The idea of functional medicine was first formulated in the 1950s as a type of alternative medicine. At first of only marginal significance, it has since gained traction among some healthcare providers who see it as a way of addressing issues left largely in the mainstream’s shadows.
What It Is
The Institute for Functional Medicine defines it in the following way: an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness.
Functional medicine practitioners argue that conventional medicine focuses on the symptoms of an illness, rather than getting at the root cause, which is what functional medicine is designed to do.
Functional medicine looks at the patient in a holistic way, considering an array of biological, lifestyle, and environmental factors, especially with patients who suffer from chronic conditions. Advocates of functional medicine maintain that this approach enables providers to get a more comprehensive picture of the disease, get at its real cause, and treat the patient in a more personal manner.
Practitioners of functional medicine argue that conventional medicine simply looks to match a drug with a disease. This approach works well with acute conditions, they say, but falls short when it comes to treating chronic conditions. Rather than just looking for a suitable medication, functional medicine begins from a different starting point – asking why the patient has this particular problem to start with. According to its practitioners, functional medicine asks why there has been a loss of function and tries to find the root cause of such a loss that has led to a particular set of symptoms.
Functional medicine uses various methods to treat a patient, therapy that may include traditional medications, supplements, exercise, nutritional regimens, detoxification, and stress management techniques.
Functional medicine advocates claim more pharmacists are adopting this alternative practice because of its advantages over conventional approaches. Using a functional medicine approach also allows pharmacists to expand their role in treating patients by offering counseling. Pharmacists can talk to patients about their medication adherence, if they are following the recommended lifestyle changes, and how they are responding to the treatment.
However, not all healthcare providers approve of functional medicine as a viable alternative, calling its methods unproven. Some physicians have branded it as pseudoscience, arguing that its core tenets are too vague to be of any real value. The American Academy of Family Physicians does not offer course credit for functional medicine classes.
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