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What Is Functional Medicine?

Posted on November 3, 2022 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Maybe you’ve heard of functional medicine. Maybe you categorize it under the ambiguous umbrella of "alternative" medicine. But in reality, functional medicine combines both conventional and natural medicine—and it’s becoming increasingly mainstream. 

“With functional medicine, we're asking why illnesses occur," says Ryan Barish, M.D., a functional medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "How can we optimize and restore health by addressing the root cause of issues? How can we test and identify what the root causes are? It’s more about treating the root causes than alleviating and focusing only on the symptoms. 

"We spend time learning someone's personal story —we try to identify factors in someone’s past that might be contributing to the issues they’re having now. Basically, functional medicine is just good medicine. It’s not yet standard of care because there’s a lag when it comes to incorporating medical research into conventional clinical practice. But functional medicine is crossing over into conventional medicine more frequently."  

Who Should See A Functional Medicine Doctor?  

Some people turn to functional medicine after they’ve tried the conventional approach and still aren’t getting the results they want. But functional medicine can be a welcome addition to anyone’s health and wellness regimen. “Because functional medicine incorporates so many lifestyle components—nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep improvement—it can be helpful for anyone who is looking to maximize their approach to health, even if they don’t have a specific health issue,” says Dr. Barish.   

That said, people often see functional medicine doctors for issues like: 

  • SIBO, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth 
  • Acid reflux
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Fatigue
  • IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Anxiety and mood disorders. (Alongside your mental health professional, a functional medicine doctor can look at your overall lifestyle and help you find ways to manage issues.)   
  • Mold exposure 
  • Histamine intolerances 
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Prediabetes
  • Weight management
  • High blood pressure

The Difference Between Naturopathic And Functional Medicine  

Some people think functional medicine is a synonym for naturopathic medicine—but functional medicine and naturopathic medicine are different. Naturopathic doctors, for example, typically don’t also have conventional medical backgrounds. They didn’t go to allopathic or osteopathic medical school and they can’t prescribe prescription medicine. They also may have some limitations on the types of tests they can order for patients.    

But a functional medicine physician like Dr. Barish has graduated from medical school, completed a three-year family medicine residency, is board-certified in family medicine and also has additional certification in functional medicine. 

“Sometimes you need good quality conventional medicine, other times a natural approach is best,” says Dr. Barish. “And having both backgrounds allows me to know when each is needed. A quick story: my dad has been healthy his entire life. But just a few years ago, his blood pressure started to rise and he was going to be put on blood pressure medication. We looked through his pantry and realized he and my mom had been buying a new soup in bulk, which turned out to be very high in sodium. So my dad cut it out of his diet and his blood pressure went back down to normal, without needing medication. He would have taken the blood pressure medication if needed, however, he was able to responsibly avoid it. 

“The solution isn't always as simple as that, but that is a perfect example of what functional medicine is—asking why and then trying to identify and manage a root cause before relying entirely on medication alone. Prescriptions are great when they’re needed, but often there are other solutions to consider.”   

To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Ryan Barish is a functional lifestyle medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Royal Oak. 

Categories : FeelWell

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