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Allopathic vs. Functional Medicine

Those of you that have been reading my tips for a while may have gotten the idea that I am not a huge fan of western conventional medicine. I became disillusioned when allopathic medicine was never able to explain why I had stomach aches every day of my life for about 35 years, despite going to doctor after doctor searching for an answer, and having every diagnostic procedure in the book come back clean. I didn't think it was normal to get stomach aches every day, occasionally so bad that I had to lie down. Food-sensitivity testing just wasn't on the radar of the physicians I saw, despite the fact that I told them that most of the time my stomach aches came on during or shortly after a meal.

Conventional medicine is absolutely fantastic at acute care and life-saving emergency care. If one has a heart attack, breaks bones, suffers from wounds or infections, or urgently needs a cancerous tumor removed for example, allopathic medicine is best, because it is excellent at diagnosis of the big stuff. Imaging and diagnostic technology is amazing these days, and once the diagnosis is made, a life can be saved by quick, appropriate care.

Where conventional medicine falls down in my opinion, is dealing with sub-acute and chronic health problems. People regularly see their doctor for help with fatigue, aches and pains, depression etc., and usually they leave with a prescription that treats the symptoms complained about, (pain killers, anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants etc.), which is a band-aid solution, but rarely is the actual cause of the problem  addressed (what is causing the inflammation?). People are given a diagnosis of heart disease or arthritis which then dictates a particular treatment protocol, but looking for the underlying causes of why the person developed heart disease or arthritis in the first place does not always happen. I don't think that allopathic medicine asks the question "why" enough. You go to the doctor for heartburn, you are given an antacid.  But why did you develop heartburn?  Is an antacid going to cure the cause of the problem?  No.  You have toe fungus, you are usually given a topical fungus treatment.  But clearly toe fungus is a manifestation of an internal fungal infection that needs to be treated also.  The band-aid does not fix the problem, but merely controls the outer manifestations.  And pretty much all drugs have side effects that disrupt other physiological pathways in the body not related to the area being treated, leading to the body further away from homeostasis and to further potential problems.  Treating symptoms rather than causes is not always the fault of the doctors - many patients want quick symptom relief and are looking for a drug to solve their problems rather than exploring further for underlying causes.

There are some physicians however, that are becoming disillusioned with the "treat the symptom/disease rather than the cause" allopathic approach, and they are now practicing Functional Medicine, which is a whole new paradigm for medicine. Functional Medicine is not considered "alternative" or "complementary", but is a different approach based on sound science to addressing sub-acute and chronic health conditions.  Functional medicine tests for and treats the imbalances in the autonomic control systems of the individual, so the treatment is personalized for the individual rather than based on a treatment protocol for a particular symptom or disease.  Functional Medicine believes that the root cause of all disease can be traced to problems in the digestive, hormone,  immune and/or detoxification systems, which causes chronic stress to our bodies. Once there is an imbalance or problem in one of the physiological pathways, compensations occur in other physiological pathways in order to try and resolve the problem.  These compensations cause further adjustments in other pathways creating a cascading effect, and eventually over many years if balance is not restored, small aggravating symptoms turn into full blown diseases.  Catching the imbalances in homeostasis early enough would therefore likely prevent disease.  For example, if an individual is highly stressed, adrenal fatigue and problems with cortisol may result.  Cortisol affects the function of insulin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and thyroid among others, so if there is a problem with cortisol, widespread seemingly unrelated symptoms due to dysfunctions in all those other hormone pathways may result. A simple example of how this can lead to disease is: high cortisol increases blood sugar, which increases insulin levels, which clogs arteries. So a root cause of atherosclerosis may be due to a problem with cortisol.  Another example would be someone that continues to eat a food that he/she is allergic to would cause a destruction of the microvilli in the gut, leading to an inability to absorb nutrition, which would weaken the individual.  Over time due to gut irritation, gaps would open up in the walls of the intestine allowing food particles and pretty much anything else full access to the blood supply and the entire body.  This could cause a full-blown immune response and inflammation in the body, and also make the already weakened person very susceptible to illness.   

Depending on the symptom presentation of the individual, circadian rhythm hormone tests, mucosal barrier or other GI tests, food-sensitivity tests, immune tests, metabolic tests, heavy metal, chemical toxicity, fungus or parasite tests are ordered, and treatment is based on the results of those tests with the aim of finding homeostasis in the basic physiological pathways that underlie the body's autonomic control systems.  I am certain that over time once this style of medicine becomes known, more and more doctors will make the switch.  Functional Medicine is great at coaxing the body back to homeostasis, but it requires active participation of the patient in improving lifestyle factors so that homeostasis can be maintained.

Related Tips
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Adrenal and Metabolic Interpretive Guide, Biohealth Diagnositcs Inc. 2006
Online at The Institute for Functional Medicine e What is Functional Medicine?
Online at The Institute for Functional Medicine How does Functional Medicine approach today's health care problems?
Textbook of Functional Medicine
Chronic Stress - The Number 1 Source of Illness
Chronic Stress Response Chart
Steroidal Hormone Pathway Chart

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd