The future of medicine is 'functional'
Day one, I was sat next to an Internal Medicine attending. Frustrated with day-to-day clinic and constantly worsening patient outcomes, he gave up his practice and started a clinic focused on diabetes. By engaging with patients about food choice, enquiring about their ‘non-clinical’ history and daily life stressors, his zest for medicine came flooding back. More importantly he started being able to reverse the chronic disease medical school taught him would always gradually worsen overtime. A shining example of why ’functional medicine’ is gaining popularity amongst even the most sceptical of physicians.
“The results have been astounding!” He has a glimmer in his eye. He is ecstatic about his job and loves Monday mornings. A rarity amongst most doctors I speak to at home in the NHS.
As I played musical chairs over the next 5 days at “Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice” (AFMCP) in Baltimore, the stories appeared to repeat themselves. Every medical doctor seemed to be turning to a new model of healthcare, based on evidence and with the promise of actually being able to heal patients, rather than just TREAT them.
We are quickly losing the connection to humans that drove us to want to be medics in the first place. With shorter appointments and longer wait lists, it’s no wonder more doctors than ever are leaving the profession for more gratifying careers. It’s such a shame. If dissatisfied medics were aware of successful and more autonomous models of healthcare, I really believe they wouldn’t be leaving in such numbers.
Functional medicine is the process of discovering the root cause of disease, rather than treating symptoms that demonstrate an imbalance. It attempts to connect all specialities and considers everything from lifestyle stressors, environmental affects, spirituality and genetic predisposition. It appears to dovetail two professions that have remained worlds apart using a science focused approach. Conventional Medicine and Naturopathy.
Out of 400 strong attendees, at least 250 were from specialised medical backgrounds. Neurologists, Psychiatrists, GPs, Cardiologists even Intensive care doctors and nurses. After lectures, delegates shared the frustration of not being taught this intense level of nutrition at medical school, but also the excitement of finding a treasure trove of new knowledge. Information that we could easily and safely incorporate into practice immediately. We learnt how to optimise the bodies’ incredible biochemical pathways using food, enhancing our organs’ ability to detoxify and the connect between the gut and brain.
The 5 days was a rollercoaster into the science of meditation, stress and of course the Microbiome! But what I loved most about the programme was acceptance that science can only take us so far. This isn’t a revolutionary model of care that aims to overhaul traditional schools of medicine. It’s simply a new lens to look at the patient. A new format in which to practice the medicine that we have been taught. It’s complimentary rather than contradictory.
We’re great history takers. We just need to dig deeper.
We’re great at formulating differentials. We just need to consider the cause not diagnosing the outcome.
We’re great empathisers. We just need more time to truly show that.
This week has inspired me to ‘reinterpret’ the medicine I’ve been taught. It’s reaffirmed that food REALLY IS the key to improving the burden of disease. And that’s exactly what I intend to continue promoting.
PS – I’d encourage you to find out more about Functional Medicine and make a decision for yourself. In recent years the whole field of FM has come under scrutiny. I encourage skepticism. It’s how we as a scientific community progress and ensure our standards are kept high. Check out this article for example. However, despite the negative press, applying the principles of lifestyle medicine centred around diet, exercise, sleep and stress are at the core of IFM. That is what I took away from my time in the states!
Guest blog by Dr Rupy Aujla.