Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Is Functional Medicine the Key to Healing You for Good?

Do you ever feel like doctors treat you like a bundle of symptoms, and not like a whole person? That’s a complaint a lot of people have, especially if they’re dealing with a complex or little-understood condition; this approach by some doctors can be especially frustrating if you feel like you’re never really getting any better. Sure, you might get temporary relief from symptoms that are bothering you, but it can start to feel like a game of whack-a-mole if your symptoms return, or if new ones crop up. 

So is there a different approach out there? Yes – well, actually there are a few. But some require taking a leap of faith and abandoning many of the principles of Western medicine altogether, and that might not feel right for everyone. But there is an approach that some doctors are now taking, which feels like a less “alternative-y” alternative to traditional medicine, known as functional medicine. So what does this mean, and could it be worth looking into?

What Is Functional Medicine? skeletons with organs

Simply put, functional medicine is all about treating your body as a whole, and not just trying to alleviate one or more symptoms that you might be experiencing. Now, that sounds like what all medicine should be trying to accomplish, right? But in many cases, patients feel like doctors have moved away from that way of looking at things. 

For example, if you go to your doctor with chronic heartburn, you’re most likely going to come away with a prescription for an antacid. And that might be very helpful for giving you some relief at that moment (and for getting some sleep that night!), but it’s not actually getting to the root of the problem. It’s treating a symptom, most likely temporarily, and not figuring out why you have heartburn – what might be going on in other parts of your body, how your lifestyle is contributing to it, etc – so you can have a chance to get well in a more comprehensive way. 

And while heartburn is a pretty simple example, using these principles could possibly make a big difference in the lives of people suffering from more complex conditions, like:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Esophageal reflux disorder syndrome
  • Erectile dysfunction syndrome
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain

The above conditions are actually some of the most common conditions for which people seek medical attention, and can be some of the toughest to treat. So a functional approach could be worth a shot, especially since these conditions are usually all about how the body’s systems work together. 

According to Amanda Malachesky, a functional nutrition coach based in Petrolia, California, “Functional medicine is helpful for anyone, but it is most useful for people who have been to many doctors, tried a lot of possible solutions, and are no closer to solving their health challenges.” That might sound familiar if you’ve struggled with something like chronic fatigue syndrome!

The Principles of Functional Medicine

person with an outline of a heart in front of the person
Functional medicine is patient-centered rather than disease-centered.

So let’s take a closer look at what it actually means to be treated by a functional medicine practitioner. During your first visit, they’ll take a detailed medical and family history, and ask you about your symptoms as well as your overall health before they consider treatment. And those treatments will generally be personalized plans that might seem a little “different” at first, since functional medicine practitioners usually hold off on prescriptions and surgeries until they have tried more holistic approaches. So that might mean, for example, looking at the possibility of a gut imbalance for mental health issues, and suggesting diet and movement changes in your lifestyle.

Again according to Malachesky, “Functional medicine works towards root-cause resolution, works to use tools and frameworks to help us identify these root causes … and honors each client or patient as a truly unique individual, and tailors recommendations and treatments to the individual…And while people often want to go straight to treating the root causes, functional practitioners begin always with the foundations of health: diet, sleep, exercise, stress reduction, and blood sugar management…”

To break it down even further, the Institute of Functional Medicine (IMF) lays out the following 7 defining characteristics of functional medicine:

  1. Patient-centered versus disease-centered
  2. Systems biology approach: web-like interconnections of physiological factors
  3. Dynamic balance of gene-environment interactions
  4. Personalized based on biochemical individuality
  5. Promotion of organ reserve and sustained health span
  6. Health as a positive vitality—not merely the absence of disease.
  7. Function versus pathology focused

If all of that sounds a little intense, the most important things you might want to focus on when considering this type of treatment approach is that it is “patient-centered” as opposed to “disease-centered” and that it considers being actively “healthy” more than just being free of disease. Sounds good – but is it “real” medicine? 

Who Practices Functional Medicine?

We can just feel some of you out there getting turned off, thinking that this is one of those fads that’s practiced by people with questionable training. But that’s actually not the case at all. Doctors who practice functional medicine are just that: “real” doctors who have been to medical school, and are fully licensed (but of course, always check to make sure that’s true for your doctor, no matter what their approach). They have simply decided to take a functional approach to their practice.

How do they do that? They need to take additional training that’s not offered in medical schools. To become certified in functional medicine, a healthcare provider must have already received a healthcare degree from an accredited university and hold up-to-date licensure in their area of practice, then they must complete coursework, generally through the IFM, which is currently one of the few training centers for functional medicine. Their coursework will be in six areas: gastrointestinal, detox, immune, hormone, cardiometabolic, and energy. They take exams, and need to retake exams every six years, as well as stay up-to-date with their licensure. 

When it comes to choosing a functional medicine provider, you just need to do your homework as you would with any provider – the only difference is you’ll also have to check if their certification in functional medicine comes from a reputable organization, like the IFM. 

And, since medical care is so expensive, and this type of practice might sound a little extra expensive, you might be wondering if insurance will cover it. In most cases, yes, because you would be seeing a “real” doctor for treatment. But, it is true that functional medicine practitioners might order a lot more tests than other doctors might, and they might refer you to specialists like nutritionists, so you could end up paying more out-of-pocket if your insurance company doesn’t cover everything.

Could It Be Right for You?

golden question mark
Functional medicine might be a good fit for you if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into how your body systems work together.

Functional medicine has been a thing since the early 1990s, and it is practiced by licensed professionals, so it is not, as we pointed out above, a new fad or a woo-woo practice meant to part you from your money. It really does seem to be meant to help you get to the root of what’s ailing you, and to treat you as a whole person, which can only be a good thing, especially if you’re suffering from a complex, chronic issue that doctors are struggling to find the correct treatments for. It also might be a good fit for you if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into how your body systems work together, in conjunction with your genetics, and having questions answered as opposed to just symptoms treated.

On the other hand, though, if you’re looking for a quicker fix for relief of your symptoms, or feel more comfortable starting a course of treatment with prescription medications (or other more traditional treatments), this type of practice might not be for you. Hey, in some cases, heading to the doctor, having them take a look, and sending you on your way with the right medication is the best thing for you at that time! 

So, however you choose to get treatment for whatever’s ailing you, make sure you feel comfortable with the care you’re being offered! And let us know: have you considered trying functional medicine, or have you tried it? What was your experience?

A Coffee A Day Keeps Alzheimer’s at Bay

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world and has been for a while. It gives you a boost when you first wake up, the smell is satisfying, and it tastes delicious. In the past, negative aspects of coffee have circulated. However, recent research shows it can actually improve your brain, and overall health as you age.

Different cups of coffee with cream in it or black.
Coffe boosts brain health and function. Studies show that it can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Delay The Onset Of Alzheimer’s

Just by consuming coffee, people with mild dementia and cognitive impairment can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. A study conducted of 124 older adults with mild cognitive impairment ages 65 to 88 revealed that caffeine blocks brain inflammation and fights off the receptors that cause cognitive decline. The participants with early dementia and cognitive impairment were tested once and then again 2-4 years later. These studies revealed that the test subjects with high blood caffeine were less likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s. 

Neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, who partook in the study, stated that “These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee, about three cups a day, will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s.”

Live Longer

Coffee can be an answer to living longer. One large-scale study that had over 400,000 mature adult participants gave some surprising results. Men who drank 2 cups of coffee a day lived 10% longer than those who did not. Women who drank the same lived 13% longer than women who did not imbibe caffeine. 10-13% might not seem like a large number, but wouldn’t you like a 10% increase in longevity? 

Boosts Brain Function & Memory

A study conducted at the University of California showed that people who consumed 200 mg of caffeine before taking a memory test received greater scores than those who did not. The participants looked at images and then were asked to come back a day later and correctly identify them. The coffee drinkers scored higher, proving that caffeine enhances long term memory. On the other hand, the study proved that people who consumed 300 mg of caffeine (more than 3 cups of coffee at once) did not do much better on the test, and complained of feeling jittery with headaches.

Caffeine will boost your brain function and memory, but it is important to note that only a certain amount will help.

All black picture of a brain with strong arms on both sides of it.
Drinking 2 cups of coffee will boost your memory and brain function throughout the day.

More than 200 mg can have negative side effects. So, stick with two cups.

Protective Effects Against Stomach Cancer

About 27,000 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed this year, but coffee might help reduce your risk. A 2016 study compared regular coffee drinkers to non-coffee drinkers, and the results were minor but hopeful. Regular coffee drinkers had a 7% reduced risk of stomach cancer, and those who drank more coffee saw higher reductions. People who drank three to four cups per day were 12% less likely to develop stomach cancer. 

Prevents Diabetes 

Drinking coffee, whether caffeinated or not has benefits towards your glucose levels. Studies have shown you can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes just by drinking decaffeinated coffee. The author of the study stated that  “compared with no coffee consumption… six cups a day of coffee was associated with a 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”

This can greatly help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s as well because about 70% of people with type 2 diabetes go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

Drinking at least 2 cups of coffee a day has been found to greatly reduce the risk of most diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and cancer. If you are an avid coffee drinker, then great, keep doing what you’re doing. If you are not, then consider drinking at least a cup a day, or opt for a non-caffeinated coffee. You can increase your overall health by adding something as simple as a cup of joe to your daily routine. 

Increase Your Lifespan By Spending Time With Those You Love

It has always been said that being around kids keeps you young, and this theory applies to seniors as well. Seniors who babysit, or are around their grandchildren often live up to 5 years longer than seniors who do not. Research analyzed over a 20 year period concluded that out of 500 seniors 70 years old and older, those who provided some form of care to their grandkids had a lower death ratio than those who did not. The study was published in Evolution and Human Behavior, and showed that the senior babysitters had a 37% lower mortality risk. There are multiple

Being around your grandkids help keep you more active.
Being around your grandkids help keep you more active.

health benefits to watching your grandkids apart from staying alive longer.

Improves Brain Function

Being around kids keeps your brain function high, because you are either helping them with their homework, or learning new things from them. Your brain is constantly working when you are with children, which helps your cognitive function better and for longer. Studies also show that your memory improves as well.

Keeps You Active

When you are not learning new things from your grandkids, chances are you are running around with them and playing catch or doing an outdoor activity with them. You are more likely to get up and be more active when your grandkids are around than when they are not.

Lowers Risk of Depression

Can you think of anything better than the love you receive and feel from family, especially your grandkids? Being around your grandchildren will increase your happiness and mental health. Seniors are less likely to be depressed when they are around their grandkids consistently.

Geriatric medicine specialist Dr. Ronan Factora thinks that the reasoning for a longer life is due to the reduction of stress when with your grandkids. Dr. Ronan Factora said, “there is a link between providing this care and reducing stress and we know the relationship between stress and higher risk of dying. If providing care to grandchildren and

The benefits of being around your grandchildren include helping you feel younger, decrease stress, increase your lifespan, and make you happier overall.
The benefits of being around your grandchildren include helping you feel younger, decrease stress, increase your lifespan, and make you happier overall.

others in need is one way that can actually reduce stress, then these activities should be of benefit to folks who are grandparents and provide this care to their grandkids.”

As of course with everything, moderation is key. Do not overexert yourself with babysitting every single day. That will only create stress and tire you out, because let’s be honest, kids are a handful! Take some time 2-3 times a week to plan some hangout time with your grandkids, you will all benefit from it. Your relationship with your grandkids is important to both you and your grandkids. A strong bond with them reduces depression, and makes your time together more enjoyable and fun. Your adult grandkids also receive some mental health benefits from a strong relationship with you. Call your children and begin setting up some playdates with your grandkids, it will increase your life’s expectancy and value.