What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘medicine’ or ‘medical care’? To a lot of us, these words usually call up images of drugs used to treat certain diseases. That’s because the medication is the basic tool of the standard, modern model of care.When you’re diagnosed with a disease, most modern medical practitioners go straight to prescribing drugs to treat the disease and its symptoms. And in the case of most acute diseases, infections, and emergencies, it’s an approach that works (most of the time).

But what happens when the disease or condition is chronic or long-term? In most cases, the patient becomes reliant on medication just to manage the disease, mitigate its symptoms, and avoid complications.

Medication is a Double-Edged Sword

Obviously, this can come at a significant financial cost, and that’s just for starters. Even worse are the mental and physical costs of being chronically reliant on pharmaceutical medication. Almost all long-term medications prescribed for treating chronic allergies, metabolic/hormonal/digestive conditions and neurological problems are attached to side effects that can decrease the patient’s overall quality of life. Drugs can certainly ease and mitigate symptoms and diseases, but almost always at a cost, often resulting in another condition or side effect that requires even more medication. Unfortunately, this is the extent of the medical care that can be provided by most medical practitioners who specialize in treating long-term diseases and conditions. The ugly truth is that the standard model of care relies mostly on prescribing medication. It’s focused on treating diseases and symptoms - not people. While this approach may be effective against acute or short-term diseases, it’s a narrow point of view that ultimately fails to address the root causes of disease. This is where functional medicine comes in. Functional Medicine is About Understanding the entire system, not just the symptoms.  

In functional medicine, it’s understood that diseases themselves are just downstream symptoms of what’s really going on in the body.  In Mark Hyman’s 2010 talk at TEDMED, he explained that… "Functional medicine is a map. It's a GPS system. It's actually a way of navigating through the landscape of illness through mechanisms, not diseases, through understanding the connections and the patterns that are present in our whole system. It's actually personalized medicine or systems medicine... the medicine that connects the dots between all the things that are going wrong in our biology.  "This is why a thorough, personalized, and proper diagnosis is the first and most important part of a holistic functional medicine treatment program.The aim of functional medicine is not just to treat the disease, but to treat the person - to understand the patient’s medical history, the state of his entire biology, and ultimately to identify and eliminate the conditions that enable chronic diseases to exist in the first place.

Nutrition, Exercise, and Supplementation Are All Vital to Holistic Treatment

After a comprehensive look at your medical history, lifestyle, and intake of medication, what follows is a treatment program designed to eliminate the root causes of your disease.First and foremost, this involves managing your nutrition. Nutritional intake is vital because whatever you consume is what your body inevitably uses to repair and renew itself. This is why your daily intake of food and drink plays a big part in why you’re suffering from chronic diseases in the first place.Second, the amount and type of physical exercises that you do on a regular basis also inevitably affects the overall state of your body. This means that depending on your diagnosis, the treatment program may also include prescribed exercises to complement any prescribed changes to your diet.  While proper nutrition and exercise are vital aspects of treatment, they may still not be enough to restore your body to full health. Your doctor may also prescribe regularly taking supplements that can positively alter the internal imbalances in your body which allow diseases to thrive. And that’s not all.  

The treatment Includes decreasing the intake of pharmaceutical drugs unlike the standard model of treatment, functional medicine doesn’t rely solely on medication. However, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately stop taking your prescribed drugs. Prescription medication has its place in holistic treatment. That’s why a typical treatment program may also include the management of your intake of prescribed medication.Some medicines are vital to mitigating symptoms and complications related to chronic disease. However, as mentioned before, heavily relying on medication tends to give rise to even more problems.Thus, one of the goals of functional medicine is to slowly but eventually wean you off of prescribed medication. Remember: diseases are just symptoms of larger imbalances in the body. They happen because of internal biological deficiencies, not because we’re not taking certain drugs.For instance, diabetes is not caused a deficiency in metformin or other common medications for diabetes. Likewise, depression is not caused by a deficiency in Xanax or other mood-altering drugs.

These diseases/conditions exist and thrive not because of drug deficiencies, but because of deficiencies in the internal biological systems which allow them to thrive. While drugs may be necessary for easing and mitigating symptoms and complications, they alone are not enough to eliminate the very conditions that allow diseases to happen.This is only possible through a systematic combination of proper diagnosis, proper nutrition, prescribed exercises, supplementation, and managing how much and how often you take prescribed medication. 

Functional Medicine is a long-term solution to Chronic Disease. Its ultimate aim is to provide a sustainable treatment program that can truly address the root causes of chronic diseases and conditions, rather than just treating the symptoms. The treatment program that can truly address the root causes of chronic diseases and conditions, rather than just treating the symptoms.