Functional medicine encourages a broader approach to health and wellbeing, with the aim of precision diagnosis, establishing root causes and integrative treatments via a personalised treatment plan. This approach has proven successful in the treatment of patients who have medically unexplained symptoms. What do we mean by that? Symptoms that do not fit into a conventional diagnosis or complex and chronic health conditions involving multiple systems of the body, such as hormonal imbalances, gut health, autoimmunity and psychological health.
You may prefer the functional medicine approach in synergy with conventional medicine because it provides a much deeper dive into your health and wellbeing, looking for longer term sustainable solutions. This is reflected in the four ‘P’s – the pillars of the patient experience in functional medicine.
As Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott explains, “The four ‘P’s – preventative, precision, personalised and partnership – are representative of our new integrative women’s health and functional medicine service. These ‘P’s are very much centred around each individual. They allow you to understand, feel involved in, and make important decisions about your own health journey.”
The Four ‘P’s Of Functional Medicine
Preventative: Functional medicine is undertaken with your current state of health and conditions in mind, but also with a preventative approach. This means that treatment is focused on improving your overall health and wellbeing and in turn helping to prevent illness in the future. This encourages medical professionals to address underlying health issues and imbalances proactively, treating any conditions as a priority and also addressing the underlying root causes. Imbalance or dis-ease leads to disease.
Precision: There is no ‘one size fits all’ or a ‘pill for every ill’ in functional medicine. Functional testing is very scientific and detailed, identifying patterns, abnormalities and imbalances in a way that cannot be detected with simple blood testing. This enables a more precise diagnosis to be made. The functional medicine matrix informs a precise treatment plan that takes into account how all the systems of the body are connected and influence each other. Nutrigenomic testing can provide detailed information on how nutrients impact our individual genetics and can be incorporated into treatment plans.
Personalised: You are treated as an individual with your own medical history, your own unique experience of your medical conditions and value systems, distinct biological make-up involving genetics, and family history. The impact of your unique environment, both physical and social, is also considered. Investigations and treatments are personalised to ensure success in improving your health.
Partnership: The doctor works in partnership with you throughout you health journey. This includes deciding on suitable investigations, discussing the diagnosis and formulating a personalised treatment plan. Nutrition and lifestyle form the foundation for good health and you may work with a nutritional therapist who can provide support with this as well as supplement schedules, and gut restoration work. You may also be recommended for alternative treatment modalities such as acupuncture, visceral manipulation, EMDR, emotional freedom techniques and breathwork.
A Collaborative Approach
Many of the patients we see at the Marion Gluck Clinic are already highly motivated to improve and prioritise their health, and have experienced positive outcomes as a result of their partnerships with our consultants.
Dr Aziz-Scott says, “When patients commit to a consultation, we know that they are already motivated to make a change concerning their health. However, we also survey them in regards to their motivation on a one-to-five scale. If a patient tells us that their motivation is a one (low), we have to work with them to determine what factors are influencing their decreased motivation and if they can be supported to participate in their own health journey before we even begin functional testing.”
“If you have a complex medical condition, there is often no quick fix and optimising your health and feeling better is a challenge. There may be many layers to unravel and it requires patience, determination and motivation. We ensure that you feel understood and supported in your journey and the results can be life-changing.”
When Should You Opt For A Functional Medicine Approach?
Functional medicine is ideal if you have complex, chronic problems and unexplained symptoms. The body’s systems are all interconnected, so by taking this approach we can address all your symptoms and join the dots to find the root cause of the issues.
Conventional medicine often deals with treating specific symptoms. It is not focused on how disease evolves and the importance of treating root causes so patients may not actually feel better. A good example is the use of SSRI antidepressant medication that assumes all depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It does not examine the multifactorial nature of mental illness such as childhood attachments, trauma, genetic factors, stress and environmental factors. Some patients may feel better but others may experience limited benefit without additional treatments such as psychological talking therapies. Depression relating to traumatic life experiences may be better treated with EMDR or other body-based modalities.
The Multi-System Point Of View And The Gut
When your health concerns are addressed with the functional medicine approach, all systems within the body are considered, including the endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and cardiovascular systems.
The digestive system is a particularly important area of focus, as the gut is the central axis for health and immunity. Our digestive system plays host to a microbiome, which is made up of trillions of bacteria that play a role in every aspect of human health. When the biome becomes dysregulated, it has a knock-on effect on the rest of the body. This can result in symptoms like chronic fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, skin rashes, hormonal imbalances, inflammatory arthritis and more.
With functional gut testing we can assess the quality of digestion, the types of enzymes being produced, inflammation within the gut, the balance of all the different bacterial species in the gut, potential dysbiosis, metabolic imbalances, and any other infections such as fungi or parasites. This overview provides essential information about the health of your gut and what needs to be addressed via gut restoration to rebalance the system.
We know that when patients experience intense stress, food intolerances, or exposure to toxins in the environment, their gut wall can become leaky. This means that bacteria and other antigens can pass through the gut wall that would otherwise be blocked from entering the bloodstream, and the body then mounts an immune reaction. This is sometimes referred to as ‘leaky gut syndrome’ or increased intestinal permeability. It can stimulate a cascade of inflammation, trigger disease processes such as autoimmunity, and impact the overall health of the immune system.
An example of the leaky gut effect
Gluten has a similar protein structure to certain proteins in the thyroid gland. If you have a leaky gut and you eat food containing gluten, those gluten particles pass through the wall of the gut and enter your bloodstream. The body then mounts an immune response to the gluten particles and also produces antibodies.
Your immune system then recognises similar proteins in the thyroid gland. As a result, instead of attaching to the foreign gluten particles, the antibodies become attached to the thyroid gland, destroying cells and causing it to become less efficient.
This is a common cause of hypothyroidism called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. As functional medicine practitioners, we can identify this root cause among others and place you on a gut restoration protocol. In doing this, autoimmune antibody levels decrease significantly. This prevents the thyroid gland from becoming more damaged, leading to reduced overall medication intake. It also removes the drivers for other autoimmune conditions.
A patient approached us with perimenopausal symptoms, thyroid disease, fibroids and diabetes, which are all linked through the endocrine system. On taking her medical history, we discovered that she had experienced childhood traumas and stressful life events. This can impact the adrenal glands and the pattern of stress hormone secretion well after the stressful incidents have taken place which then has consequences on other aspects of health.
In addition, being perimenopausal exacerbated the symptoms associated with her fibroids. This is because women can become estrogen-dominant during perimenopause, and this causes fibroids to enlarge.
In terms of investigations, we opted for a Dried Urine test For Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) test, which revealed a detailed analysis of the patient’s sex hormone balance, including the pattern of adrenal or stress hormone secretion. This allowed us to effectively treat the underlying issues.
With conventional medicine, adrenal disorders are only recognised when there is a disease process such as Addison’s or Cushing’s. Functional medicine recognises that there is a spectrum of adrenal dysregulation and disruption to the normal patterns of cortisol secretion is often the root cause of many illnesses and lack of wellbeing.
Explore The Benefits Of Functional Medicine
If you feel functional medicine could be the approach that helps you get back on track with your health and wellbeing, don’t let your symptoms go undiagnosed; to book a consultation with one of our friendly and knowledgeable specialists, use the button below.