What is Functional Medicine?

Photo by Brooklyn Morgan on Unsplash

Let’s say you’ve been dealing with migraines, chronic knee pain, and constipation. In a traditional medical model, all those symptoms will be treated separately. You may see a neurologist for your migraines, an orthopedist for your knee pain, and a gastroenterologist for your constipation. When in reality, all of your symptoms could be driven by the same thing; they could all be connected. You could have food sensitivities you’re unaware of, or have too many bad bugs living inside your gut, or your blood sugar could be more volatile than Bitcoin.

Functional medicine practitioners understand the body’s interconnectedness. Your gut affects your thyroid, your brain affects your immune system, and your stress levels affect everything. I mean think about that, how many times has a stressful event (divorce, loss of a loved one, laid off from work) caused you to become sick? That’s interconnectedness.

Don’t get me wrong, any one of those symptoms can be severe enough that you may need a specialist. If your knee pain is from a torn ACL and medial meniscus, it’s probably best to get evaluated by an ortho. Any physician worth their salt should be able to identify “red flags” and send you to the proper place, regardless of if they’re a chiropractor, medical doctor, or a nurse practitioner. At the same time, they should also be able to identify when you don’t need a hammer to gently push in a nail.

What’s the Root Cause?

Imagine you have foot pain, so you take some Tylenol. Seems to make sense. Then you realize that the reason you’re in pain is because there are 5 nails in the bottom of your foot. There is not enough Tylenol on the planet that can remove those nails from your foot. Then would it make sense to keep taking it? No! That would make about as much sense as people moving to Phoenix for the cold.

First, you’d probably want to remove the nails from your foot. Then, and more importantly, you’d want to figure out why you stepped on nails in the first place! Did someone spill a jar of them? Did you leave a few laying out from your DIY project? A root cause approach is reverse engineering the problem.

Let’s figure out why you have constipation, knee pain, and migraines in the first place. What events took place in your life that led up to these taking place? What kind of diet were you eating at the time? How was your sleep? Were you pursuing something meaningful that you enjoyed? All these give the functional medicine practitioner insights into what was going on with your body, that way we can reverse engineer the problem, and determine where we can support you.

Common Pitfalls

“My insurance doesn’t cover it, it’s too expensive, they tried to give me too many supplements, it takes too long”. All very valid points. If you’re used to paying $30 for your annual visit’s copay, then you have a $400 visit with a functional medicine practitioner, you feel that.

To that latter point, why are you willing to spend more money going to an upscale steakhouse, compared to an Outback Steakhouse? You value the quality of the upscale steakhouse, the ambiance, where the meat is sourced, how it’s prepared, etc. In paying “more” for functional medicine, you’re paying for more time with the doctor, for a more thorough evaluation, for a higher quality of patient-centered care. In essence, you pay for what you get. (For more on the “too expensive and too many supplements” front, check out this article).

Touching on the time investment point, time is funny isn’t it? In the example from the beginning, this person has been dealing with CHRONIC knee pain. Chronic means long-standing. Yet many of us have this expectation that, even though the knee has been getting damaged for years, we want it gone yesterday. Unfortunately, the body wasn’t designed to heal chronic things overnight (although I did have the pleasure of working with a woman who’s chronic bloating went away in ONE DAY when starting the Low FODMAP diet).

Healing takes time, and because it takes time, hopefully you grow to love the journey, and the lessons you will have learned along your journey; those are priceless. Imagine I gave you a pill that would give you 6-pack abs overnight. You wouldn’t have to do a darn thing for them. Now imagine for 9 months you stay consistent with your exercise and dietary habits, and you get abs. Which experience are you going to value more? In my opinion, the goal of life isn’t to make it easy, but fulfilling. As Dr. Jordan Pederson puts it in his book 12 Rules For Life, “Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”

Where to Find One

I’ll be the first to admit, the education in functional medicine is kind of the wild west right now, and that has its pros and cons. But really, it’s not the letters after their name that matter. It doesn’t matter if someone went to Harvard, has a PhD, medical degree, or chiropractic degree, what matters is the individual person you choose to work with, your healthcare partner. Follow them on social media, pay attention to them, listen to things they’re saying, where are they getting their information from?

Be wary of people who say they can help you with everything; a jack of all trades is a master of none. Look for people who seem open-minded, who say “I don’t know” from time-to-time, and someone who doesn’t speak in absolutes. We’re continuously finding new ways in which the body is interconnected. Some of the reservations I’ve heard from patients include people talking about using tons of expensive lab testing up front, or people trying to get you on “their protocol” before they’ve actually connected with you. Ultimately, only you can pick the right provider for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about functional medicine, or you find yourself saying “I love this approach, I’m ready to work with a practitioner,” then head on over to The HIVE Natural Health Center and check out our Functional Medicine page.

As always, Trust in Your Gut.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Do not apply any of the information in this article without first speaking with your doctor.

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Empowering those with IBS & SIBO to trust in their gut and return to living a purpose-filled life. Functional Medicine Practitioner. Instagram: @dr.nickbelden.

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Dr. Nick Belden, DC

Dr. Nick Belden, DC

Empowering those with IBS & SIBO to trust in their gut and return to living a purpose-filled life. Functional Medicine Practitioner. Instagram: @dr.nickbelden.

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