Functional Medicine and “Medical Refugees”

The world is getting hit with a tsunami of “chronic epidemics” including: chronic fatigue, insomnia, digestive problems, anxiety/depression, hypothyroid, headaches, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune conditions and cancers. It’s no small wonder. Modern life is often sedentary, stressful, and rampant with over-processed food and a variety of daily toxic exposures.

A “functional” approach to health involves identifying and addressing the root causes of each individual’s state of health (or disease). These factors invariably include a combination of genetics, lifestyle (diet, sleep, exercise, stress), our microbiome, past and current infections, stressors, chemical exposures, injuries, oxidative stress, and inflammation.


The Functional approach involves gathering and mapping the various factors that lead to an individual’s state of health on the Functional Medicine Matrix and then personalizing treatment plans to address underlying causes. In this way, the functional approach can help patients avoid and reverse illness as they move toward optimal health. It sounds simple, but this approach is actually a giant leap forward from the conventional drug-based symptom suppression approach–which is ultimately more about disease management than disease cure.

Functional Medicine Clinical Matrix

For patients with chronic diseases, conventional medicine is extraordinary at classifying symptoms and naming diagnoses. The conventional ICD-10 has over 150,000 distinct diagnoses. Unfortunately, when it comes to addressing the tsunami of chronic disease, conventional medicine too often amounts to a system that matches diagnoses with drugs to mask the symptoms. In this way, if a patient has five different symptoms, they may get five diagnoses and five different drugs to “manage” their symptoms. As often as not, drugs come with a myriad of interrelated side effects that are often hard to distinguish from new diseases themselves.

Here’s the problem: a diagnosis is just a name for symptoms. Conventional diagnoses do not indicate the causes, how different symptoms are related, or how best to address the underlying causes and prevent new symptoms.

What's wrong with this picture For these reasons, conventional medicine is simply not the best system to address the epidemic of chronic diseases. There is a growing number of “medical refugees” who are simply not getting what they need and this is one reason why conventional medicine has become “dysfunctional.”


Fortunately, functional and conventional approaches to medicine are not  incompatible. In my practice, I integrate the best of conventional laboratory and imaging diagnostic methods with leading-edge nutritional, lifestyle, biochemical, and genetically-tuned interventions to create the best outcomes possible for my patients.

A functional medicine practitioner’s job to partner with you to develop a profound understanding of the timeline of your ATM’s (antecedents, triggers &mediators) underlying your symptoms, and also your goals & potentials. Health care providers have read a lot of medical books, but we don’t have a book on you. Your job as a functional or naturopathic patient is to organize and communicate your life story and then to apply yourself to whatever intervention program we develop together.

When symptom relief is indicated, I work to identify and treat the root cause of your ailments—not simply mask the symptoms. We often find that removing one or more offending diet or lifestyle factors can bring profound symptom relief. At other times, the short-term use of nutritional supplements, herbs, hormones or even pharmaceutical drugs may be appropriate. Whatever the case, I will work with you to find the most gentle and effective therapies available while helping you to build a lifestyle that will support your optimal health naturally.

Today’s conventional drugs are surely a medical marvel. However, the theory behind drug use is often fundamentally flawed. Conventional medicine has become astonishingly dependent on deploying drugs to suppress symptoms, improve lab numbers and otherwise manage chronic diseases. What’s missing from the symptom-to-drug matching game is identifying and addressing the root causes of an individual’s disease. In this way, conventional approaches have become a “disease management” system—not a “health care” system. Those patients who don’t benefit from the drugs often end up as “medical refugees.” These refugees are tragically often told that nothing can be done, or worst, that their problems are in their heads.

In my experience, programs based on “passive therapies” like drugs and supplements (and even massage and chiropractic) do not work as well as “active therapies” such as including optimizing sleep, improving diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, and cognitive therapies. The most successful patients in functional and naturopathic practices are those who take on an active role in promoting their own health. So if you are a motivated medical refugee or just someone that wants an effective alternative to the conventional disease-management system, I am eager to meet you.

Chronic illness is a signal to change something. We will journey together to learn if you have a special unmet need to receive, avoid, or be rid of something that, when taken care of, will favor Nature’s buoyant impulse toward healing in your body, mind and spirit.

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