Getting to the Root of Health with Functional Medicine

Woman standing in a Forrest of trees

“When a plant’s leaves are turning brown, you don’t paint the leaves green. You look at the cause of the problem. If only we treated our bodies the same way”

-Dr. Frank Lipman

The Burden of Chronic Disease

The prevalence of the chronic disease burden on our nation is of no secret and continues to climb. According to the CDC, 6 in 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have two or more. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and the leading driver of healthcare costs in America, contributing to 90% of the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual expenditures (1,2). Without imperative shifts in the way we address chronic disease, we can expect these numbers to continue to rise (3). 

Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that are thought to be indefinite, lasting one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. They include, but are not limited to, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, to name just a few (1). Although the prevalence and impact of chronic diseases across our nation is common knowledge, the reality that these conditions are preventable, and oftentimes reversible, is not as well-known or as widely accepted. In fact, our own conventional medical system has yet to substantiate this truth and participate in, and advocate for, measures that would reduce the growing number of individuals suffering from these conditions. If we continue to fixate on diagnosing a set of symptoms and prescribing medications alone, we will not see a shift in this trend. As the all-too-familiar saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. 

Reversing Chronic Disease With Functional Medicine

Fortunately, the approach we are in need of to reverse this trend already exists. Functional medicine offers a dynamic and comprehensive approach to assessing, preventing, and treating complex chronic diseases (4). While conventional medicine remains at the surface of a condition, bailing water out of a sinking boat, the functional medicine approach aims to identify the source of the leak and restore the boat back to its normal function. 

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, 

“Functional medicine helps clinicians identify and mitigate dysfunctions at the human body’s physiological and biochemical level as a primary method of improving patient health. Functional medicine acknowledges that chronic disease almost always begins with a lengthy period of declining function in one or more of the body’s systems. Returning patients to health requires reversing (or substantially improving) the specific dysfunctions that have contributed to the diseases. Those dysfunctions are, for each of us, the result of lifelong interactions among our environment, our lifestyle, and our genetic predispositions (4).”

The Role of Functional Medicine

In other words, functional medicine aims to understand the root-cause and complexity of a particular disease to return the patient to a state of optimal health and wellbeing. The most discernible and impactful differences between functional and conventional medicine paradigms are 1) the understanding that the body is an interconnected system rather than a collection of separate parts, 2) the deliberate search for the root-cause of a set of symptoms beyond the diagnosis of a disease, and 3) the focus on the necessary diet and lifestyle changes to restore the body to a state of balance over the prescription of medications to suppress the symptoms (5). 

The Importance of Whole-Body Wellness

While conventional medicine treats individual body systems (i.e. cardiovascular disease by a cardiologist, diabetes by an endocrinologist, cancer by an inflammatory bowel disease by a gastroenterologist, etc.), functional medicine recognizes the symbiotic relationship between these systems and the importance of addressing the individual as a whole (5). Therefore, every physiological system is considered in both the diagnosis and treatment of a presented set of symptoms. Furthermore, functional medicine holds additional appreciation for an individual’s spiritual, mental, and emotional needs and the impact each has on his/her overall health. 

Achieving Wellness through Diet and Lifestyle

Lastly, we cannot adequately address the healthcare system’s shortcomings without highlighting the prevalence of prescription medication use across our nation. At any given time, almost 20% of young children, 30% of all teens take prescription drugs. Over half of adults take prescription drugs. And 40% of the elderly take more than five (5,6). Conventional medicine supports a singular focus of determining if a presented set of symptoms fits the bill of a particular diagnosis and prescription drug treatment. For this reason, conventional medicine can be bleakly viewed as disease management rather than disease prevention or health promotion. In stark contrast, functional medicine practitioners share a common goal to prescribe personalized diet and lifestyle modifications whenever possible to minimize or eliminate the need for medications, thereby preventing poly-pharmacy, side-effects and drug to drug interactions. 

The Value of a Workplace Wellness Program

Due to the pivotal role modifiable lifestyle factors play in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, a robust wellness program in the workplace is a valuable opportunity to encourage optimal decision-making in these areas. Since many of our day-to-day decisions are made at our workplace and there is strong potential for positive community influence among coworkers, it is important that this be a health-promoting environment. In the same way that a healthcare system with interest in the prevention of chronic diseases must place emphasis on the risk factors that drive them, a wellness program ought to do the same.  

The first step to ensuring your workforce is well-informed to make better lifestyle-related decisions is equipping your wellness program. At Valley Schools our WellStyles team are experts in the areas of nutrition, movement, sleep, stress, and reduction of toxins

If you are interested in learning more about how the WellStyles program remains rooted in functional medicine principles and how our team encourages positive behavior change to improve overall health and well-being, please visit our website.

 

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control (2020). About chronic diseases. (2019, October 23). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control (2020). Health and economic costs of chronic disease. (2019, October 23). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm
  3. Raghupathi, W., & Raghupathi, V. (2018). An empirical study of chronic diseases in the United States: a visual analytics approach to public health. International journal of environmental research and public health15(3), 431
  4. Jones, D. S. (2010). Textbook of functional medicine. Institute for Functional Medicine.
  5. Kresser, C. (2017). Unconventional Medicine: Join the Revolution to Reinvent Healthcare, Reverse Chronic Disease, and Create a Practice You Love. Lioncrest Publishing.
  6. Kantor, E. D., Rehm, C. D., Haas, J. S., Chan, A. T., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2015). Trends in prescription drug use among adults in the United States from 1999-2012. Jama314(17), 1818-1830.
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