Kevin Ritzenthaler, D.C., D.C.B.C.N.

When diagnosed with a chronic condition, most people have a similar experience: a diagnosis is made, medications are prescribed, and discussion centers on “living with” or “managing” the condition.

But, often, no one addresses the question: why?  Why did you develop this disease?  What are the underlying factors?  Can anything be done to correct what went wrong to restore health?

Functional medicine identifies genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence health and complex, chronic disease.  Biochemical imbalances and nutritional deficiencies are found and corrected to restore normal function to the body.

When the body functions as it was intended, symptoms disappear, and medication may become unnecessary.

Traditional Medicine vs. Functional Medicine

In many ways, functional medicine and traditional medicine are similar. Both are practiced by licensed healthcare professionals, use evidence-based methods, and employ advanced diagnostic testing.

Traditional medicine excels at delivering life-saving measures for acute medical problems.  When faced with an urgent medical need, patients are well served by the traditional medical model.

When it comes to treating chronic disease, however, functional and traditional medicine have very different approaches and outcomes.

Traditional medicine tends to focus on symptom relief through pharmaceutical interventions.  While addressing symptoms may make you feel better, it does nothing to address the root cause of the problem.  If you stop taking the medications, symptoms will likely return.

Additionally, many of today’s prescription drugs come with a long list of dangerous side effects.

This “pill for every ill” healthcare model will never make us healthier. In fact, chronic disease is on the rise, and life expectancy is falling.  Think about it this way:  diseases are not caused by pharmaceutical deficiencies. Therefore, pharmaceuticals should not be the first approach to treat disease.

By contrast, functional medicine looks to uncover the underlying cause of the condition. If the underlying cause can be properly addressed, symptoms will subside as a side-effect of restoring health.

Functional Medicine in Practice

It’s easier to understand functional medicine by looking at an example in practice.

RA is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, resulting in painful inflammation and swelling in the joints. Over time, the attacks can lead to permanent joint damage and loss of function.

The primary medical approach to treating RA is to use medications to weaken or block the immune system to minimize the attacks and symptoms.

There are two downsides to this approach.  First, by preventing your immune system from attacking itself, you’ve also decreased its ability to attack everything else – including bacteria, viruses, fungus, parasites, and even cancer cells (this is likely the link between some RA medications and an increased risk of cancer).

The second problem is that you have done nothing to correct the root cause of the problem.  If you stop taking the medication, the symptoms will likely return.

Functional medicine takes a different approach. It is not normal bodily function for your immune system to attack itself.  Instead of trying to minimize the symptoms by weakening the immune system, we work to find and correct the dysfunction that is causing the abnormal attacks.

Research has found many possible triggers for autoimmune diseases, including microbial imbalances in the GI tract, chronic viral infections, nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, and others. Some people may also have particular genetic predispositions that make them susceptible for autoimmune diseases.

A functional medicine doctor will conduct a detailed health history and may perform laboratory testing and a physical examination to determine the possible triggers for your autoimmunity.  A treatment plan is then developed to address the underlying factors.

This approach has been successful in restoring normal function to body without the potential risks and side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.

Autoimmune conditions are just one of the many chronic conditions that can be addressed with functional medicine.  Functional medicine is a viable approach for a wide array of chronic health conditions.

Read more about Functional Medicine at Innovative Health:

Dr. Kevin Ritzenthaler, DC, DCBCN, is a Functional Medicine practitioner, diplomate in clinical nutrition, chiropractor, and owner of Innovative Health in Weston, Wisconsin. Initial consultations are always free of charge. Contact Us to schedule your appointment.