Functional medicine is an approach that is increasingly being employed for a variety of health issues.
At its heart, lies the concept of addressing the cause of an illness rather than the symptoms and giving individuals the tools to forge a better sense of well-being and overall health.
As a nutritionist and naturopath, the functional medicine model underpins the approach I take with clients, often working in conjunction with GPs to deliver better outcomes. I focus mainly on women’s health issues including hormone imbalances and thyroid problems, helping people to recover their vitality and get back in control of their lives.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a holistic approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying root causes of disease and dysfunction in the body.
It aims to treat the individual as a whole, rather than simply targeting the symptoms or isolated parts of the body. Practitioners view the body as an interconnected system, where imbalances or problems in one area can impact the overall health and well-being of a person.
Here, the emphasis is on understanding the unique genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that contribute to a person’s health. This approach involves a comprehensive evaluation of their medical history and symptoms, in many cases using laboratory tests to gain a deeper understanding of their biochemistry and physiology.
In essence, functional medicine seeks to restore balance and naturally promote optimal health. Treatment strategies involve a combination of personalised lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, targeted supplementation, stress reduction techniques and other interventions tailored to the individual’s specific needs.
Nutrition and Functional Medicine
Nutrition plays a central role in functional medicine. The food we consume directly impacts our health and well-being in many different ways. It’s important to understand that each person has unique nutritional needs based on their individual genetic makeup, lifestyle factors and health conditions.
A practitioner will carefully assess a patient’s dietary habits, nutrient status and potential food sensitivities or allergies, for instance. They will then develop a tailored nutrition plan that focuses on optimising the intake of certain nutrients, addressing deficiencies and eliminating potential triggers that may contribute to inflammation or other health issues.
The nutritional recommendations in functional medicine involve a whole foods approach, focusing on nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods. It’s about consuming a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids to support optimal cellular function and overall health.
In many cases, we can utilise specialised diets or therapeutic interventions, such as elimination diets, gut healing protocols, or targeted supplementation to address specific concerns.
Evidence for a Functional Medicine Approach
Our way of thinking about health and wellbeing is changing and we’re less likely to look for medicalised solutions than before. Many GPs and healthcare staff are open to the idea that making changes to lifestyle and diet can have a profound impact.
We’ve been doing this for a while with conditions such as type 2 diabetes. We don’t give people medicine if possible but encourage changes such as losing weight and moving to a more nutrient-rich and less processed diet.
But is there evidence that a functional medicine approach works?
Menopause is a natural biological change later in life but it can be extremely challenging for many women. A recent study in the Lancet found that those who eat a healthy diet tend to have less troublesome symptoms than those who, for example, eat too many processed foods. Furthermore, the study also suggests that switching to a better diet can reduce risk factors such as poor cardiac health and the potential to develop type 2 diabetes as we grow older.
Another study finds that eating a Mediterranean diet can help reduce at least three of the problems commonly associated with menopause. A diet rich in whole grains, nuts, fruits, healthy oils and fish and lower consumption of red meat and sweet or sugary foods and drinks can help reduce inflammation, boost bone health and improve energy metabolism.
The research base for a functional medicine approach is growing as more interest is focused on this area of health management. A study in 2020, for example, found that patients with inflammatory arthritis seemed to have better outcomes when they adopted a functional medicine regime than a traditional one, improving both physical and mental health.
The Key to Functional Medicine Success
The holistic approach that is taken in functional medicine is vital. It’s not just about diet but other lifestyle factors such as the amount and type of exercise that we are exposed to, the environment around us and the social interactions that we have daily.
As a nutritionist, I support the functional medicine approach.
I often support women with thyroid and breast cancer, for example. Contrary to what you might read online, switching to a particular diet or getting more of this nutrient or that kind of food cannot cure cancer. But nutrition does play a big role in not only preventing it from forming in the first place and reducing your lifetime risk but can also support patients who have been recently diagnosed, especially as they go through treatment like chemotherapy.
One of the key factors in my practice is the importance of having an evidence-based approach. We are all different and what may work for one person might not be effective for another. That’s why testing is of such importance and working with other health care professionals is essential.
Elements like the gut biome are increasingly being investigated in research and the power that dietary changes can deliver both in the short and long term cannot be underestimated. At my clinic in Harley Street, I work mostly with women, helping them to find holistic solutions to health issues as varied as fertility and thyroid problems.
As a registered naturopath and nutritional therapist, I can help you find empowerment and take more control over important areas like your diet.