What is Functional Medicine?


When I was seven years old, I begged and pleaded with my parents to take me to a nearby amusement park. There was an area in the park called the International Plaza that was frequently crowded. As we traversed the plaza, I remember my mom saying, “Don’t let go of my hand.” The density of the crowd resembled a New York nightclub, but I struggled through it and emerged holding my mother’s hand—only, when I looked up, I was shocked to find the hand wasn’t hers. To this day, I have no idea how that happened. All I remember is feeling completely lost, frightened, and abandoned. (As a parent myself, I now know my parents were equally terrified.) After those initial stages of panic, I decided to go to the one place I remembered in the park, the magic show. I sat down in the front row and cried as the show began. Shortly after that, my mom came in and found me, hugged me, and all was right with the world again.

Many of you likely remember being lost as a child. It’s an alarming experience and so is finding out that the hand you hold has changed from what you knew as loving, caring, and understanding. Returning to that last place of safety and familiarity is one of the hallmarks of finding your way again. Part of me believes that this is what has happened in the medical field. Once compassionate healers, our field has transitioned into protocols, ICD-10 code diagnoses, prior approval paperwork, and endless uses of drugs. Many of my colleagues and I long for the golden years of medicine, where there was a one-to-one relationship with our patients. We were sworn to do no harm and committed ourselves to healing and compassionate caring. I believe we can return to those good old days. We truly need to turn around—to change directions—in our approach to our health. We need to embrace the ancient arts of medicine and somehow still benefit from the modern approaches of scientific medicine. That’s where I come in. I have been blessed with opportunities to study both approaches. I have gone through the classic training of traditional medicine, and after that, I took extra time and effort to learn the ancient art and philosophy of Eastern medicine. The blending of these fields is known as functional medicine. I am excited to share with you the root aspects of this amazing field in my book "CHANGING DIRECTIONS". My hope is that you, too, can utilize functional medicine to change directions. I want you to return to a time of health and balance in your life that is comforting and familiar.

Functional medicine is both a revolutionary and classic approach to health and disease. It is the original approach that Hippocrates founded so many centuries ago, when the major focus was the relationship between the doctor and the patient. The focus of treatment was dietary change and plant-based medicines, but the compassion and caring of the physician was key to healing. I describe modern functional medicine using two metaphors. One is that the roots of the tree, not the leaves, nourish it. In fact, the root system of a tree takes up as much space underground as the branches do above ground. The leaves may show the outward signs of disease, but if we focus only on them, we completely miss the deeper problem. Functional medicine sees the roots and knows that by nourishing the roots, the leaves will grow. Another metaphor that describes the way we see health issues in functional medicine is seeing your body’s systems as a flowing stream. We look at your health from an upstream approach. Imagine that pollutants and chemicals from a factory upstream are contaminating the water and creating imbalance and toxicity. The downstream approach of traditional medicine is to put a water filter on your kitchen faucet. That would solve part of the problem but certainly not all of it. What about the water in the bathtub, the dishwasher, the washing machine? You’re treating a symptom but not the real problem. Functional medicine looks upstream to find the true source of the problem and corrects it there. The upstream approach requires going directly to the source by removing or diverting the pollutants and chemicals from the stream itself. All the ill effects caused by the imbalance and toxicity can then be rectified and resolved.

According to the Institute of Functional Medicine:
Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both person and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the twenty-first century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more person-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their people, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual. (1)

At Pioneer Valley Weight and Wellness Centers, we take a patient-centered approach to uncover the root causes of illness by applying lifestyle strategies and treatments to address the needs of that individual. We use functional medicine to assist with weight loss and healthy body composition. We’re equipped to assess and treat chronic conditions that are not well managed by conventional medicine therapies.

These include but aren’t limited to:
➣Hormonal imbalances
➣Neurological imbalances
➣Reduction/oxidation and metabolism imbalances
➣Detoxification/biotransformational imbalances
➣Inflammation and immune imbalances
➣Digestive and absorptive imbalances
➣Structural imbalances

I look forward to connecting and sharing the world of Functional Medicine with you through the book CHANGING DIRECTIONS, personal visits in my clinic PIONEER VALLEY WEIGHT AND WELLNESS CENTERS or just through further entries in this blog.

(1) “What is Functional Medicine?” The Institute for Functional Medicine, https://www.

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