Is Functional Medicine a Viable Alternative?

Functional Medicine, which I discussed in this blog post, could be the lynchpin in one of the most significant shifts in the health and medical paradigm in the past century.

Linus Pauling, Ph.D., best known for his work promoting vitamin C, was among the first to question the impact food and supplements have on cognition. Back in the late 60s and into the 70s his research into disorders like anxiety and depression, and mental illnesses like schizophrenia was called Orthomolecular (right molecule) Psychiatry.  Eventually, this approach was called Orthomolecular Medicine.

Pauling was among the first to publically state that most people require vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in much larger amounts than those in the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). Pauling was often called a quack by conventional doctors for his belief that massive doses of vitamins could cure mental disease, especially after medical studies in the late 70s and 80s showed no difference between patients treated with vitamin C and those taking a placebo. Undeterred, Pauling continued to publish books and promote Orthomolecular Medicine until his death in 1994 from prostate cancer which he said was held at bay for 20 years due to high doses of vitamin C. (Source)

In a Business Week cover story, Medical Guesswork, published May 29, 2006, researcher Dr. David Eddy could find scientific evidence for only 20-25% of conventional medical practices, products, and procedures. The doctors who maligned Dr. Pauling were acting like the old saying of the pot calling the kettle black. 

Playing roulette with healthcare



Functional medicine (FM) is proven to reverse hypertensionobesity, heart disease, and prostate cancer. Dr. Dean Ornish, famous for his dietary approach to heart disease that proved diet could reverse atherosclerosis (plaques in artery walls), continues to use diet and lifestyle as treatment.  A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found positive outcomes and cost savings of up to 73% for natural products when compared to conventional medical treatment.

Why Functional Medicine is Better

Practitioners have hundreds of effective FM treatment protocols; most have excellent evidence to support their use. There are evidence-based treatment protocols from other natural disciplines, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, and naturopathy, too.

In all of the “alternative” treatment modalities, the whole person/body is taken into account, both in the diagnosis and treatment stages. How many times have you asked a doctor about something else bothering you only to be told, “I’m an X. You need to see a Y doctor.”

FM, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda and Tibetan Medicine are all major health systems that treat the root cause of an illness, not just the symptoms. These treatments are much safer and have fewer negative side effects, too. Treatments are usually more effective and are often able to reverse a condition using diet, lifestyle and herbal medicines, while conventional medicine can only manage an illness and its symptoms. Combining scientifically proven allopathic (conventional) treatments with any one of these traditional medical systems produces an integrated medical solution.

Importantly, the diagnostic tests widely used in FM are able to identify cells that are becoming diseased but are not yet symptomatic. This often occurs five to ten years before conventional medicine diagnoses a problem. To demonstrate how some tests are able to identify cells that are moving toward chronic disease we need to know that, in many cases, cells go through five sequential stages of deterioration.

Conventional medical tests usually detect changes in biochemistry at the dysfunction stage, or even later, when cells are mutated or already diseased. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or other interventions are offered by conventional doctors to eradicate or ameliorate a condition that cannot be detected until there are a large number of diseased cells. This makes it difficult, but not impossible, to use safe and effective natural treatments.

An example is a study where 50% of patients with what is called End-Stage Renal Disease were able to get off of dialysis after taking 180 mg of CoQ10 for three months.  In these patients, most kidney cells were likely still in the early stages of deterioration and could be rehabilitated. But the other half who were not able to get off of dialysis had too many cells that were mutated or diseased.

Modern medicine is literally at a crossroad. Those of us with chronic illnesses and conditions can continue to put all our faith and hope in conventional medicine or we can step outside our comfort zone and try other approaches. I’m not suggesting everything in conventional medicine is bad and needs changing. I was educated in that medical model and because of that, I saw its good points and flaws firsthand.

Get me to a helicopter and trauma unit if I’m ever in a major accident, like in 1979 when I suffered a traumatic brain injury and almost lost my right leg. I walked out of that hospital two months later with only minor after effects. But now that I have a chronic disease, ME/CFS, conventional medicine has nothing for me. My symptoms and those of the million other Americans with this damn disease are managed with drugs that heavily impact our quality of life. No MD or DO has done anything about the cause…too often because we are not believed to have a “real” illness.   

Our nation needs a true integration of traditional medical systems used for thousands of years, the new functional approach, and conventional medicine. Taking the best of all these paradigms and combining them will create a medical system that truly saves lives and prevents as much illness, suffering, and excessive spending as possible. The direction is clear.  All we need is someone to step out and lead the way.

Check out these, too:

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