Functional medicine gets called a lot of things. One of my favorites is “quackery.” And I’ll even admit that some functional claims and techniques may be slightly questionable, but others can be very helpful—especially when it comes to improving quality of life.
Functional medicine is guided by the idea that various factors both work for and against health and disease risk. It believes that there are different “triggers” that can activate illness or reactions, and that various lifestyle, dietary, and natural treatment techniques can limit the effects and risk of triggers. An easy term to remember is that it’s holistic—it aims to treat the mind, body, and soul. Examples of functional medicine include acupuncture, aromatherapy, dietary supplementation, and more.
These practices may help tame inflammation and other contributing factors to chronic illness like heart disease, back pain, joint pain, and more.
Critics like to knock the science of this stuff. Instead, they like to rely on primary care—modern pharmaceuticals and technologies to treat specific problems. Primary care is useful, but it does not address the whole or the cause of health problems.
A recent study published in JAMA Network Open found that patients undergoing Functional Medicine, however, were more likely to report a higher quality of life than those undergoing traditional primary care.
This is a pretty big win for functional medicine because it suggests that these therapies make people feel better during their fight against illness in multiple ways. Using the PROMIS questionnaire—a measurement validated by the National Institute of Health—31% of patients undergoing Integrative care saw physical health scores jump by 5 points in as little as six months, compared to only 22% or primary care patients.
PROMIS scores assess a patient’s physical and mental health using variables like fatigue, physical function, pain, mobility, gastrointestinal issues, and emotional well-being. It was a relatively large study group, as well. 1,595 patients were treated at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and over 5,600 were treated at primary care facilities.
Your health is affected by a number of factors. Genetics, stress, relationships, nutrition, sleep, and exercise can all influence risk and severity of chronic illness, and taking steps to address the tapestry of causes can help improve your quality of life so you feel and function better. If you’re on the fence about functional medicine, it could be worth a try and help tame a trigger that modern medicine might ignore.