What is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner?

Are you someone who values good health, aims to reduce reliance on medications, and wants to prevent chronic diseases? Do you want to find the cause of problems instead of just treating the symptoms when you don’t feel good? Functional medicine may be a great fit for you. 

Functional medicine employs a comprehensive approach, combining an in-depth patient presentation, cutting-edge testing techniques, and a solid understanding of human physiology. This helps in investigating why the disease happened in that individual. A certified functional medicine practitioner is crucial in guiding individuals in this journey.

Functional medicine doctors are trained to scientifically identify the root causes of health issues rather than just treating the symptoms. They can come from various disciplines, including Medical, Naturopathic, Osteopathic, and Chiropractic. They are drawn to this specialty because they seek beyond traditional disease-focused care. They are passionate about finding the source of their patients’ health problems, ultimately guiding them from illness to wellness.

Functional Medicine: Uncovering the Missing Pieces of Health

Functional medicine is a specialized field that demands extensive advanced training. Practitioners need a deep understanding of human physiology, biochemistry, anatomy,  pathology, and clinical experience in managing patients and their health issues related to various systems. Continuous training is essential to keep up with the latest scientific research and ever-evolving testing methods. 

Clinical acumen is crucial in compiling all the information obtained through detailed clinical assessment and functional medicine tests. This is where training and experience as a Medical doctor really help.

Becoming a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner requires training and education from The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). IFM is the only organization providing functional medicine certification and educational programs directly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). They offer physicians and healthcare professionals a holistic systems-based approach to prevention, diagnosis, and comprehensive management of complex chronic diseases.

IFM-certified practitioners complete rigorous training over 3- 4 years. They complete Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP), all six Advanced Practice Modules (APMs) – Gastrointestinal, Environmental Health, Bioenergetics, Hormone, Cardiometabolic, and Immune – a Case Report, and the Written Exam covering the material. Certified practitioners stay atop the latest advancements in testing and treatment through continuous learning. The certification renewal requires passing written exams and a license to practice.

The written exam is more rigorous and clinically oriented for Medical doctors than other professionals. This exam validates the knowledge of a medical doctor with long experience running a clinic, as the questions are about clinical scenarios with symptoms, signs, clinical presentation, blood markers, and other lab results. Based on this assessment, the correct next steps need to be identified by the practitioner. 

While some uncertified professionals call themselves functional medicine practitioners, certification assures that the doctor is at the forefront of this science. If you have a choice, it’s advisable to seek care from an IFM-certified functional medicine practitioner.

Also, functional medicine practitioners must liaise with specialists, be it endocrinologists, rheumatologists, immunologists, etc., wherever necessary to make a safe and effective program.

A Case Study 

Let’s consider a common issue like cholesterol, better known as dyslipidemia. When patients visit a typical physician, they often receive diet and lifestyle advice and statin to manage their health issues. The conventional disease-focused approach treats all cases of such issues similarly, but every individual is unique, right? Shouldn’t treatment be tailored to each person’s specific needs?

Take, for instance, a recent case in my practice: a 45-year-old man diagnosed with cholesterol issues. After an extensive assessment, I developed a comprehensive testing plan to pinpoint the issues and guide the patient toward wellness. The functional lab testing revealed a wide range of potential root causes. The results revealed:

All of these issues can be addressed without the need for medications. I assisted this patient in reducing inflammation in his body, improving hormonal balance, and replenishing with the necessary nutrients. We also worked on nutrition, lifestyle, and supplements needed to switch off the genes for cholesterol issues using epigenetics. Slowly, all his markers improved, and his dyslipidemia resolved.

Do you think these biochemical imbalances would have responded to the conventional disease-based treatment of prescription medications? Likely, they wouldn’t have improved much. Medications typically don’t address the root cause of disease, and they often come with unwanted side effects.

Considerations and Challenges

One of the primary challenges to functional medicine is limited insurance coverage for testing and treatment. Functional medicine may require more upfront costs, but the standard medical approach can be far more expensive in the long run. 

Consider the example of my cholesterol patient. The costs associated with conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and overall quality of life are significant. Prevention and addressing the root causes of illness lead to long-term savings by reducing the need for more expensive interventions in the future.

This approach also requires patience as working on root causes, mainly through nutritional biochemistry and lifestyle, might take a few months to show results. However, this is better than a quick fix where symptoms keep recurring. 

The functional medicine approach also improves health vitality and prevents further diseases from happening. For example, his muscle aches and fatigue improved when I worked with a patient with cholesterol issues. We know these are the side effects of statin, as it reduces levels of CoQ10 in the body. 

In this video, Dr. Mark Hyman eloquently explains the benefits of a functional medicine approach.

Final Thoughts

The differences between conventional healthcare providers and certified functional medicine practitioners are worth considering if you seek healthcare guidance for chronic disease. Functional medicine offers a unique approach that focuses on uncovering the root causes of illness, providing personalized care, and empowering individuals to take charge of their health. Consider the long-term benefits of improved health and quality of life in your assessment. 

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