When people ask me, what is Functional Medicine? I say it is the science of creating health.

Instead, what most of us experience today is conventional medicine, which focuses on diagnosis and treatment. It is what I, and all other doctors in practice today, learned in medical school. The goal in modern medicine or conventional medicine is to diagnose illnesses based on symptoms and geography. If you check enough boxes of the right symptoms, you get a diagnosis. 

For example, if you have pain and inflammation in certain joints and abnormal lab tests, you receive the diagnosis Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). That’s the end of thinking in conventional or modern medicine. You name the disease and then are told that Rheumatoid arthritis is causing your joint pain. It is not the cause, but simply the name. The causes could be many. In fact, anything that causes inflammation could trigger RA—Lyme disease, gluten, leaky gut, or mercury toxicity. 

Naming the disease tells you nothing about the cause. We call it the naming and blaming game. Then most doctors treat the downstream symptoms instead of the upstream causes. Since RA is an inflammatory disease, patients are given powerful drugs, including steroids, chemotherapy drugs, and powerful immune suppressants called biologics that shut off inflammation, all with terrible side effects. 

Wouldn’t a better approach be to find the cause and remove that?

Don’t get me wrong, conventional medicine is absolutely necessary in the face of emergencies and life-threatening illness, but what is missing is the science of prevention and creating optimal health. What is missing is the fundamental understanding that our body is an interconnected system and that all of our daily inputs (food, exercise, joy, etc.) influence our health status.

The best example of a discovery that completely disrupts our old notion of disease is the microbiome, which wasn’t even discussed or named as a thing in medicine twenty years ago. The microbiome breaks the old idea of single cause, single disease, single drug model. Changes in our microbiome have been linked to cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, autism, depression, dementia, asthma, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disease, allergies, skin disorders, and much more. 

We need a different model to explain these discoveries. Just as Einstein turned physics upside and challenged Newton’s paradigm, so too Functional Medicine overturns our outdated understanding of biology, human health, and disease.

Functional Medicine focuses on the root cause. The approach to restoring health is simple. Take out the bad stuff. Add the good stuff. The body’s natural intelligence and healing mechanisms do the rest. We start with removing the cause (or causes) and then replace what the body needs to thrive. There are only a few causes that result in almost all disease (other than dominant inherited genetic diseases like Down’s Syndrome). They include toxins, allergens, microbes, poor diet, and stress. 

These triggers of disease interact with your genes and all your basic biological networks. In addition to these triggers, there are necessary ingredients for health – real food, nutrients, hormones, light, water, air, rest, rhythm, sleep, movement, love, connection, meaning, and purpose. 

Disease occurs when you have too many triggers and not enough of the right ingredients. Creating health is simply a matter of identifying and removing the triggers and replacing the necessary ingredients for health.

My goal is to spread this message far and wide so that preventative medicine becomes the norm, and we live in a society that is thriving rather than crippling under the epidemic of chronic disease.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be diving deep into each of the systems of the Functional Medicine matrix and walk you through exactly how to bring back balance within each of these systems to reclaim your health.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Jennifer Engels, MD

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