Nutrition

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.

Nutrition

What is Alternative Medicine and Where does Nutrition Fit?

Alternative medicine has been on the rise for several decades now and it seems that it will keep growing in the foreseeable future. The most recent addition to the alternative medicine family is Functional medicine. Why is it different? Because it offers something traditional medicine doesn’t – that is working on the body as a whole to eliminate the root cause, rather an as isolated systems of organs and suppressing symptoms.

So what’s the big fuss? Let’s take a look at the current healthcare landscape.

Functional Medicine 2

Functional Medicine Final

 

Conventional Medicine

Western medicine or allopathic medicine is the dominant approach to health are not only in the West but in any developed country (thanks to globalization). These paradigm treat the symptoms of disease rather than the root cause. The National Cancer Institute’s describes allopathic and Western medicine as using “drugs, radiation or surgery to treat symptoms and disease. These can also be called conventional medicine or mainstream medicine.

Alternative Medicine

There are many paradigms which fall under “alternative medicine”. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), this approach goes beyond just treating symptoms and aims to achieve optimal health. Osteopathic healthcare consists of conventional drugs, surgery and special osteopathic manipulative techniques. These techniques are hands-on – an osteopathic doctor would use their hands to stretch or apply gentle pressure on muscles and joints.

Holistic medicine encompasses body, mind and soul into its practice. It treats the person as one whole, rather than the sum of its parts/organs/systems, and thus the name holistic. Like osteopathic medicine, holistic medicine looks for the root cause of problems, rather than just treating symptoms. It includes physical, social, psychological and spiritual elements of health and disease.

Naturopathic medicine has self-healing at the core of its paradigm. It uses therapeutic methods (including nutritional, manipulative, homeopathic and botanical therapies) and substances to assist the body in healing itself. It also focuses on identifying and eliminating the root causes of disease and ill health.

And finally, integrative medicine is the marriage of mainstream and alternative medicine. I believe integrative medicine incorporates all of the above. Some of the top interventions used in integrative medicine are nutrition, yoga, supplementation, massage, meditation and acupuncture.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a systems-based method, linking physiology and function. It takes into account the patient’s lifestyle, genes and environment when looking for the root cause and developing a treatment plan. It is often confused with integrative medicine, because of their many similarities, including a patient-centered approach.

I really like the definition below from  this article on Deepak Chopra’s website:

“The Textbook of Functional Medicine defines FM as the ‘prevention, early assessment, and improved management of complex, chronic disease by intervening at multiple levels to correct core clinical imbalances and thereby restore each patient’s functionality and health to the greatest extent possible’.”

Functional Medicine’s 6 Core Principles:

  1. Recognizing the individuality and genetic uniqueness of each human being
  2. Supporting a holistic, patient-cantered — rather than disease-cantered — approach to treatment
  3. Searching for a dynamic balance between body, mind, and spirit
  4. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of all internal body functions
  5. Seeing health as a positive vitality — not just the absence of disease
  6. Striving to enhance the health span, not just the life span, of each patient

There’s a good analogy of functional medicine as a tree: the leaves are the symptoms, the trunk is the clinical imbalances, and the roots are the environmental and genetic dispositions.

Functional medicine was found on the premise that dysfunctions on multiple levels (psychological, physiological, etc.) precede disease. Part of its approach is to define disease in terms of how the individual’s genome interacts with the environment and lifestyle and how that is expressed in physiological function.

A typical course of action would be to correct physiological imbalances and change the environmental factors (including nutrition) which undermine optimal function.

Back to Alternative Medicine

All of the outlined medicine paradigms have one goal in common – to restore and maintain optimal health. Alternative and especially functional medicine aims to go beyond the absence of disease and towards 100% function of the body.

Illness-wellness continuum

Where does nutrition fit into this? Nutrition fits in each and every model. It is a core component of osteopathic, naturopathic, holistic and functional medicine. It can also help many hospital in-patients and out-patients in their recovery from invasive treatments or to counter-balance the effects of medications. Nutrients affect us not just on a system level but also on a cellular level. We need good nutrition in order function optimally and support our bodies to maintain homeostasis (balance).

I believe all of these approaches can work together under a funnel approach. At the top of the funnel we have the less invasive/aggressive approaches: osteopathic medicine, holistic medicine, naturopathic medicine and functional medicine. In this way most of the chronic diseases can be prevented and reversed, the burden on public health systems and hospitals can be lowered and patients can actively participate (and choose) their treatment plans.

At the bottom of the funnel would be the remaining approaches: western medicine, allopathic medicine and regenerative medicine. Let’s not forget that A&E doctors save lives every day! That is why we cannot completely eliminate traditional medicine – we still need it for emergency and severe cases. However, I would rather see them as a last resort.

The “funnel” approach as I would like to call it will limit the number of people requiring medications and surgeries, free up more time for the allopathic doctor so that he/she can focus more on their patient’s care and thus improve their service. And this is why non-mainstream medicine will continue to grow.

IntegratedMedicine