What is Functional Medicine?

A week doesn’t go by in my clinical practice where I will hear the statement “Why didn’t my doctor do that..find that..tell me that…test that.” They pull up their lab test results and show me what wasn’t tested. Then I have to explain to them why. I have come to realize that the general population needs to understand the focus and boundaries of allopathic medicine and what your traditional M.D. looks for so that you walk in, if you even walk in with the correct expectations.

Many a patient expects, presumes, that their M.D. is there to optimize their health. This is not so. The allopathic medical system is a disease based system. Unless there is a disease or condition whose symptoms can be cured or managed via prescription drugs, psychotherapy, physical therapy or surgery, your symptoms will be either ignored, blamed on presumed “depression” or told to wait and see and come back later “when you have a recognized disease or condition”. Most of us intellectually know this, but our emotional expectations are that we want our doctor to head off, prevent or optimize our health. This is where the frustration with our M.D.s often comes from.

We need our M.D.s to prescribe our hormones, our drugs, perform surgery and give us psychotherapy, but when it comes to optimizing our health or deciphering nefarious symptoms that do not fall into a disease category, we are at a loss. The purpose of this article is to help you sift through some key conditions and symptoms and understand how functional medicine differs in its focus as opposed to the disease based allopathic medicine.

If you go to your doctor complaining of fatigue, you will have a blood test that will test certain elements related to thyroid function. The focus in allopathic medicine is to look for thyroid “disease” such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or a hyperactive thyroid condition. However, just because your TSH is not elevated and your T3 (thyroid hormone) is within normal blood range does not mean your thyroid is functioning well. It might not be diseased but it can be functioning below optimal levels even with a normal serum T3. How is that?

Allopathic medicine will essentially test serum TSH and T3. Your M.D. might test T4 and reverse T3 but rarely does your M.D. especially in Kaiser and other hospital systems test for free T3. When you understand what free T3 is then it baffles the mind why this one marker isn’t tested instead of all the others.

Free T3 tests the level of free circulating thyroid hormone in the body. If this level is low then you can be hypothyroid and have low thyroid function months to years before you develop a thyroid disease!

T3 in essence is an effective marker because it tests for thyroid hormone that in effect might not be free, it might be bound to an antibody and therefore unavailable to the tissue of your body. Time and time again I hear M.D.s telling patients who have normal T3 levels “your thyroid is fine”, when in fact once a free T3 test is done we see low free circulating thyroid levels.

Low free T3 suggests that either the body isn’t , making enough T4, isn’t converting T4 to T3, or they have developed antibodies to their thyroid hormone. In that case a low free T3 justifies having a blood test for thyroglobulin (thyroid antibody test).

What should be done to see if you have functional levels of thyroid that are not low is to test for Free T3 and thyroglobulin to start, instead of TSH and T3. I always insist on a free T3 test for my patients; therefore insist on it too with your M.D.

To go one step further, only in function medicine will a practitioner determine if you are having receptor sites blocked preventing the usage of free T3. Just because you have enough free T3 doesn’t mean your body is taking it into cells. Therefore, the functional medicine doctor will never assume that a patient that is tired and tests within normal ranges for free T3 will be ok on the subject of their thyroid and move on. The functional medicine practitioner will determine if you are low in iodine, and also if iodine receptor sites are blocked by bromide and metals.

Optimizing your usage of thyroid hormone and increasing low normal level of free T3 is what functional medicine is about. It is outside the subject of disease and into the realm of what we all want, to optimize our hormones and feel better and not wait until our blood values get so bad that we qualify for a disease before we are given an inadequate remedy of being put on synthetic or glandular T3 alone. I say inadequate because giving someone a hormone ignores the issue of whether and how to reduce their antibodies to T3 and how to optimize their cell receptor uptake of it. I tell my patients it’s like giving someone food to put in their pantry but the door stays locked so they can’t get to their food. This is why so many millions of people still feel exhausted on thyroid medications or hit a wall in feeling better after being on thyroid medication.

Functional Medicine is about optimizing your biological processes to optimize health long before one develops a disease.

Who practices functional medicine? If you see a doctor in an HMO setting then its unlikely they are authorized to run the lab test and focus on anything other than finding a disease diagnosis. If your insurance allows you to choose a doctor in private practice then you have more options to find an Internal Medicine doctor specifically trained in Functional Medicine. Many alternative medical practitioners are also trained in functional medicine. Unfortunately the onus is upon you to seek out, interview and find the right practitioner.

This article will help give you the details on what you need so that you can find the practitioner who understands what I’m telling you to get tested for. If you then find a practitioner who can do this for you, they are in essence practicing functional medicine.

Another example is optimizing hormones. For men free testosterone needs to be tested. However the focus should go into testing the hormonal pathway that leads to the production and degradation of testosterone. Allopathic medicine only tests blood testosterone.

Functional medicine tests circulating tissue levels of testosterone as determined by saliva testing. This is not done in HMO’s or covered by insurance because it is outside the disease diagnostic hunt. This is why many a patient asks me “why didn’t my endocrinologist do this test? I explain the saliva test is focused on optimizing hormone production and not diagnosing disease.

Only your functional medical practitioner will go the distance and use this test to find out WHY your free testosterone is low instead of just put you on Testosterone (which will inhibit your body’s ability to continue to make more or even optimize your hormone production).

The comprehensive male saliva hormone panel is incredibly illuminating in determine if your hormone precursors and which ones are low, if you are improperly detoxifying your testosterone to increase estrogen production (which mask functional use of testosterone). Immune Matrix makes this test available as a do at home saliva kit.  you can call Immune Matrix at 888-519-5755.

Furthermore, the functional medical practitioner will go further and be a detective. In our clinic at Immune Matrix we investigate the nutritional deficiencies caused by medications. In one case we had a male on a prescription drug that caused zinc deficiency! We put him on zinc and within a few weeks his free testosterone levels went to normal. He was astounded and frustrated that his endocrinologist only gave him a testosterone cream which made him feel bad and he stopped taking it. He came to us at a loss for an answer.

In another case we found that our patient had low DHEA levels which caused a corresponding low cortisol biorhythm impacting his testosterone production. The depth of investigation from nutrition, detoxification of hormones, to optimizing other hormones impacting testosterone production all fall outside the disease diagnosis and treatment category. It is sad but in many ways allopathic medicine has become myopic in looking to give a pill and not find and restore balance to the body, create prescription medication dependency instead of optimizing health with better nutrition while optimizing biological function naturally. This is why it’s so important to understand what you get when you walk into an HMO and not expect functional medication fixes and investigations in your 5 min M.D. consult.

Similarly, women seeking hormone therapy for lack of libido or menopause symptoms are put on hormones. Whether or synthetic or natural, the proper monitoring of these hormone is not done and causing cancers are the outcome. I have written another article about this alarming finding and what every woman on HRT needs to do to protect herself and not assume that occasional blood test for estrogens is protecting and not leading her toward developing tumors and/or cancer.  Click here

Weight loss is another area of functional medicine that allopathic medicine ignores in many respects. Weight gain is due to many factors. Many of these factors are not address or even acknowledged in allopathic medicine. You can have surgery to reduce the size of your stomach and be given prescription diet pills (many of which are no longer on the market due to class action lawsuits for serious side effects causing death and long term harm). You can be put on restrictive calorie diets. You can be given prescription drugs to control binging and purging. However, only functional medicine will look at:

  1. Detoxification of fat cells to reduce water retention that results from the body’s effort to dilute the toxins

    1. Fewer clinics still look at the type of toxin and genetic limitation hindering effective detoxification (all with normal liver enzymes in the allopathic system)

  2. The subconscious emotional triggers to eating, and the subconscious emotional triggers to body image, tight or loose clothing issues, and the effects of childhood trauma in setting one up for obesity

  3. Optimizing cortisol biorhythm because high cortisol triggers insulin resistance and/or hunger

  4. Optimizing neurotransmitter function because that controls metabolism, especially dopamine (ignored in allopathic medicine)

  5. Optimizing free T3 as I discussed above, because thyroid hormone also regulates metabolism

  6. Identifying and reversing insulin resistance (instead of waiting until you are diabetic in the allopathic system)

  7. Identifying key mineral imbalances that prevent optimization of metabolism and hormone function (using hair analysis in the functional model, available.  please call Immune Matrix at 888-519-5755 and not used in allopathic medicine because it is not disease diagnostic but functional focused)

  8. Investigating nutritional deficiencies caused by over the counter and prescription medication (never done in allopathic medicine and it should be mandated) Some medications specifically cause fatigue and block thyroid function!

  9. Fixing sleep issues because that impacts cortisol production, sugar metabolism and hormone function impacting fat storage and usage

  10. Optimizing all hormone function, sex hormone, cortisol biorhythm and cortisol and neurotransmitters (brain chemistry).

  11. Identifying and eliminating all sources for inflammation (hidden bacterial infection in gut and gums, hidden food sensitivities, hidden genetic triggers from food associated with certain blood types) because inflammation causes retention and throws off hormone, metabolism and detoxification.

If you would like more information about these parameters, please call Immune Matrix at 888-519-5755 unique in the country for addressing all these issues with patients.

Another example of how functional medicine works is with infection. Ear stents are used now as a kneejerk reaction to repetitive ear infections in children and most are not needed when you take the functional medicine approach to why the child has repetitive ear infections.

Functional medicine looks at diet, and cow dairy is a huge culprit that when eliminated from the diet will reduce and eliminate the over production of mucous that contributes to the congestion that fuels infection in the ear, nose and throat. Functional medicine also looks beyond antibiotics. I have prevented stent operations in many a child when combining immune boosting treatments to bacteria plus colloidal silver drops in the ears. One pediatrician was shocked that the mother cancelled her child’s stent operation when he could not understand how the child’s ears cleared up. She told him what we did and his response was “my goodness, she will put us out of business”. I wish we had no more conditions and could find other work to occupy our time! It was clear that this pediatrician was relying on his stent shop as key revenue. Functional medicine looks beyond the problem to find out why is this even an issue and resolves it.

Beyond the topic of thyroid function is the broader issue of low energy. Patients complaining of low energy to their allopathic doctor will see thyroid as their main target. However, from a functional medicine standpoint many non-disease factors play a crucial role in blocking one from having energy. I have written an entire book based on the key clinical factors I have seen come through my clinical doors entitled Escaping Your Low Energy Trap, Uncommon Solutions Your Doctor Never Told You About, available on our blog, bookstores and through Amazon and in Kindle version. I wrote this book to help patients check of the uncommon factors that are ignored by allopathic medicine but are crucial for anyone to hope to recover and optimize their energy.

Functional medicine’s focus is to restore balance and therefore function, to eliminate the factors that attract infection, inflammation and degeneration leading to disease. To limit options to allopathic alone is to say “I will wait until I have a disease diagnosis before I do something.” By that time it is often too late to reverse.

Functional medicine is key to 75% of what causes most conditions, inflammatory processes. We have more control than we think in derailing our health and in improving our health if we wake up and pay attention and take action now.

Functional medicine can work in conjunction with allopathic medicine and in many cases eliminate the need for prescription dependency for symptom management because its focus is to eliminate the roots of imbalances. Some of the most common conditions that functional medicine treats well are:

Acid Reflux

Anxiety –Panic Attacks

Autism

Asthma

Brain Nutrition for focus, attention, brain fog, mood disorders, insomnia, etc. all require proper brain nutrition. The prevention of pre-mature aging of the brain also mandates an awareness of proper brain nutrition to prevent the degenerative changes years before symptoms begin.

Blood Pressure

Bloating & Indigestion

Candida and Recurrent Fungal/Bacterial Infections

Cellulite Elimination

Colitis

Constipation:

Dental Amalgam Screening to identify mercury amalgam fillings under crowns, to identify areas of localized infection in the gum & wisdom pockets (common in Lyme disease), and issues related to de-mineralization, & calcium metabolism.

Detoxification Support to determine the relative toxic burden circulating in your system, the types of toxins that are stressing your body the most, the relative efficiency or non-efficiency of your liver detoxification pathways, whether you have sufficient mineral stores to enable you to process toxins in a detoxification program, test you for the most compatible chelator to use to detoxify, and determine the dose your body can handle to detoxify

Diabetes for prevention, to reduce the needs for meds and improve sugar metabolism, assist in wound healing, improve circulation and vitality

Ear Infection Resolution

Eczema

EMF Sensitivities, you are not imagining it, it does exist.

Environmental Sensitivities, eliminating them not suppressing the immune system with steroids as is done in allopathic medicine.

Fight Fatigue

Fertility

Food Sensitivities, reversing them

Grief Recovery, without long term suffering

Hair Loss

Headache resolution without medication and what the triggers are so they can be eliminated

Preventing the need for Heart Stents

Optimizing

Hormones: Menopause, PMS, thyroid, growth hormone and general hormonal aging issues to reducing one’s cancer risk with improved hormone detoxification

Insomnia

Libido – Sex Drive

OCD

PMS, you shouldn’t live with it, in fact it’s a sign your liver isn’t processing your hormones well and you could become at risk for certain cancers as a result

Seasonal Allergy Elimination without years of shots or medication

Skin Rejuvenation, to address the internal and external causes for aging skin and inflammatory conditions that affect skin

Stomach Pain, finding and eliminating the source instead of suppressing the symptoms with drugs

Stop Cravings

Telomere testing to determine if your genes are degenerating at a faster rate than presumed normal and reversing that

Overcoming and Reducing Viral Flares, from chronic fatigue viruses like Epstein Barr to annoying herpes outbreaks and repetitive upper respiratory infections

Breaking Weight Loss Plateaus and optimizing weight management

These are some of the common issues that functional medicine addresses daily. Continue to learn about your options to better health. Write us for questions about how functional medicine can help you.

Please note:
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

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Anna Manayan

Anna Manayan