What is Functional Medicine?

What is Functional Medicine?

REVIEWED BY — Tanya Mezher, MS, RDN, CDN

The American health crisis has forced us to accept that the quick-fix solutions we have been tolerating for years are not making or keeping us healthy. With 200 million Americans suffering from at least one chronic condition, the demand for alternative approaches to health has never been greater.

In the wake of this need has come the rise of functional medicine. Over the past few years, functional medicine has been growing in popularity, and in some ways has become a bit of a catch-all phrase. But what is functional medicine? Is it holistic medicine? Naturopathy? Chinese medicine? Is it even real?

The TL;DR is that functional medicine is a different, holistic care model that takes a root cause approach –focusing on the “why” instead of the “what” in order to create health. It is based on our relatively newfound understanding of the ways in which our diet, lifestyle, and environment affect our gene expression.

It’s time to stop viewing the body as a series of discrete organs in silos. Functional medicine-trained practitioners diverge from the way in which contemporary specialists have dissected us into disembodied parts. Instead, they approach the body as an interconnected system. Through this lens, they understand that one condition, like depression, can have many causes, such as antibiotic use, vitamin D deficiency, low thyroid, and SIBO. And that one cause, like inflammation, can have many conditions, such as depression, diabetes, and arthritis.

Conventional medicine, on the other hand, leans heavily on the band aid approach. It has become common practice to focus on diagnosing and suppressing symptoms with prescription medication. This "pill for every ill" approach has been great in treating acute, infectious disease, but it has neither helped us prevent nor treat the many chronic diseases that are plaguing our health. That is not to say functional medicine doesn’t believe in prescription medication. Its approach has been to refrain from using Rx as an immediate, first line of defense. Instead, it focuses on changes to one’s diet (often described as using “food as medicine”) and lifestyle (including working on stress management, improving sleep, adding in daily exercise, and increasing exposure to nature).

Dr. Mark Hyman, a world-renowned functional medicine practitioner and influencer, does a great job outlining the differences in approach between functional and conventional medicine. In the Foreword of Dr. Jeffrey Bland’s book, The Disease Delusion, Hyman describes the story of a four-year-old girl who suffered from uncontrollable psoriasis most of her life. Her treatment regimen provided by top medical institutions included putting her on immune suppressants and chemotherapy to stop the brutal inflammation. This, however, resulted in her spending a month in the ICU fighting a life-threatening staph infection. Her parents, beginning to feel hopeless, then took her to see Dr. Hyman.

After inquiring about her diet and history of antibiotics as a baby, he removed gluten from her diet, cleared out bad microbes in her gut from years of antibiotic and steroid use, and put her on immune-supporting supplements and probiotics to help balance her gut flora. Within two weeks, she was completely healed. As he explains, this wasn’t a miracle, but rather the result of applying the functional medicine framework, which can and should be used to help everyone who struggles with chronic conditions.

So, while it is absolutely holistic in nature and has elements of naturopathy and traditional Chinese medicine, functional medicine is really about blending our knowledge of holistic, natural medicine with advanced genomics and lab testing. This fusion of disciplines targets the root cause of symptoms to restore natural balance to your biology.

At Malla, we believe in the power of functional medicine to remedy our chronic disease epidemic and to evolve our healthcare system from reactive and disease-centric to one that is proactive and health-centric.

However, current access to functional medicine is prohibitively expensive. A single consultation - before lab testing, supplements, diet changes, and follow-up visits – can cost up to ~$1k.

That’s why we’re building Malla, to make functional medicine, and a functional medicine-informed lifestyle more accessible, and, ultimately, to create a one-stop-shop for healthy living for every body.

Reach out to our team at support@malla.co to learn more and join the wave of members who are helping to build our paradigm-shifting platform for health!

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