Integrative and Functional Medicine | District Center for Integrative Medicine

by health and nutrition advice journalist

Integrative and Functional Medicine providers approach the practice of medicine holistically.  We treat the whole person rather than a specific disease. Because of our holistic approach, we prioritize the physician-patient relationship and focus on understanding the upstream driver of illness, as opposed primarily focusing on the downstream symptoms.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative Medicine uses a combination of “Western” medicine and various complementary healing modalities (including, for example, acupuncture, botanical medicine and meditation) to treat a patient and support her healing. Integrative medicine doctors also incorporate the importance of nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle support.

Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine embraces these integrative medicine practices, but it also uses a systems-oriented approach to understand the underlying cause (the “root cause”) of a disease. Accordingly, Functional Medicine utilizes many modern testing and laboratory methods. For example, a doctor may request a patient to undergo genetic marker testing and/or gastrointestinal laboratory analysis. Functional medicine doctors combine this information with in-depth patient interviews to construct a holistic view of the individual and her lifestyle. The resulting “deep dive” is a highly personalized and detailed analysis of the patient’s health. This personalized, systems-based approach has proven particularly effective in treating chronic diseases like Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, and depression.

Case Study: A 30 Year Old Woman with Allergies and Eczema

To really capture the difference an Integrative and Functional Medicine approach makes over conventional medicine, consider a recent DCIM patient: A 30 year old woman (we’ll call her “Linda”), who came to us complaining of surface level eczema and allergies. 

The Conventional Approach: Suppress from the Top, Down

Conventional medicine had an entire toolbox of medications and creams designed to suppress Linda’s symptoms for 30 years of her life.  She was given antihistamines, steroids and inhalers.  She managed okay, but found all these treatments were short-lived and/or resulted in further problems that left her with an overall poor quality of life.  She came to us hoping to feel better but did not exactly know *what* that would entail.

Our Difference from the Start: A Deep Dive into the Patient…from before Birth 

We began with an extensive history dating back to her mother’s pregnancy.  A true deep dive into someone’s medical and environmental history is essential to uncovering the root cause of an illness, but it’s impossible in the context of the conventional less-than-15-minute appointment.  Our initial appointments are 90 minutes, one-on-one with your doctor.  

Uncovering Triggers and Root Causes

We learned that Linda’s mother was exposed to numerous pesticides during her pregnancy as a result of living on a farm.  Linda was born via c-section and then lived exposed to these same pesticides as well toxic waste from a nearby nuclear power plant.  She had eczema as a baby and developed allergies to animals, plants, and food in quick succession.  We begin to understand how she developed her early vulnerabilities.

Linda coped through her 20’s but then landed an incredibly stressful job.  She also worked part time at a restaurant where she began to eat fried foods, consume more alcohol, and was exposed to massive amounts of smoke.   Her stress and symptoms further increased when her father fell ill to cancer. Through lens of our integrative and functional medicine approach, it’s obvious to us why her symptoms worsened significantly at this point in her life. 

She first sought the help of an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor.  He gave her multiple medications to control her skin rashes and allergies but she continued to feel “unwell.”  Much to her frustration, she also began to have poor energy, gastrointestinal complaints, and weight gain!  

Our Approach: Tackle from the Ground, Up! 

Collecting the story is an integral part of our detective work, but it’s only the beginning.  With this granular information we have a fine-tuned sense of her vulnerabilities and early triggers.  We also understand inflection points that clue us into the perpetrators of her dis-ease.  As trained functional medicine physicians, this invaluable life-story helps us map her immune system’s journey, including where it went off the rails, and what options we have.  Thus, we design a micro-tailored treatment plan, focusing on identifying and tackling the root causes, and then addressing them from the bottom up:

Advanced Diagnostic Testing and Integrative Medicine

Our plan for Linda also included various diagnostic tests to validate our hypotheses, as well as integrative approaches to provide interim relief while our treatment plan attacks the root causes of her illness:

Linda’s Results: Full of Energy and Empowered

Today, Linda is eczema free, full of energy, and down to her college weight.  She continues to live with some outdoor allergies but they are manageable and controlled, as long as she is careful about certain triggers and sticks to the health regimen we created together.  She’s also been medication free for the last two years! Most importantly, she’s empowered.  She can identify triggers before her immune system goes off the rails, and she has a plan of attack.  She is a cherished example of benefits of our Integrative and Functional Medicine approach, as well as teamwork between clinician and patient.  

Medicine, The Way It Was Meant To Be

At DCIM, we believe that Integrative and Functional Medicine are complementary and intertwined. Accordingly, we embrace both. We understand that each patient is unique and requires a deeply personalized approach. We also believe in the body’s innate healing ability. Our role as physicians is to honor the individual and cultivate her ability to heal with the least invasive approach possible.  For our Practitioners, it’s a return to the motivations that brought us to medicine in the first place.  For our Patients, it is an opportunity to experience medicine as it was meant to be practiced.

This content was originally published here.

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