What to Look for in a Functional Medicine Doctor

When it comes to their health, patients want natural remedies. Whether medications aren’t working or because the side effects of taking them aren’t worth it, people seek a solution for their ailments that is outside the mainstream pharmacopeia. And doctors are listening.

Doctors of all stripes—gynecologists, cardiologists, chiropractors and more—are moving into the discipline of functional diagnostic medicine because it offers patients hope by combining natural remedies into a framework of healing that is at the core of patient care.

Moreover, functional medicine doctors don’t gloss over the fact that much of what is ailing you has been routinely ignored. Your health has less to do with genetic makeup, per se, than it does with the functioning of your body’s systems (hormone, immune, neurological, and so on) when autoimmune reactions and chronic inflammation occur.

An example of this change in thinking is happening right now, today, with the current news that immunotherapy is more effective than conventional methods for treating cancer. Studying the immune system, especially in the context of what restores a patient to health, is past due.

So what do you look for in a functional medicine doctor? For many it comes down to how well you communicate, starting with a basic affinity for each other. Illness can make a patient feel fragile, so finding a doctor who listens is important. As such, there are some preliminary questions to ask that will help you better understand whether this partnership is a right fit going forward.

Question No. 1 – What’s Your Philosophy of Nutrition?

For anyone who is not well, changes to lifestyle and diet are critical steps to healing. Even for patients who are not “sick”—who might simply want to improve their wellbeing—learning to identify and remove any inflammatory culprits is the first step.

Regarding nutritional supplementation, whether it’s hormones or heart disease, your doctor’s approach to supplements has to be thought of as more than a replacement for drugs. Nutrition is a tool for healing, and as healing takes place the cache of products will lessen.

Question No. 2 – What Testing Do You Use as Your Baseline?

Typically doctors will run tests in order to rule on a diagnosis. The result of the test becomes the basis for a treatment and is an important safety precaution in an acute scenario, as in a hospital. A doctor might call for a CBC to test for infection or an MRI prior to surgery.

In functional medicine, the tests are less for pathology and more for insight. When balancing hormones, for example, a doctor is looking for blood sugar response, adrenal function, steroidal hormone ratios, food sensitivities and many other indicators that are part of an overall pattern.

Question No. 3 – Which Therapies Would You Use in My Case?

At first blush a condition such as vertigo presents very differently from a thyroid disorder. That said, in many instances there are similar root causes including blood sugar dysregulation, parasitic or viral infection, nutritional deficiencies, toxic overload and hormonal imbalances, and so on.

Therapies should seek to remove any antigens and be supportive of healing and rejuvenation. Those that are best are noninvasive and lead to a restorative outcome in the patient’s ability to detoxify, increase metabolic capacity (more energy), recover brain-body balance and provide pain relief when needed.