What is Functional Medicine?

By Suzanne Turner, MD

The role of a functional medicine doctor is to explore the root cause of your illness rather than treating with a Band-Aid. We look at the person as a whole, beautifully complex, intricate system where effects on one part have global ramifications.

Our bodies are designed to heal themselves if we give them the setting in which to heal. Most illness comes from the body attempting to protect or heal itself without the resources necessary to do so. A stressful relationship or job, a nutritionally incomplete diet, or a belief of self as unlovable or unworthy stimulates in the body a cascade of protective chemicals that cause a Pandora’s box of cellular failure. Should these or other triggers follow a prolonged course, illness ensues.

Consider a person with a demanding boss and an overwhelming desire to please, who is unable to sleep. Sleep is the time when your body rids itself of all the “trash” it built up during the day and repairs damages your physical or emotional stress caused you. Not sleeping for several months can cause fatigue, distractibility, and difficulty word-finding. It can injure or damage your intimate relationships, tipping your support system, and affecting your work. Ultimately it can affect the optimal function of your immune system, making you susceptible to infection or cancer.

Setting a boundary with that boss, beginning a physical fitness regimen to relieve stress, assuring the quality of nutrients you enjoy, and raising the source of your sense of unworthiness can right your course of recovery. Like a new fruit tree needs to be staked until it is strong enough to stand alone, you may benefit from a sleep-inducing peptide or herb or even pharmaceutical until you sleep naturally. A functional medicine doctor can guide you on these paths to optimal health.

In addition to the standard medical and family history, functional medicine also explores environmental exposures, social support systems, spiritual practice, travel exposures, toxic exposures, and your body’s reactions to these. We may test for toxins, allergies, nutrient sufficiency, hormonal balance, genetic risk, detoxification efficiency, and rate of aging.

Working together, we individualize a treatment plan for your unique system and regularly adjust this plan as we optimize each system’s environment to reach optimal function. This may include tai chi, energy healing, a meeting with a dietitian, permission to set a boundary with difficult others, intensive nutrition to include IV therapy if necessary, and natural or pharmaceutical therapies as indicated.

You are a creation that is beautifully and wonderfully made. I encourage you to seek out a functional medicine provider who sees your brilliant design in all its intricacies and who has time to hear you and the wisdom to guide you into restoration.

Dr. Suzanne Turner is the senior physician at Vine Medical Associates. She completed family medicine training at Emory and her fellowship in functional medicine from the American Academy of Antiaging and Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Turner spends her free time studying, at the gym, or with her beloved husband Chip and their urban farm.