Home » Is Functional Medicine Right for You?
With the rise in chronic health conditions, many people are turning to Functional Medicine in search of true, long-term wellness. In doing so, they move away from symptom-suppressing medications in favor of addressing root causes of their illness and supporting the body’s natural healing process.
What is Functional Medicine, and How Does It Compare to Other Forms of Care?
Conventional medicine (aka allopathic or Western medicine) is the medical model of healthcare most of us grew up on. This model leverages the tools of modern medicine to detect health issues, relieve pain, and correct damage from acute and chronic conditions.Thankfully, conventional medicine saves lives every day.
Yet with a rise in chronic health conditions, many medical professionals and their patients are incorporating aspects of functional medicine into their wellness regimens. Thanks in large part to early adopters like Jeffrey Bland, MD; Mark Hyman, MD; and Andrew Weil, MD, the practice continues to grow.The Institute of Functional Medicine calls it “an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century… a movement away from a one-size-fits-all medicine to a personalized, systems-based medicine.”
“Functional medicine is a system of thinking,” says Martha Calihan, MD, founder of the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg, VA. “It’s the approach of getting to the root causes of a person’s symptoms or condition and trying to understand the core imbalances that led to it,” she says. “It offers an opportunity to treat differently.”
“Most functional medicine physicians have an integrative medicine mindset, but not all,” says Calihan. Integrative Medicine combines modern and traditional tools with lifestyle intervention to treat the individual. Prescription medications are sometimes used in the short-term while a long-term approach to wellness is pursued. Holistic medicine looks at the whole person and their environment, not just a body part or system. “Both integrative and functional medicine tend to be holistic in approach,” says Calihan.
This represents a shift in the way many doctors are looking at medicine today. “When I was in my western medicine practice, I was very frustrated that my patients would come in year after year with more medications and getting sicker,” says Laura Stone, MD, who works at the Virginia Center for Health and Wellness in Aldie, VA, founded by Andrew Heyman, MD.
“I see Functional medicine as a critical component of being able to address our epidemic of chronic diseases,” says Calihan. “The current approach of adding more pharmaceuticals is not working and is not sustainable. People need to be educated about the possibilities.”
Viewing the Patient as a Whole Person
Jacki Meinhardt is an integrative medicine nurse practitioner who also works at the Virginia Center for Health and Wellness. Her patients present with all kinds of elusive symptoms, including pain, headaches, aching joints, skin rashes, hair loss, weight gain, brain fog, depression, sleep problems, fatigue, IBS, gas, bloating, heartburn, and/or frequent diarrhea/constipation.
Some of these patients have been previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, IBS, diabetes, seizure disorder, executive function disorder, Parkinson’s, Lyme, gastric reflux, fatty liver, or an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, celiac, rheumatoid Arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, asthma, multiple sclerosis, or lupus.
Often, symptoms and conditions like these mean multiple things are going on. Meinhardt likes to look at the systems in our body as a clock. “They are intricately connected, just like a clock’s complex gear mechanisms. If one gear isn’t working, then other organ systems aren’t going to work, so the clock is going to be too slow, too fast, or not work at all.”
Functional medicine practitioners deeply and systematically explore to gain a comprehensive view of the patient’s inner workings. They spend significant time with the patient looking for patterns and interactions between their history, day-to-day life, and genetics.
They perform physical exams and comprehensive diagnostic testing to identify imbalances in the body that explain why the patient is sick. Findings may include imbalanced gut flora from antibiotic use; nutrient depletion or enzyme issues from medication use; malabsorption from dietary and gut issues; hormone imbalance from stress, sleep, or environmental factors; or underlying infections. “It could all be related or caused by something completely different. The art of medicine is in deciphering each puzzle piece,” says Meinhardt.
A common treatment for gut-related symptoms is to Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair, and Rebalance. First, remove what’s negatively affecting the body; next, replace the good that the body is missing; then reinoculate with beneficial bacteria; then repair by supporting the body’s natural healing mechanisms; then rebalance lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, exercise, and stress.
Improvements are often seen quickly “if the patient is open-minded and willing to make changes,” says Stone. “Patients who are ready to do some work to improve their health make it easy!” adds Calihan.
“The experience of feeling better, seeing their labs improve, and getting off prescription medications—this helps people stay very motivated.”
The information presented is for general interest and is not intended as medical advice.
A functional medicine practitioner can help you take control. We’re fortunate to have several in Northern Virginia and the greater Washington DC metro area. To find the right provider for you, Stone recommends “ask[ing] your friends and neighbors where they have been and how they were able to find a new path to health.” Ask questions to ensure the provider is well qualified to bring treatment tailored to your own individual needs and ensure that they’ll walk down the road with you as a true advocate.
Is Functional Medicine Right for You?
Answer these questions to see if functional medicine might be a good fit:
Have you seen multiple doctors and you haven’t gotten the answers you need? Are you wondering, “Why aren’t I feeling better?”
Have you been told all your tests are normal? Are you frustrated?
Do you have pain, headaches, aching joints, skin rashes, hair loss, weight gain, brain fog, depression, sleep problems, fatigue, IBS, gas, bloating, heartburn, and/or frequent diarrhea/ constipation?
Have you been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, IBS, diabetes, seizure disorder, executive function disorder, Parkinson’s, Lyme, gastric reflux, fatty liver, or an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, celiac, rheumatoid Arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, asthma, multiple sclerosis, or lupus?
Do you have a chronic, complex condition and are looking for a new approach to treat you as a whole person?
Have standard medications not been enough for you? Are they producing side effects that lead to more medications?
Do you want to get to the underlying root cause of your symptoms?
Are you ready to take ownership of your health?
Are you motivated to make changes in your life?
Are you ready to commit to follow up?
Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired?
The Who’s Who of Functional Medicine in our area:
Martha Calihan, M.D.,
has been practicing medicine in Northern Virginia for over 25 years. She founded the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg, Virginia, which offers both clinical care and wellness programs (fivestoneswellness.com). She’s been awarded the “Best of Loudoun” for alternative medicine since 2007.
Jacki Meinhardt, F.N.P.,
works at the Virginia Center for Health and Wellness in Aldie, Virginia, founded by Andrew Heyman, M.D. (vc4hw.com). She focuses on chronic inflammatory response syndrome,
vector borne illnesses, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, thyroid and adrenal management, detoxification, and autoimmune diseases. Meinhardt also researches and teaches at Georgetown University.
Laura Stone, M.D.,
also works at the Virginia Center for Health and Wellness in Aldie, Virginia (vc4hw.com). She has focused on gynecology and women’s health since 1992. When personal health issues were not being solved through traditional western medical approach, she began to explore functional medicine. She now offers an integrative approach to her patients.
STEPHANIE COLO MANNING is the owner of Colo Kitchen, where she uses holistic nutrition consulting to help clients transition away from processed and inflammatory foods in favor of a whole food diet. Manning holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and is actively pursuing a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition degree from Hawthorn University. Email her at [email protected] or visit ColoKitchen.com.