitamin levels, presence of inflammation, cardiovascular and metabolic risks, hormone function (including thyroid) and other parameters as needed for your specific health concerns.
Second, you will spend an hour with me at your first and second visit, and at least one-half hour each visit thereafter. Our current medical model is focused on a “one ill one pill” philosophy, however we have extraordinarily complex physiology and getting to the root cause of most medical conditions takes time. In functional medicine, we take the time and use a comprehensive approach. For example, if you have excessive fatigue there could be one primary cause (iron deficiency anemia) or 13 different factors contributing. But the investigation does not stop there, if your blood results indicate anemia, we’ll want to figure out why you are anemic and correct the underlying cause rather than just give you iron pills. Follow me?
Third, lifestyle is the cornerstone of wellness. Yes, there are some genetic variants that profoundly affect some individuals – but they are the exception. For the rest of us? Genes are the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. We have more control than we think. Through proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and successful stress management habits we profoundly affect our gene expression and not only improve quantity of life, but quality of life.
Is functional medicine right for you?
As a functional medicine doctor, I don’t systematically reject the conventional medicine I was taught in my 8 years of training. There is tremendous value in modern medicine – particularly when it comes to acute injury and illness. But the leading causes of death in the developed world are not injuries or acute illness—they are heart disease and cancer. The most common reasons for patients to see their primary care doctor include skin problems, back pain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, headaches and diabetes. We have medications available for all these conditions, but they do not fix the root cause of the problem. I encourage all of my patients to have a primary care doctor for when acute illness or injury occurs, but for everything else – there is a lifestyle solution that addresses nutritional status, inflammation, appropriate detoxification processes and hormonal balance. If you are even a little sick and tired of being sick and tired, then functional medicine is for you.
It’s a privilege for me to get to know and accompany individuals who want to begin the lifelong journey of health and vitality. If you’re ready for that journey, I’m here for you.
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