There are many diseases and chronic health conditions that can be addressed with functional medicine and integrative medicine. The following is a list of some common conditions and how they are viewed in the functional medicine model. There is overlap and connection between all the condition categories.
This list is not exhaustive and the summaries are short. It's meant to give you an overview of some conditions that a functional medicine physician can treat.
Today, over eighty different diseases are on the list of autoimmune diseases. This means that one in twelve people in the US have an autoimmune disease. The immune system is closely linked with mental health, cardiovascular health, endocrine function as well as growth and repair in response to physical and environmental stressors. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system attacks the body by mistake. It can't tell the difference between what is part of the body and separate from it. A Functional Medicine physician looks for the root cause of the disease and doesn’t simply treat the symptoms. There are a number of potential factors that can lead to autoimmunity. These include things like dysbiosis, chronic infections, neuroendocrine disruptors, heavy metals, chemical mitochondrial toxicants, environmental toxicants, aerosolized petroleum microparticles, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and more. This approach has to be individualized due to the multiple causes of immune system dysregulation.
Endocrine & Hormonal Disorders
The central nervous system controls the hypothalamus and pituitary to send signals to the hormone-producing organs in the body. This helps regulate metabolism and reproduction. These hormones interact with the brain as well as the organ systems that are affected by the hormones themselves. Hormone production, transport, sensitivity, and detoxification can be evaluated to determine where in the chain of function there is a missing or mismatched link. Hormone dysregulation can usually be fixed by balancing the system. This means fixing problems one at a time, instead of just giving hormones right away. If we have to, we can give hormones as a last resort, but this is not the first step in treatment.
Cardiovascular & Metabolic Diseases
One aspect of this arena is the study of Lipidology. This is the study of conditions that have metabolic dysfunction and endothelial inflammation as major components. There are over 300 biomarkers to help us evaluate this category. Biomarkers are specific tests that measure a defined biological function. Blood pressure, lipids, hs-CRP, myeloperoxidase, Lp-PLA2, and arterial pulse wave analysis are some examples. By doing a thorough analysis, you can figure out where there is a problem with someone's metabolism. Once you know where the problem is, you can start to fix it one step at a time. This includes making changes to your lifestyle, detoxifying your body, reducing inflammation, and getting the right nutrients to support your body.
Gastrointestinal Functional Disorders
Hippocrates once said that death begins in the bowels. We now know why he realized this over 2000 years ago. 80% of the immune system is found in the GI tract. Up to 90% of serotonin is also produced there. GI issues are often found with other medical problems. That's why it's important to have a complete evaluation that includes your health history from birth.
Advanced testing may be used to help clarify GI dysfunction:
- Digestive function testing
- Enzyme testing
- Permeability testing
- Bacterial DNA analysis
Many integrative evaluations include a GI evaluation and treatment because of all the interactions that take place in the GI tract. This includes the GI nervous system, food interactions/absorption/breakdown, and GI immune system.
Autonomic Dysregulatory Disorders
This is a difficult category to characterize because the autonomic nervous system interacts with the whole body. Disease entities are not always clear and can overlap with multiple other conditions. Mitochondrial disorders are closely related to autonomic dysfunction. This group of conditions is hard to diagnose and it takes a lot of work by both the clinician and patient to find the root causes.
Unfortunately, once neuron cells are lost they cannot be recovered. However, through neuroplasticity improved function can be achieved. There are currently three Alzheimer's prevention clinics in the country, the first being started at Cornell. We use research from these institutes to help us understand neurodegenerative disorders. This research is combined with our knowledge of vascular biology and movement medicine in order to try and slow or prevent these disorders. Nerve function can be improved through good nutrition and nutraceutical support. This helps to keep your nerve function working well. Sometimes nerve function is disrupted by things in the environment or toxins in the body. We need to address these problems to help improve neurological function.
These conditions were once considered rare genetic disorders and, though the genetic diseases are rare, we have now discovered that functional mitochondrial dysfunction is very common. Similar to autonomic disorders, these cover a large interconnected matrix of conditions. To date, there are not any specific non-genetic diseases that have been characterized.
Chronic Pain & Fatigue Syndromes
This group of conditions is diverse and can include many different diseases. People with these conditions often have a mix of symptoms that can be hard to diagnose. Some chronic infections, such as Chronic Lyme Disease, are placed here because they are similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and share many of the same symptoms. This group also may overlap with mitochondrial disorders, immune system disorders, and psychiatric illnesses.
It has been recently discovered that our body is very closely related to the bacteria, viruses, and parasites in our environment. If something goes wrong and these things get out of balance, it can cause problems like recurrent herpes infections, shingles, and Chronic Lyme Disease. The group is rapidly expanding. New discoveries have shown the DNA of H. pylori and Chlamydia pneumoniae in coronary plaques of the vascular system. Chronic oral infections (periodontal disease and tooth infections) have been seen to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, premature labor, and small for gestation births. Bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria) have been discovered to live in our intestines and have an effect on our immune system. This group can interact with all other bodily systems and may necessitate very individualized therapy regimens.
Functional Psychiatric & Mental Health
In the last decade, there have been changes to the way mental health diseases are classified in the DSM-V manual and new discoveries in neuropsychiatric function. We have learned that many mental diseases are caused by inflammation in the brain. These range from Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, to Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar, Chronic Insomnia, and more. These are closely associated with conditions that are related to brain health. There is a web of connections between mental health and all the above disorders. A thorough mental health evaluation will include all the systems from the IFM Matrix, as well as how they interact with themselves and with other people.
In order to treat your illness, you might need advanced immune regulatory testing in addition to other therapy modalities. These include PT, OT, Speech, Interactive Listening, PEMF, Tong Ren (a type of vibration therapy), and other modalities. Parental interaction is key in these cases involving kids. This may include making dietary changes, like the GAPS Diet, and avoiding foods that might be harmful, like dairy and wheat. It is also important to give the child supplements that can help protect their brain.