What is functional medicine?

By Tanya Seth

Jun 9, 2022

Do any of your friends, family, or acquaintances suffer from diabetes, hypertension, or any other chronic condition? Chances are the answer is a yes. The reason is the fact that chronic diseases are at an all-time high. According to the latest research, about 21% of the elderly in India suffer from at least one chronic disease. That means 1 in every 5 adults in India suffers from some chronic condition or the other. If we consider the global picture, around 50% of adults, that is 1 in every 2 adults suffer from at least one chronic health condition. Despite the growing usage of prescription medicines and the advancement of modern medicine, we are unable to slow down the growing epidemic of chronic diseases around the world. Poor lifestyle choices are the root cause of this growing problem, which is why we need something more than mere medicines to tackle this issue. We need to adopt a more holistic approach to addressing a disease. Functional Medicine is a branch of medical science that promises this holistic management of chronic diseases.

What is functional medicine?

Functional Medicine is a patient-centered, holistic approach to medicine that focus underlying cause of a disease. You can understand it this way – suppose you are suffering from some condition and present to a physician with certain signs and symptoms. The question that will arise in the mind of the physician will be “Which drug will help to manage the signs and symptoms of the disease?”. But instead of this, functional medicine asks more vital questions like “What factors lead you to have this disease in the first place.”, and “What can be done to restore your body to the state it was in before the disease happened.”

How is functional medicine different from conventional medicine?

Functional medicine is whole person-oriented rather than being disease-oriented. This means that functional medicine deals with any health problem in a multi-dimensional manner. It takes into consideration not only the physical aspect of health but also the psychological, emotional, and even spiritual aspects to achieve optimal health and wellness. The very concept of functional medicine is based on the fact that health is not merely the absence of diseases, but rather the complete physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being that ensures a person lives a socially and economically productive life. While conventional medicine is reactive, functional medicine is proactive.  It is accurate to state that conventional medicine, in reality, is just disease management while functional medicine is healthcare in the true sense. 

While the practice of conventional medicine is often doctor-centered, functional medicine is patient-centered. It is more collaborative and allows the patient and the doctor to work together and come to a common conclusion as to how to treat a disease. It acknowledges the biochemical individuality of every patient. Hence, the functional medicine approach requires a detailed understanding of the patient’s genetics, physiology, anatomy, biochemical status, and lifestyle. This level of understanding of the patient’s body makes sure that the individualized treatment that will be designed for the patient will treat the root cause of the disease. This means that under the functional medicine approach, two people suffering from the same condition might have a different treatment plan that caters to their particular needs. This is a step ahead of having a generalized treatment algorithm for all patients irrespective of their genetic and biochemical individuality and lifestyle patterns.

Suppose a person is suffering from a cardiovascular disease like hypertension (high blood pressure). More often than not, it is seen that conventional medicine will deal only with the cardiovascular system of such a patient. They will be prescribed drugs that will affect this particular system of the patient’s body, and that’s it. Contrary to this, functional medicine employs a more holistic approach. It sees a patient as a whole and not just one system of their body in isolation. Even if investigations are done to find out the root cause of hypertension in a conventional healthcare setup, and then suitable lifestyle and diet changes are recommended, the mainstay management will still revolve around drugs to lower the blood pressure. The system in conventional healthcare setups is such that it doesn’t support such a holistic approach even if the physician wants to. Coming back to the example, if the above-mentioned patient was to be treated by the functional medicine approach, not only their cardiovascular system but rather the whole body and mind of the patient will be taken into consideration. This is what makes functional medicine a comprehensive tool for the management of chronic diseases.

Conventional medicine mostly deals with the signs and symptoms of a disease. Diagnosis is made based on these signs and symptoms, and then drugs are prescribed to suppress them. On the other hand, functional medicine aims at relieving these symptoms completely, by looking into the underlying cause and treating it, rather than just suppressing them. Simply put, conventional medicine provides a method to just manage a disease, whereas functional medicine looks for ways to cure the disease and then prevent it from happening again in the future.

That being said, it is correct to say that while conventional medicine is based on the early detection of disease, functional medicine is more involved in the preventive aspect. Conventional medicine comes into play once the disease has already set in. On the contrary, functional medicine comes into play even before a disease has happened. One of the key principles of functional medicine is that it aims at preventing diseases from happening in the first place. However, if they were to happen anyways, then functional medicine aims at treating the root cause of the disease and preventing relapses in the future, wherever possible.

The most surprising thing is that despite all the benefits, functional medicine is often more cost-effective than conventional medicine, making it more affordable even for those who are not financially stable. What use is a drug if most people can’t afford it? This issue of affordability is not a problem in the case of functional medicine.

All of these in no way implies that conventional medicine is ineffective, inefficient, or anything of that sort. Honestly, there is no doubt in the fact that nothing matches conventional medicine when it comes to acute diseases or trauma. Conventional medicine is structured to address these issues. If a person meets a road traffic accident, it makes complete sense to go to a hospital and seek emergency care in a conventional setup. But we need to understand that the pathology of acute diseases (or trauma) is completely different from that of chronic diseases. In cases of chronic diseases, all conventional medicine does is suppress the disease and not cure it. This is what makes functional medicine so essential.

Now that we have understood what functional medicine is at its core, it must be clear that it is equally essential and vital as conventional medicine, if not more. This is exactly what we, at Awaana Health, believe, practice, and profess. We understand that functional medicine is not a replacement for conventional medicine. Rather, it is something that supplements it. Our team of experts and healthcare professionals have years of experience in the field of functional medicine and owing to their expertise, we promise to deliver to holistic, root cause focused modality for tackling any chronic disorder that you or your loved ones might be suffering from, so that you can enjoy a stress-free, disease-free, and truly healthy life.

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