What is Functional Nutrition and Why Should You Care?

Nutrition – the word itself conjures images of strict diets and weight scales, doesn’t it? And yet nutrition is about a lot more than just that.

Over the years nutrition has started taking a more prominent spot in the worlds of health and medicine. Not just in the treatment of digestive diseases, but for a wide variety of ailments and health situations.

Functional Nutrition post

At the forefront of change is a new discipline called ‘Functional medicine’ – I spoke about it in an earlier post. In a nutshell, functional medicine relies heavily on nutrition and lifestyle interventions before turning to pharmaceuticals.

Why are these changes happening now? Because people from both sides of the field (i.e. patients and healthcare providers) are starting to realize that the current system doesn’t work.

To put it in the words of the great biochemist and author Dr. T. Colin Campbell, most countries today have a “disease-care system” rather than a healthcare one.

Current Western medical models are too focused on the individual parts of the human body (reductionism). Although this approach can tell us a lot about how specific organs work on their own, it doesn’t reveal much about how they all function together in the complex human body. For example, knowing how the neurons in the brain work doesn’t really help us understand why we react emotionally to our favorite song.

Reductionism
From T. Colin Campbell’s book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition”

We need to see the full picture to truly understand what is going on. And we can do this through functional medicine and functional nutrition.

How? Functional nutrition goes much deeper than food labels and diet plans – its main focus is finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them. A nutritionist trained in functional medicine will use advanced laboratory testing and other assessment techniques to create powerful and highly personalized therapeutic interventions.

The first step in the functional approach is to take a detailed look at the patient’s history – not just the physical symptoms but also other predisposing factors, such as past stressful life events. Stress is a huge factor in many (if not all!) diseases.

The next step would be lab testing to confirm (or exclude) possible underlying causes of the symptoms. As the saying goes – “test, don’t guess”.

Based on all of the information collected, a functional nutritionist will then start investigating what is the root cause. Where are all of your symptoms and ailments intersecting? Is there a common factor, pathway or axis? Are there any imbalances in body functions and systems?

You may be surprised how intricately all systems of our body are connected. For example, food intolerances (e.g. lactose and gluten) can cause headaches and migraines with mild or minimal symptoms in the digestive tract (which may be missed easily). A traditional doctor may just prescribe you a medicine for the migraines, without really looking into the root cause.

In other cases, a person may be experiencing a range of symptoms, however standard medical tests would come back “in the clear” and the person would be told that there is nothing wrong with them. This is usually because most lab reference ranges are for end-stage disease and not for optimal health – just because something isn’t marked red on the test result doesn’t mean that all is ok!

Another example is the link between inflammation and many “incurable” chronic diseases:

what-is-chronic-inflammation-jan-overbay

As you can see, a functional nutritionist is committed to finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them, no matter how long it takes. They are also committed to working together with you, listening to your story and how your body feels. And that is why functional nutrition and functional medicine is the answer to some of the problems in health and healthcare today.


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