When I used to work as a conventional hospital physician, my approach to diagnosing and treating patients followed standard protocols.
I would dutifully take a detailed history from my patients (or rather, what I thought was detailed at the time), then I would examine my patients, reach a provisional diagnosis and order the relevant investigations for confirmation. Once I confirmed a diagnosis, I would commence standard treatment for that condition according to national guidelines or my specialist body recommendations. Usually the patients’ symptoms would improve, but occasionally they didn’t. Sometimes there would be side effects from the drugs I prescribed; some minor, some not so minor.
“Doctors pour drugs of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, into patients of whom they know nothing.”
Most of the time, though, we managed to control the symptoms enough to allow the patients to lead a good, or at least reasonable, quality of life – and that’s essentially what I used to do; control the symptoms.
My approach to patients with chronic disease now, has progressed significantly, with my understanding of the principles of Functional Medicine. My aim now is to identify the underlying cause for the patient’s condition. For example, what is it in this particular person’s internal or external environment that is causing inflammation in their body? What is it, in this particular individual, that is provoking their immune system to overreact and destroy their body’s own tissues? Why does the inflammation or pain ‘flare up’, seemingly of its own accord? Is there something the patient is exposed to that is causing the flare up, something that has been overlooked? And many other questions.
The change in how I practise medicine now, and how I practised medicine before, illustrates the main difference between Conventional Medicine and Functional Medicine. Functional Medicine is root cause medicine. It is patient-specific, not disease-specific, which means that two people with the same condition, let’s say rheumatoid arthritis, can have very different factors causing the same disease, and thus the treatment approach will be different for each.
Functional Medicine is about finding the underlying factors that are contributing to a particular condition in a particular individual, a unique individual. It’s about identifying the underlying cause in your case, whether that is a nutritional imbalance, or an imbalance in your gut microbiome, or a hidden chronic viral infection, or maybe a toxic exposure such as chronic heavy metal exposure, that your body is having a hard time trying to eliminate. Once the specific causes have been identified, treatment can be aimed to address those causes.
“If we doctors threw all our medicines into the sea, it would be that much better for our patients and that much worse for the fishes.”
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, MD
This page explains further the differences between Conventional Medicine and Functional Medicine.