It’s been just over two years that I have been working with a functional medicine practitioner to alleviate and manage symptoms of perimenopause and depression, and it’s changed my life. Functional medicine is still a new concept for many, so I wanted to shed some light on this topic and what it means to work with an integrative or functional medicine doctor. 

Disclaimer: this is not about functional medicine being better than conventional medicine. This is about my journey and how I chose to dig deeper into my health with the guidance and support of a functional medicine practitioner. I chose not to take an anti-depressant because it didn’t feel right for me. I wanted to learn more about my mind and body and how I can support myself with diet, exercise and lifestyle choices. 

Some of the benefits of transitioning to Functional Medicine:

Functional medicine practitioners look at a narrower reference range for lab tests and results.

When you get lab work done, your results fall into a reference range that is considered “normal”. Anything outside of this range is typically labeled as “high” or “low” and considered abnormal. Have you ever asked yourself who determines this range to be “normal” and why? This reference range is determined by a statistical bell curve average of the population of that particular lab meaning it is averaging results from people who tend to have health problems (because healthy people don’t need lab work). The normal range tends to be pretty large, and even if your result is just one number inside the reference range, you will still be considered “normal” and typically your health complaint will be dismissed. Functional medicine practitioners don’t interpret lab tests the way conventional practitioners do. 

For example, heart disease doesn’t start the moment your cholesterol goes one point above that normal range. It has likely started long before as your “normal” numbers have slowly gone up. Due to the fact that functional medicine practitioners look at a narrower reference range, they can see when you are headed towards a diseased state and start treatment earlier before your issues would officially qualify you for a conventional medicine diagnosis. This has the advantage that you or your health issue doesn’t fall through the cracks of the standard model of care and remain untreated. It also avoids you suffering for so long until you are sick enough to finally get a diagnosis of something that is now advanced and much more difficult (and expensive) to manage. 

Functional Medicine practitioners are detectives in white coats.

Functional medicine practitioners look at the big picture and aim at treating the root cause of any disease and not only the symptoms. That means running more extensive labs than a conventional practitioner would typically order. Lab tests can reveal the big picture and uncover possible underlying deficiencies, imbalances, infections and, dysfunctions and provide a much more extensive and complete insight into your health issue. Too often prescription drugs are handed out to mask or cover up any symptoms or discomforts while doing nothing to resolve the root cause of the discomfort. Functional medicine is primarily concerned with addressing the underlying dysfunctions of the body that cause the symptoms. 

For example, if someone has high blood sugar, he or she is typically given medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, which brings blood sugar down. Instead of just altering blood sugar with medication (a condition that would recur if the medication were stopped), functional medicine asks why a patient has high blood sugar in the first place. Maybe they have cellular insulin resistance, brain-adrenal axis dysfunctions causing high cortisol and a chronic gut infection, a poor diet, pancreatic or liver dysfunction, or some other problem. All these things can contribute to high blood sugar, and many of them can be resolved without medication, or in conjunction with medication that can be tapered off.

If that patient with high blood sugar had cellular insulin resistance caused by brain-adrenal axis dysfunction, the problem would not be in the pancreas, and medication would not solve it. While the medication will make their blood sugar numbers look nicer on a lab, it doesn’t address the reasons they’re high in the first place. So (in conjunction with your primary care physician when necessary), functional medicine can be the missing link to getting off medications and getting healthy by treating the root cause to resolve the symptoms for good”. – Dr. Will Cole

Functional medicine practitioners give your health the time it deserves and personalize rather than generalize your health care. 

My doctor, Dr. Jithoo (based at The Wellness Station in Plumstead http://www.thewellnessstation.co.za) really surprised me the other day. I’ve been working with her for the past 6 months to solve my consistent low vitamin B12 and iron levels. During my last visit she presented an excel spreadsheet with my lab work dating back to 2013!! She had taken it upon herself to look through all my Pathcare results and document all the different tests I had taken and the results. Since I’ve been on a mission to address my low mood (hello low B12), bloating and fatigue I’ve had extensive tests so there was a lot of data to work through. I’m sharing this with you because a conventional doctor doesn’t have the time to do this. It takes forever to get an appointment and then that appointment is around 20 minutes. My sessions with Dr. Jithoo are supposed to be one hour but we always run over and typically spend 75 minutes together. 

We are all so uniquely different and a cookiecutter approach to medicine just doesn’t work anymore. When you go to a functional medicine practitioner, you receive a tailored and comprehensive health program focusing on preventative care rather than reactive care. It is also important to note that functional medicine is not anti-medication, but it does not see medication as the only answer to health issues. What works for one person may not work for the next. Programs are tailored to the individual instead of giving everyone the same treatment. 

The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food”. Functional medicine agrees.