Tag Archives: healthcare

How to find a good Functional Medicine doctor, Part 1

I administer several forums, most notably a group on the social networking site Facebook called “Functional Medicine“.  To find it, simply enter “functional medicine” in the search box and select the “Group” (not the “Interest” – that’s different).  One of the most common questions I encounter both on- and offline is, “I need a good Functional Medicine doctor.  How do I find one?”

The short answer is, sometimes it takes a little digging and reading between the lines.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

The long answer is, there are several ways to find a good doctor who practices real, genuine Functional Medicine.

To get started, please see my two posts on what Functional Medicine is not, Part 1 and Part 2.  This will weed out a lot of the fat.  It’s important to keep in mind that each Functional Medicine clinician will practice slightly differently; however, a few basics should be consistent.

Guideline #1: The practitioner really should be a doctor of some kind, or perhaps a nurse practitioner–maybe.  I would not visit an acupuncturist, massage therapist, physical therapist, pharmacist, nurse, midwife, or non-doctor clinical nutritionist for this type of care.  Not only can many of them not legally order or interpret diagnostic testing, they also many times lack the depth of foundational information that doctors receive.  I also would not visit any unlicensed practitioner for Functional Medicine, such as a holistic health counselor, wellness coach, or, depending on the state, naturopath.

Beyond that, however, the type of doctor does not matter.  Whether he or she is an MD, DO, DC, or, (depending on your state!) ND, a good Functional Medicine doctor will practice much like another.  A good Functional Medicine MD (medical doctor)  will practice just as well as a Functional Medicine DC (Doctor of Chiropractic) and vice versa.  It’s nearly impossible to tell the difference other than the initials behind their names.

Guideline #2: The practitioner should be from the United States, or possibly Canada.  It’s possible to find good Functional Medicine practitioners elsewhere*, but the quality of education could be questionable and there may be a lack of standard.  Although Functional Medicine in North America is largely unregulated, true Functional Medicine doctors generally do a decent job of regulating themselves and raising the bar of quality for themselves, constantly striving to complete more training, stay on top of current research, and invest in elective training, conferences, and symposiums, both domestically and abroad.

Many Functional Medicine doctors here in the States will care for patients/clients outside of their state or even country, via telephone, fax, email, regular mail, or Skype.  Often, the distance between doctor/consultant and patient/client is not important at all.  Some doctors require that their patients make the trip to the office or clinic at least once; others don’t have this requirement.

Guideline #3: When searching for a good Functional Medicine doctor, the web could very well be your best tool.  Look for those who specifically mention Functional Medicine.  Look for some who list their CV (curriculum vitae, a professional type of resume) online, including where they went to school, their areas of focused study, and their continuing education beyond school.  Many will list the post-doctoral classes they’ve taken.  Look for information; if the website is scanty and it barely offers any information, move on.  Now, not every site will be filled to the brim with information like Mercola or Mark Hyman, but it should be more than a single page with hardly any information. If it strikes you as cheesy or high-pressure sales-like, with lots of bold or red text, or yellow highlighted text, they may be a good doctor, but move them down your list.

More to come!  Stay tuned…

*If you live outside the United States and you need Functional Medicine care but a trip to the US is out of the question at this time, please email me through our website (just scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Email Us”) and I will send you a list of members of a reputable organization I’m personally familiar with – although it is based here in the US, it is truly international.

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What Functional Medicine is NOT, Part 1:

The term Functional Medicine has become a buzzword.  This is only a natural phenomenon; several practitioners have built lucrative Functional Medicine practices that are becoming well-known and receiving a lot of attention.  Practiced correctly, it truly is the next wave of medicine, or at least we can only hope.  Naturally, many practitioners want to catch the wave and “cash in”.

The only problem is, many practitioners who say they are practicing Functional Medicine aren’t really doing so.  They have attempted to bend the term to fit their practice, without really adapting or changing anything they were doing.

When practitioners use one term to mean several different things, the public gets confused.  So, since we already know what Functional Medicine is, I thought I’d ease the above situation by spelling out what Functional Medicine is NOT.

Truth #1: Functional Medicine is not bioidentical hormones.  In fact, bioidentical hormones are not even utilized in genuine Functional Medicine, because exogenous hormones (i.e. hormones that the body itself did not make, that come from the outside of the body) is, by definition, an allopathic treatment.  (That’s not to say that you don’t need them or they won’t do some good.  It simply means that someone who claims to be a Functional Medicine practitioner simply because they give you Armour instead of Synthroid to jumpstart your thyroid is full of baloney.)

Allopathy is the branch of medicine that most doctors practice – they seek to eliminate symptoms by introducing a substance that changes the body’s internal chemical environment such that it can’t sustain the disease or symptoms.  For example, the standard allopathic treatment for diabetes (high blood sugar) is to introduce insulin (which lowers blood sugar).  High cholesterol is treated with statin drugs that lower cholesterol.  In the allopathic approach, little thought is given to the cause of the problem; the focus is on eliminating symptoms through biochemical manipulation.

Back to bioidentical hormones… Bioidentical hormones may indeed be beneficial and they may be necessary.  They may also indeed be superior to synthetic hormones.  I don’t disagree with that one bit.  And Functional Medicine DOES aim to balance hormones, after all.  What I DO find problematic, is when a doctor says they practice Functional Medicine because they balance hormones using bioidentical hormones.  That is NOT Functional Medicine.  The litmus test is this: do I need a prescription to obtain any of the remedies the doctor wants me to take?  If the answer is yes, than it’s not Functional Medicine.  Pure Functional Medicine can (and should) be practiced without any pharmaceutical medications.  True Functional Medicine will approach a hormone imbalance by attempting to find out what’s wrong underneath the surface, by asking the question: WHY are the hormones out of balance?

Truth #2: Functional Medicine is not HCG weight loss or any other fad diet.  HCG, whether in the form of the actual hormone or a homeopathic essence, is also allopathic.  This topic will most likely get its own post, because there’s more to say about this than is appropriate for the scope of this post.  For now, suffice it to say that HCG hormones are also allopathic and possibly harmful.  True Functional Medicine will ask: WHY is the person overweight in the first place?

Truth #3: Functional Medicine is not a quick fix.  While I’ve personally seen some miraculous results in just a few weeks using only true Functional Medicine and nothing else, it takes quite a while to normalize and regulate body chemistry, especially using non-pharmaceutical options.  Medications are meant to force the body’s chemistry to change quickly, and they are very good at what they do.  Natural medicine is very good at what it does, too, but its process is much slower.

Truth #4: Functional Medicine is not just glorified nutritional counseling.  It’s an entire lifestyle modification program.  Dietary modification and specific supplementation are indeed part of the major backbone, but there is much more to the story.  Since most of today’s chronic health problems developed from multiple genetic and environmental influences, the complete solution that delivers the best results utilizes multiple neuro-metabolic therapies based on genuine diagnostic lab test results.

What is Functional Medicine?

The short answer is, Functional Medicine is the future of medicine, if we are to get well and stay well as a society.  It’s the direction in which regular medicine should have gone.  It should be used as the primary method of treatment, especially in cases that are not acute, infectious, catastrophic, life-threatening, or other emergencies.

The long answer is, the definition of Functional Medicine largely depends on who you talk to.

  • The Institute of Functional Medicine, arguably the leader and Gold Standard of the field, describes a science-based, patient-centered form of healthcare that recognizes biochemical individuality and favors active prevention.
  • A talented colleague of mine defines Functional Medicine as a complete lifestyle-modification program that evaluates physiology using extensive diagnostic lab testing and then corrects any imbalances found by applying specific, individually unique combinations of neuro-metabolic therapies.
  • Another talented colleague of mine mentions looking at everything (hormone balance, nutrient metabolism, immune system, and a plethora of other categories) all at the same time, leaving no stone unturned

Functional Medicine really is “all that” – in terms of the explanations given above, as well as being Just That Cool.

When I explain it, Functional Medicine can take on a few different personas that all relate back to the same Big Idea.  Various descriptions are as follows…

  • A highly-advanced version of Clinical Nutrition, taken to another level as practiced by a doctor, that bases its herbal and nutritional plans on comprehensive lab testing
  • A third type of healthcare that is separate from both conventional and alternative medicine branches we’re already familiar with, that utilizes the best of both worlds
  • An emerging medical subspecialty that combines conventional testing and natural therapies
  • A logical, scientific alternative for those looking for natural or holistic healthcare, perfect for those who don’t know where to turn or who to trust.
  • A scientific-yet-holistic of looking at the functions of the body and how they are inter-connected, identifying dysfunctions in key areas using lab tests, and then correcting them with a comprehensive lifestyle modification plan.

That last one is my favorite (couldn’t you tell?)

Functional Medicine really shines with chronic, complex disorders, especially the degenerative and/or mysterious.  I can say it is definitely worth the effort, commitment, and investment!  Most Functional Medicine practitioners know firsthand; many of the best doctors got involved with the field because of their incredible experiences.

We’re a product of the choices we have made every day.  Every day we have another chance to stay on our current path or choose something different.  What are you waiting for? 🙂