Up to 30% of Americans would rate themselves as having poor health, 54% recognize they could enhance their health, and over 40% of Americans cite physical health as the biggest factor needing improvement in their lives (1). Many of these people are seeking a way to improve both length and quality of life, and functional medicine is a great answer.
Functional medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented approach that focuses on each patient to fully understand the total picture of each person’s health. It combines conventional medicine with alternative medicine in order to increase lifespan, improve overall healthspan (quality of health), prevent disease, and identify and understand the root causes of any existing diseases. Through a focus on comprehensive, personalized, and science-based care, functional medicine can enrich physical, cognitive, and emotional health.
History of Functional Medicine
The term “functional medicine” began popping up in studies in the 1980s, most often in reference to “functional somatic syndromes”. These syndromes are related to the somatic nervous system and include many diseases with a complex web of symptoms, including chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, premenstrual, painful bladder, autoimmune, non-ulcer dyspepsia, and restless leg syndromes (2). These diseases were initially thought to be psychosomatic (that is, originating from psychological or mental health problems, rather than reoccurring dysfunction within the body).
Due to the rapidly developing medical technology since then, diagnostic tools have become available that can assess the function of organ systems, organs, tissues, cells, and even subcellular function (2). Functional medicine has grown into its own in the past 40 years, and hundreds of thousands of studies and many divisions of functional medicine (neurology, immunology, cardiology, oncology, etc.) have revealed not only that each of the above syndromes has unique cellular changes and origins, but much more than that: a full branch of medicine (2)!
These diagnostic tools and scientific findings have created a spotlight on function in medicine, honing in on the holistic nature of the body and the importance of focusing on each person as a unique individual with many factors affecting their health and overall function. Health and function can vary over time, based on the ever-evolving interaction of each person’s genetics and body with their environment, diet, and lifestyle (2). When physicians shift the focus from disease and symptoms, it opens up the opportunity to study the many systems and factors of each patient and so determine which process(es) are not functioning properly.
What does it look like to visit a functional medicine doctor?
Dr. White is among the many functional medicine practitioners who are traditionally-trained physicians and have also completed extensive training in functional medicine. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and completed a residency in emergency medicine and trauma at Washington University in St. Louis. After many years in Emergency Medicine, Dr. White saw an opportunity to further help his patients through functional medicine, so he obtained extensive fellowship training in integrative and functional medicine, nutrition, and age management.
His goal for each patient is to improve lifespan, healthspan, physical and mental health, and cognition - basically, to help you become the best version of yourself! This begins with developing a strong partnership with you, in order to address your comprehensive health. We begin with a deep dive into your individual medical history and symptoms, including factors such as:
Cardiovascular history and function
Sleep patterns and quality
Types and amount of physical activity
Overall nutrition and eating habits
Drug and supplement consumption
Emotional and mental health
Environmental toxin exposure
Once Dr. White has conducted a comprehensive survey of each of these components of health, he may recommend testing. Tests may vary based on the symptoms reported, but are all scientifically rigorous and seek to give more information about your individual genetic and biochemical state. Since genetics, environment, and lifestyle can all interplay in different ways through different seasons of life, these tests can help to both indicate dysfunction and determine what prevention is needed for future health risks.
Treatment (Blending Conventional and Alternative Therapies)
Once potential root causes are identified, we will work with you to determine the right treatment plan. This may include conventional medication, lifestyle changes, procedures, or alternative therapies.
The partnership between you and our team will continue throughout the treatment process, regularly checking in on progress and overall changes in function. Long-term, functional doctors are an incredible resource because of the time taken at the beginning of the process to understand your history and health risks. We can help to monitor your health through the years, partner with you to prevent disease development, continually tap into your body’s natural mechanisms for healing and health, remain healthy through all of life’s changes, and age well.
Maintaining Long-Term Health
Fighting Infections Such as Coronavirus
Altogether, the goal of functional medicine is to bring the body to a state of balance so that it can prevent disease, fight illnesses, and help you live a full life. Sometimes functional medicine is viewed as just an answer to tricky syndromes that couldn’t be determined elsewhere, but it is so much more than that! Maintaining your overall health is incredibly important. When the body comes into contact with various pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, being healthy is a huge leg up in your chances of fighting the illness without developing severe reactions.
Unfortunately, many people have pre-existing diseases that put them at risk. As stated above, 3 in 5 people have at least one chronic inflammatory disease, and it has become the greatest cause of death in the world today (3). These diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (which can lead to heart attacks and stroke), arthritis, allergies, and asthma are only expected to increase steadily in the foreseeable future (3). And unfortunately, these are some of the diseases that put you at the highest risk for developing a severe response to COVID-19. Preexisting cardiovascular diseases are connected to complications including inflammation of and/or damage to the heart, blood clot formation, and irregular heartbeat (4).
This is because these types of infections affect the cardiovascular system directly. SARS-CoV-2 stimulates a part of the immune system that can lead to dysregulation in the body and allow an uncontrolled release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins) (5). This can lead to a “cytokine storm” which can cause life-threatening systemic inflammation. Cytokine storms and inflammation caused by SARS-CoV-2 can cause drastic and sometimes permanent damage to the lining of the respiratory system, blood vessels, and heart (4, 5).
Aging is also another risk factor for developing a severe case of COVID-19 if the virus is contracted. Because age is typically correlated with lowered immune power overall and weaker cardiovascular function, COVID-19 has unfortunately affected the elderly population the most (4). Additionally, older patients with cardiovascular disease are more likely to have existing levels of inflammation, and those with diabetes or hyperlipidemia may already have dysregulated immune function, both of which can lead to a worse prognosis or outcome if they contract COVID-19.
Maintaining Health, Post-Vaccine
As you can see, the importance of staying healthy over the course of your life and especially as you age cannot be overstated. Working to reduce underlying levels of inflammation, manage diabetes, heart health, allergies, and asthma, and reduce blood pressure are important steps towards maintaining overall health and a healthy immune system. In fact, it is important even if you are able to receive a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Though vaccines do protect you from becoming infected for a time, protection for many years is not a certainty. All viruses mutate, as we have already seen SARS-CoV-2 do, and some mutations may show themselves to be more resistant to vaccines than others (6). Unfortunately, this means that you could still get sick with a mutated form in the future.
Beyond that, something called “waning immunity” is relevant to all vaccines. While vaccines are highly effective soon after administration, most vaccines’ effectiveness tends to decrease over time (6). So, even if you get the vaccine, it is still important to maintain your health consistently throughout the effective period and to continue building a stronger immune system.
At Prime Health Associates, we take pride in partnering with our patients to help them build strong immune systems, address and prevent disease, and increase their quality of health and life. If you have any questions about bolstering your immune system, how to find relief from ongoing dysfunction, or would like to get more information about how functional and conventional medicine work together, please reach out to us. We would love to schedule a consultation and begin working together on creating long-lasting health and wellness for you.
Dr. White is a traditionally trained physician. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, he went on to complete residency training in emergency medicine & trauma at Washington University in St. Louis, then completed board certification. After many years in Emergency Medicine, Dr. White saw an opportunity to further help his patients through functional medicine, so he obtained extensive fellowship training in integrative and functional medicine, nutrition, and age management.
Aoafordos. (n.d.). Poll: 71% of Americans say their overall health and wellness is good or excellent. Retrieved January 08, 2021, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/aoa-p7o012220.php
Dr. Bland Bland J. (2017). Defining Function in the Functional Medicine Model. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 16(1), 22–25.
Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
Soumya, R. S., Unni, T. G., & Raghu, K. G. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the Cardiovascular System: A Review of Available Reports. Cardiovascular drugs and therapy, 1–15. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10557-020-07073-y
Evans, J. M., Luby, R., Lukaczer, D., Rountree, R., Stone, P. M., Guilliams, T. G., Yanuck, S., Messier, H., Ramsdell, K., & Hanaway, P. J. (2020). The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Virus-Specific Nutraceutical and Botanical Agents. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 19(Suppl 1), 34–42.
Honda-Okubo, Y., Barnard, D., Ong, C. H., Peng, B. H., Tseng, C. T., & Petrovsky, N. (2015). Severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus vaccines formulated with delta inulin adjuvants provide enhanced protection while ameliorating lung eosinophilic immunopathology. Journal of virology, 89(6), 2995–3007. https://doi.org/10.1128/JVI.02980-14