While functional medicine uses many of the tools of conventional health care, it differs in the way patients are treated. Practitioners take a more personalized approach by examining how genetics, environment, and lifestyle affect a person's overall health.
This approach enables the incredible advances science has made in medicine to be used on a case-by-case basis.
What is functional medicine?
The roots of functional medicine began in the 1950s when aspiring holistic healers saw a growing body of scientific studies supporting alternative medical practices. Diagnostic laboratory tests are an essential part of this modality. Access to functional medicine increased as more and more laboratories emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.
You may be wondering what exactly these labs are testing for. The standard panel includes bowel tests, blood chemistry, food sensitivities, chemical and metal sensitivities, hormone tests, adrenal tests, and DNA genetic tests.
With these tests, providers can base their treatments on empirical data and use follow-up tests to determine how well the treatments are working.
Functional medicine providers see their patients as a whole rather than just separating organs and parts. This is critical to reproductive health. Imbalances in this area are common and chronic. This means that treatment must be given on a holistic level – also known as addressing the whole person.
Almost every imbalance or disease that a person may have in relation to their reproductive health is a systemic problem that needs to be approached from different angles. This is where functional medicine comes in.
Reproductive health covers a wide variety of topics. Everything from pregnancy to uterine diseases to menopause – and everything in between. So many women remain dissatisfied and under-treated (or mistreated) by their conventional health professionals. Therefore, they are turning to alternative approaches that are supported by science.
Are you wondering if functional medicine is right for you? Or just curious to find out more? Here are some common reasons people turn to it and what treatments may be offered.
The process of getting and staying pregnant is not always easy. For some, it means heartbreak, waiting, and anticipation.
Most people who have difficulty conceiving or who have recurrent miscarriages are actually in a range from less to more fertile, rather than being completely infertile. Fertility directly reflects a person's overall health.
One of the first steps a provider will recommend is checking your hormone levels. Especially for imbalances in progesterone, This is important in preparing the lining of the uterus for successful implantation of an embryo.
Many hormonal imbalances can be attributed to environmental influences endocrine disruptorsand heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and lead in our environment. Providing the body with natural detox support can lead to a balance.
This painful, but all-too-common, condition is often characterized by excruciating cramps, abnormally strong flow, chronic pain, and infertility.
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease and the result of hormonal imbalance – often due to a genetic predisposition.
For this reason, functional medicine doctors will target treatment to reduce the amount of general inflammation in the body through specific diets and lifestyle changes.
This diet change largely involves the use of one of nature's best medicines – plants. There are an abundance of herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are rich in natural anti-inflammatory properties while also boosting the immune system.
This is especially important to reconcile gut health and the microbiome that lives there – an essential part of functional medicine.
In addition to diet, treatment plans usually recommend some form of exercise or exercise, stress relief, and possibly quality of sleep acupuncture for pain relief.
Because of its holistic approach, functional medicine understands that pregnancy is not a disease, but a natural process that could use additional support in providing quality care.
Many of the functional medicine tips you hear about getting pregnant are predictable, but often overlooked. Be careful not to expose yourself to plastics, detergents, and personal care products that contain potentially harmful chemicals.
Just like with infertility, you can get tested how much lead is in your system during pregnancy to avoid the harmful effects that can come with excessive levels.
A provider can help you find a manageable fuel plan on food, possible supplements that may be useful (like folic acid), and help you avoid harmful habits like smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.
While many people find relief from menopausal symptoms with the help of Hormone replacement therapy, Functional medicine can help women naturally compensate for the changing hormone levels that accompany this time in their life.
Once again, the abundance of nature is full of gifts of foods and herbs rich in hormone balancing super nutrients like zinc, protein, selenium, sulfur, vitamins A and B. An increase in essential fatty acids with a simultaneous decrease in sugar helps the body regulate fluctuating hormones.
The bottom line
You may have noticed that many of the treatments are pretty similar for different stages of your reproductive journey. This is because the underlying goal of functional medicine is to increase the general vitality of the individual.
While the treatments look similar, the different methods of laboratory testing allow providers to tailor them to meet the specific needs of their patients.
There are some functional medicine treatments that can be done without consulting a doctor.
Stress relief activities like yoga and conscious breathing, taking good quality probiotics, reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption, and increasing the amount of organic herbal products in your diet can all be done with a quick trip to the grocery store or your yoga mat.
These lab tests are becoming more and more accessible with home services and convenient pop-up locations. Integrative health approaches are the future and the key to taking your health into your own hands again.
Natasha's passion for reproductive health began at the age of fourteen when she was present at the birth of her youngest sister. Her incredible experiences as a birthing doula gave her insights into the magical realm of childbirth, pregnancy and everything in between. Your role as an obstetrician is her way of serving as an activist. She uses writing as an important educational tool to bring about changes in our view of reproductive health as a whole.