Functional Medicine: A holistic approach to preventative health means doctors need to look at the patient and not the condition
By Gill Dady B.A (QTS) Dip ION, AFMCP, AIP, mBANT, CHNC
There were many “lightbulb” moments during my years of study and I began to question the current medical paradigm which focuses on treating the symptoms of disease as opposed to asking why the disease had occurred in the first place. Surely it was better to consider the patient as a whole and ask why? ie identify the root cause of that disease instead of just focusing on treating the symptoms. I began to realise that because we are all different, the person who had the disease was more important than the disease itself. If we could focus on the individual and identify their specific biological pathways that were imbalanced we could target treatment protocols more effectively instead of just treating the symptoms.
This is where Functional Medicine comes in. Functional Medicine practitioners ask why? They spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. It is an evidence based approach which utilises the latest medical research to inform treatment protocols. Functional Medicine practitioners understand that everyone is unique and biologically different so there can never be a one size fits all approach. Instead the focus is on creating an individualised plan tailored to the unique health needs.
To illustrate these different approaches take excema as an example. A traditional doctor will likely prescribe a steroid cream to reduce the symptoms and while that may offer some welcome relief, it is not addressing WHY the excema is occurring in the first place, therefore
it will continue to recur. A Functional Medicine practitioner however will ask why. Why is the body inflamed? Why is the immune system overreacting? Then comes the detective work; the practitioner will take a
detailed health history including current symptoms – not just the skin but also digestive, hormonal, stress etc, a timeline of significant events since birth, family history, antibiotic history and food intake. Armed with this
vast amount of information and up-to date research, a skilled practitioner can piece together the puzzle and identify possible imbalances which may be contributing to the inflammation and disturbed immune system that is driving the excema. Is there a high dairy intake? Is there a fatty acid imbalance? Is the liver working optimally? Are the hormone pathways impaired? Are there digestive issues? All of these and more can potentially
contribute to excema and a Functional Medicine practitioner is trained to identify which areas to focus upon. For one person, removing dairy products can offer relief, for others increasing oily fish to improve healthy
fat intake may help and for someone else a stool test followed by a gut healing strategy may be the priority.
Functional Medicine is experiencing rapid growth in the US and in the UK. Awareness in Switzerland is increasing but there are currently only 5 Functional Medicine practitioners, myself included, in the whole
While patients are becoming more informed about the influence of nutrition and lifestyle on their health, and more research is supporting the power of nutrition for addressing chronic disease many Swiss doctors are still resistant to consider these as part of the treatment protocol as their training has been primarily focused on prescribing medications to relieve symptoms.
I am excited to be part of this growing approach but would like to see more Swiss doctors trained in Functional Medicine. I am currently working alongside a doctor who although is not listed as a FM practitioner he applies the principles to his patients. I would love to see more of his colleagues adopt the same approach. Being open to the principles of Functional Medicine is an important step in the paradigm shift required where Functional Medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.
My ultimate goal is to open a Functional Medicine practice where patients can find FM doctors, Nutritional Therapists and other FM practitioners all under 1 roof and so have access to patient-centred care to help them to achieve optimum health, not just to be free of disease.
After completing a degree in Biology and Education from the University of Warwick in the UK I worked as a teacher and Deputy Headteacher in England before moving to Switzerland in 1999. Having always had a
passion for health and food, Gill retrained as a Nutritional Therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London from where she graduated with a distinction in 2016. She now runs her own Nutritional Therapy practice near Zurich where she helps people address a wide range of health issues; including digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, hormone imbalance and weight management. She is a Functional Medicine practitioner and also an AIP (Autoimmune Paleo) certified coach.
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