An approach to health care known as functional medicine might be able to help. Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach in a partnership with patients for improving their health.
“Functional medicine is getting back to the basics of what our bodies do at cellular level. Founded in the 1990s, it’s based on scientific research and biochemistry,” said Patty Peters, MD, with Avera Medical Group Functional Medicine “As medical science progresses and we learn more about cells and how they work, we have more information to give people to help them help themselves.”
“Typically, we see women who are at the end of their rope,” said Jessica Morrell, CNP. Common issues include fatigue, trouble sleeping, unexpected weight gain or recurring infections. “Women often tell us they’re just not feeling like themselves.” Functional medicine is also an approach for preventive care – like annual checkups – and ongoing care for chronic health issues.
Peters and Morrell are among the first cohort of practitioners trained in functional medicine in the world, and among only 350 to be certified in the specialty.
Inflammation often to blame
Inflammation is often to blame. Aches, pains, bloating, headaches and worsening menopausal symptoms can all be possible signals of inflammation somewhere in the body.
Functional medicine practitioners begin with an in-depth look at a patient’s current health, history, lifestyle, environment and more. They might do testing of GI microbiomes, hormonal function, toxic elements, nutrition deficiencies or C-reactive protein – a blood test that can flag inflammation.
How all the results are addressed depends on the underlying causes. “Sometimes we’re too quick to look to a pill or medicine,” Peters said. What might be needed is a lifestyle change.
“Most of us have a goodly amount of stress. We run ourselves ragged. We rush off and buy whatever foods are easiest – fast foods and convenience foods. We run on high gear three-fourths of the day and then try to sleep,” Peters said.
Some tips Peters and Morrell often give their patients include:
- Drink plenty of water – not caffeinated pop or caffeine.
- Cut back on sugar, which is inflammatory.
- Change to an anti-inflammatory diet. Patients often work with a dietitian to get this right.
- Lose weight. Obesity also contributes to inflammation and a host of other health issues.
- Address stress and slow down. Means for relaxation can include meditation or yoga, going for walks or spending time in nature.
- Address hormonal issues. One option is bioidentical replacement therapy, providing just the level of hormones needed to ease symptoms.
- Take vitamin D and fish oil supplements.
- Be mindful of what you’re eating, and how you’re treating your body. “If you think about the fact that the frosted cupcake you’re about to eat or the beverage you’re about to drink is pure sugar, you can also think about a more healthy alternative,” Morrell said.
“It’s learning a healthier way to live,” Morrell said. Patients might be able to get off some of their medications, or at least feel better.
Some conditions run in families, for example, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. “Yet just because we have the genetic predisposition doesn’t mean that we have to turn that gene on. There are measures we can take toward prevention,” Morrell said. “There are many times in which we can right the ship before it capsizes.”