Site Logo

What does functional medicine really mean?

Functional medicine (FM) can be defined as a focus or philosophy of medicine rather than a specialty; this approach aims to optimize health and correct the root causes of illness through lifestyle and nutritional changes, before or instead of using conventional  treatments such as medications. The principles can (and should, in our opinion!) be used as a foundation for any specialty within the healthcare system. 

Functional psychiatry would be concerned primarily with mental health, however one of the most important principles of FM in general is that there is no separation between our physical bodies and our minds- evidence for their interconnectedness grows daily. This means literally that changing our minds can change our bodies, and vice versa. As you learn new tools you may find yourself wondering, ‘What does this have to do with my anxiety?’ The answer is almost always- A LOT! 

Functional medicine takes the idea one step further and relies heavily on the connection between our minds, our bodies and our natural environment. The sun, the soil, all animals from the lowliest microbes to the most complicated mammals (yes, that includes humans) have a profound impact on our health and well being. This is not to say that functional medicine in general, and Minds Matter in particular are opposed to technology, medications, and modern scientific advances- far from it. Unfortunately though, rather than choosing these tools in appropriate circumstances, too often they are used heavily and exclusively as  treatments without any regard for the underlying health of the individual. When this happens, they end up doing far more harm than good!

Nothing but the name is new with functional medicine! For literally thousands of years, people have understood that how we treat our bodies has a profound impact on health; it is only very recently that we have allowed the modern medical system to convince us we can abuse and neglect our bodies for many years, then just take a few pills to correct the problems. Of course, this is absurd! 

Everyone is familiar with the systems of the body: gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, etc. We tend to think of them as separate entities and looking at them this way can be very useful when learning the basics. However, it’s imperative to understand that all of them are completely intertwined with one another, and one system cannot be optimally healthy unless the others are as well.

An often forgotten, but arguably the most important, system in the body is the immune system. Lately we have been unpleasantly reminded of the importance of this complex network! Masks and distancing are defensive moves and are sometimes needed for brief periods. At MM we believe in a strong offensive position when it comes to health and wellness. The good news is that this can be accomplished by understanding how immunity really works, and by keeping all aspects of foundational health in optimal shape.

The foundations of health are high quality nutrition, sleep, and exercise, meaningful work, and healthy relationships. Notice the first three of these are ‘physical’ and the last two mostly ‘mental’, but remember they are all intricately connected. 

Very often our high pressure lives and fast paced society serve as excuses to make choices that send us spinning into a vicious cycle of anxiety, fatigue, and illness. Yes, excuses and choices- hard words to hear but very, very important to accept if any long term change is to occur. You are NOT a victim of your genetics, your parenting, your society or your time in history. To reframe- if you can make poor choices, you can also make better ones! Harder in the short term at times yes, but not nearly as hard as paying the long term price of illness, unhappiness, and premature aging. If you are reading this, you are already on the path of choosing your future, maybe only a couple steps, maybe miles down the road. It doesn’t matter where you are, only the direction you are going!

Functional medicine aims at correcting the root causes of illness; one of the most critical is inflammation. By now, everyone knows that inflammation anywhere in the body is a problem when it’s chronic. What isn’t always clear is exactly what that means! It is imperative to first understand that inflammation is not a bad thing at all, when it exists for short periods of time in specific areas of the body (this is also called acute inflammation.) In fact, we couldn’t live without it! When the body is injured or encounters a sufficient number of a pathogen (ie a virus, bacteria, or fungus), chemicals are released that ‘call in the forces.’ The result is increased heat, redness, swelling, and pain which are unpleasant, but serve an important purpose. Increased circulation brings many immune system cells to the area that attack pathogens, it also increases the temperature of tissues which helps to kill or slow some pathogens (this is also what a fever does.) Swelling and pain call attention to the situation and when severe limit mobility to prevent further injury. While this process is vital to initiate the healing response, what is equally important is that it resolves in a timely way so that healing can continue. As an analogy, imagine making a pot of soup. If the temperature isn’t brought up to boiling quickly, the vegetables are never going to soften and the spices won’t blend. Once cooking well, the heat is reduced to simmer to complete the process. The rolling boil can be thought of as acute inflammation, then the simmer would be the normal metabolism of healthy tissues- both are needed.

Functional medicine/psychiatry uses comprehensive interviews, lab assessments, and recommendations for changes in diet and lifestyle to begin the process of balancing the ‘simmer’ and eliminating chronic inflammation when present. In addition, supplements, herbs and medications may be prescribed when appropriate. Over the last 100 years or so in developed countries, medical care has transitioned to a model where the patient passively receives medications or treatments for the symptoms of disease, but little to no attention is given to the root causes. In contrast, functional medical treatment  requires significant motivation and effort on the part of the patient, but the payoff in terms of improved health and reduced side effects is enormous!

A Piece of Mind

Sign up for our weekly email. No marketing, no ads - Just a five-minute read to make you think, change your perspective or offer clarity.

A Piece of Mind

Sign up for our weekly email. No marketing, no ads - Just a five-minute read to make you think, change your perspective or offer clarity.

Emergency Resources

Minds Matter does not provide crisis or emergency services. If you or someone you know is currently suicidal, violent, severely confused, paranoid, or hallucinating, IMMEDIATELY CALL 911. 

After the immediate crisis, click here for a list of resources for assistance with suicidality, substance abuse, or severe mental health symptoms such as paranoia, delusions (losing touch with reality), or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.)