When something is off about your health, what does your doctor do? Most doctors (thankfully not all), will prescribe a medication based on the symptoms you are having: lisinipril for your blood pressure, a statin for your cholesterol, maxalt to prevent your monthly migraines, metformin for your elevating blood sugars, ambien for your sleep and, just for good measure, some prozac for your depression and fatigue. That’s an awful lot, but surprisingly, it’s not uncommon.
This system of medicine doesn’t view you as a person with a complex physiology. You’re a list of symptoms. It isn’t healthcare because that would be focussed on improving your health. This is management of your illness. It should be called sick-care.
Functional Medicine approaches it differently. It doesn’t look to treat your symptoms. It looks for an underlying common root that connects your symptoms. This takes careful investigation. Your practitioner needs to untie the knots that have been formed from poor diet, genetics, emotions, exposure to toxins, and other factors. We may order additional blood tests beyond what your doctor orders so we can identify not just what’s wrong, but why. The myriad symptoms can usually be traced back to a few basic root causes.
A situation like that described above can occur when poor diet and lack of exercise cause sugars to accumulate in the body. The biological systems within our bodies are interrelated and delicate. Everything’s connected. When one system is damaged that spreads dysfunction into other systems. The rising sugars damage the machinery of energy production. Cholesterol and triglycerides also increase as the body looks for places to store all the extra energy. As enzymatic function is impacted by excessive blood sugars, inflammation starts increasing too. Nutritional deficiencies from poor diet drive inflammation even higher. As your blood sugars are driven up and down throughout the day by sugar rich snacks, your stress hormones are pushed up and down too. You start to experience alternating cranky periods followed by energy crashes. The rest of the hormones get thrown off by this roller coaster of stress hormones. As a result you feel exhausted all day, but can’t sleep at night. Menstrual cycles can be affected, causing menstrual migraines. Even though these are all different symptoms, you can see that they all can be traced back to a few issues in the fundamental functioning of your body.
Your Functional Medicine practitioner will get you eating foods that will supply steady energy through the day so your metabolism can stabilize. A relaxation program and an adrenal support supplement can help to bring your wild stress hormone swings back to normal. Adding a high quality multi-vitamin will replace the nutrients that have been lost through poor diet. Lifestyle support such as relaxation techniques and refining your sleep habits would round out a successful functional medicine program for a patient like this.
All of your body’s systems are interrelated. If you don’t address these root causes of illness and disease then you are just covering up symptoms while the underlying health continues to erode.
Kieran Jones MTCM L.Ac.
I'm Kieran, clinician and owner of Cotati Community Acupuncture. I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, and functional medicine practitioner for the past 10 years. I have a deep curiosity in health, biology, culture, medicine, history, and a healthy obsession with the pursuit of the perfect state of health.