Chances are good that if you’ve had any kind of chronic illness that’s hard to nail down or hasn’t gotten better thanks to a drug, you’ve had to visit different doctors. Anything difficult to diagnose often gets sent to specialists, and there are a lot of them!

Medical specialists typically are grouped by major body systems: gastrointestinal, nervous, immune, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, ear/nose/throat, reproductive, dermatological, and hematological. Specialists in each of these fields focus nearly exclusively on understanding the particulars of their bodily system, but what happens when conditions blur the lines?

For instance, if you go to your doctor with intestinal cramps, joint pain, and a rash, it’s possible you’d get sent to three different specialists to deal with each individual body system that’s bothering you.

The gastroenterologist will look at the abdominal cramps and other symptoms you may have, deciding that you have some form of inflammatory bowel disease and putting you on a med to help prevent “episodes” or “flare ups.” The musculoskeletal specialist may think that that you have arthritis and joint inflammation and may prescribe something to take down the inflammation and deal with the pain. The dermatologist will look at your rash and prescribe some nice soothing cream.

Unfortunately, things can get complicated from there, because the anti-inflammatories you’re taking for the pain irritate your stomach, and in a few weeks, you’re back at the gastroenterologist because of stomach pain and acid problems. No problem, an acid-blocker will help with that!

The problem is that acid blockers sometimes lower our immune systems, so you get a cold. That cold turns into chronic bronchitis, for which you get an antibiotic. But it disagrees with you, and you get a whole body rash! Back to the dermatologist, who knows a cream isn’t enough and writes you a prescription for a steroid. But guess what steroids do? They hammer your immune system, so you have to…. … …

This is the medical mambo—it’s a dance from doctor to doctor, med to med. Each level makes the dance more complicated until you’re bouncing from one specialist and drug to another, each adding to the next until you’re balanced on a leaning, swaying tower of prescription bottles…

Until they come crashing down!

The Alternative

What if there’s another way? What if you don’t have to end up tripping on your two left feet in the medical mambo?

This kind of medical model is what makes the time so ripe for change. A medical revolution, changed by ways of thinking we call Functional Medicine, is altering the way we think about patients, diagnosis, and even diseases.

Functional Medicine desires us to see patients as whole people, not as individualized bodily systems broken into various pieces that don’t interact. Instead, it recognizes that our genetics, environment, diet, and lifestyle all interact to change our metabolic processes and cause chronic conditions.

Each of us is completely unique, and our chronic illnesses are just as individual. The causes behind each of our conditions can vary widely, and they don’t neatly break down along the guidelines of medical specialties. We can’t be treated effectively for highly individualized chronic illnesses with attempts to force our symptoms into cookie-cutter diagnoses.

Instead of breaking the body into separate parts, Functional Medicine sees the body’s systems as an interdependent network—each system connected to every other system. Each bodily system can affect others, and only by taking the time to look at the patient as a whole person instead of trying to find a nice, neat diagnosis can we really begin to learn the underlying causes of our conditions. Wouldn’t you rather be a person than a bunch of symptoms? I know I would!

But health is more than the absence of illness. It’s the presence of vigor and vitality!

By thinking of what helps people be healthy, rather than just prescriptions to help cover over why they’re sick, practitioners of Functional Medicine are changing the way we do medicine. It’s an exciting time, and changes are necessary if we’re going to address chronic illnesses, the plagues of this century.

Friends, it’s time to get healthy.