Alternative or Functional Medicine

Much of the conventional medicine model is based on nomenclature, or naming a disease once it is established, and then trying to alter the end or ease the symptoms. For life-threatening emergency room measures, conventional medicine has done wonders, and our country is one of the best for this. However, functional medicine is more concerned with abnormal processes in the body before they become diseases.

One abnormal process in the body can produce a variety of symptoms. What one person may experience from adrenal dysfunction, for example, may be quite different from what another person experiences, even though they have the same problem. Similarly, different diseases may be caused from the same abnormal process in different people. For instance, a slow gall bladder may cause headaches or stomachaches, gas, dizziness, bloating or right shoulder pain. These are all different symptoms from one cause, and a particular patient may only have one of these symptoms or may have all of them.

The conventional approach would be to treat the symptoms of the slow gall bladder until the underlying problem is identified. Your physician may prescribe medication for headaches or dizziness. However, many of these cannot fix the gall bladder and may cause other side effects.

Another common problem is low stomach acid. A lack of stomach acid will cause you to not digest your food properly, causing stomachaches, gas, acid reflux, or GERD. In the process, undigested food may be absorbed and increase your sensitivity to allergens, which can spur your immune system to become hyper vigilant and start an auto immune process such as arthritis. If you are treated with conventional medicine, you may be prescribed several medications to cover up your symptoms. However, anti- inflammatories actually break down sulfur bands in cartilage and may actually speed up arthritic joint destruction. Antacids may prevent the undigested rotten food in your stomach from bothering you, but it is the exact opposite of what your body may need; in turn, this may cause more symptoms in addition to the ones you have.

The functional medicine approach might include supplementing with zinc or other ingredients to help your body make stomach acid. Betaine hydrochloride may be recommended to acidify the stomach, or bitter herbs may be recommended to stimulate the stomach to secrete its own digestive juices. This approach will not only ease the symptoms, but improve the health and digestion of the digestive tract as well.

A more detailed example of functional medicine in action would be in the case of insulin resistance, also known as metabolic syndrome. When you ingest carbohydrates, (especially sugars, breads and pastas) your body secretes insulin to “open the doors” in your cells which allow the sugars to get into the cells. If you frequently eat carbohydrates, your body is frequently exposed to elevated insulin levels. Eventually, your body does not respond to the insulin as it once did, so your body must elevate your insulin levels to get the sugar into the cells. This process continues, and becomes a vicious cycle. Incidentally, your abdominal fat cells do not need insulin, so they continue to absorb sugar, causing increased weight around your abdomen. The end result of this process may be diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or cancer.

The conventional approach would be to treat the resulting disease, through operations, insulin injections or other medicine.

The difference is that functional medicine tries to fix the process with insulin resistance before it becomes a disease. There are many new lab tests being developed that show abnormal processes when they are able to be corrected. These tests include blood, urine, stool, saliva, hair, skin and exercise tests. Sometimes, a challenge substance may be ingested to see how your body responds to stress.

There are many natural therapies, including diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, herbs, and natural supplements that can correct these functional processes, before they become a disease.