Functional Medicine: Why we need it

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Dr Clown

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Divide and conquer is not a motto I want to follow when it comes to my health. As I recall from the old song, ‘the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone’ and so on to the rest of my parts!

Functional medicine doesn’t view the parts in isolation and therefore does not treat them in isolation. Contrast this with the West’s traditional medical model which specialises in… well, specialisation. Which can lead to outcomes such as this:

A case in point

Last year under the traditional medical model I was referred to a mind specialist, a hormone specialist, a jaw specialist, a sleep specialist, a bladder specialist and a sex organs specialist. These specialists focused on particular body parts or symptoms. None of the specialists talked to one another.

Let’s take one symptom: exhaustion.

The jaw specialist told me my exhaustion is because I grind my teeth at night. He prescribed a splint to protect my teeth, plus antidepressants to settle my nervous system. The sleep specialist told me my exhaustion is because I have a sleep disorder originating in the central nervous system. He prescribed amphetamines to wake said nervous system up. The mind specialist told me it was due to a mood disorder and offered antidepressants with calming or waking properties (my choice).

Trying to make sense of this information, I queried the sleep specialist about the jaw and psychological elements. He became annoyed and asked me if I was not happy with the diagnosis. Actually, I have three: temporal mandibular joint disorder (TMJD), idiopathic hypersomnolence (no acronym), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Take your pick.

As an amusing sequel to this multiplicity of classification, my general practitioner, on receiving the sleep specialist’s report, almost deleted ‘fatigue’ from my medical file. Clearly a label meant it had been dealt with.

I objected. Because I’m still exhausted.

Finding a cause is the first step

This little scenario illustrates one of the traditional model’s traps. Labelling a symptom neither identifies its cause nor its cure.

It also illustrates why functional medicine is sorely needed.

The diagnoses I received suggested three separate problems and the doctors prescribed three separate and conflicting treatments. But all three diagnoses have something in common: they are disorders of the central nervous system. This suggests that my exhaustion, teeth-clenching, abnormal sleep pattern and impaired stress tolerance have an underlying common cause.

Finding a cause is the first step, and functional medicine looks for causes. It’s not happy with mere labelling. Take Dr Terry Wahls, whose TED talk Minding your Mitochondria is a must-watch. Dr Wahls had the label: multiple sclerosis. She had the latest drugs. And she was getting sicker. It was not until she researched the likely causes of her condition (malfunctioning mitochondria, for one) that she succeeded in finding what her doctors and specialists could not: a path back to good health. Dr Wahls recommends functional medicine as the way of the future.

Related Articles:
Functional medicine: A new paradigm

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About the author

Claire Bell is the health and wellbeing editor of Midlifexpress. She is the author of Stone Age Secrets for Mind and Body and Comma Magic. Print and ebooks available on Amazon.



1 Comment


  1. A functional medical model can’t come soon enough. Your experience is indicative of the hole within which our medical system is hunkered down.
    At least it sounds like you’re onto it and that your mitochondria are getting the attention they need.

    Thanks, Merridy, for a clear and informative article.

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