When looking for an alternative to conventional medicine, the norm for the treatment of health conditions, Functional Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine are two of the first alternatives to pop up in research. They both provide a natural and holistic approach to living happier and healthier lives. That’s exactly what people are looking for when they have found that conventional medicine doesn’t work for them and/or doesn’t align with their values.
But after a bit of Googling, you may be left wondering:
They are distinctly different approaches suitable for certain people. Read on to gain the understanding needed to make an informed decision about which one is right for you and how to get started.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
The clue is in the name. This is the practice of changing how you live your life to better your health status. By cutting out unhealthy lifestyle practices, illness can be prevented and treated often without the need to take medicine. This is perfect for patients who want to start out improving cardiovascular health or reducing blood sugars with diabetes.
It makes sense that if you eat to nourish your body, exercise to build strength, manage your emotional wellbeing and get good sleep, you’re less likely to get sick and if you do, you can recover quicker. Keeping your mind and body in good shape is a sound preventative measure.
Overall, Lifestyle Medicine offers fantastic advice for living well and we will often offer very similar approaches to our own patients in the Functional Medicine clinic.
However, Functional Medicine goes deeper.
What is Functional Medicine?
While Lifestyle Medicine focuses on helping patients to create healthy lifestyle behaviours to prevent or reverse health issues, Functional Medicine takes a much more in-depth approach to examining potential root-causes. This is especially important for patients with chronic inflammatory conditions, autoimmune diseases and fatiguing illnesses.
In our more complex patients, eating a low carb, healthy Mediterranean-style diet, exercising regularly (if able), and managing stress and sleep hygiene are important baseline interventions. However, in my experience, these alone are unlikely to bring about real change in the underlying issues driving the chronic illness when used in isolation. This doesn’t mean that the Lifestyle Medicine approach is wrong, but just that our approach takes into account and aims to treat many more possible root causes.
One of the biggest strengths of Functional Medicine is the offer of in-depth Functional testing – which helps us to drill down deeper into:
Knowledge of these problems means we can tailor treatment plans to take these issues into account while still working to improve diet and lifestyle for the individual.
In addition, our nuanced approach to identifying the right diet for each patient means we are not dogmatic about ‘the best diet for everyone’. We know there are patients who need to eliminate foods which could be drivers of autoimmunity (whether the plan is low or high carb). We also work extensively with patients who are affected by histamine, thiol or oxalate sensitivity. From vegan through to a carnivore diet, different food plans all have their place for the right patient.
Our Functional Endocrine clinic and advanced hormonal screening also mean we can offer a specialist approach to Thyroid and sex hormone replacement therapy where needed.
In these areas, the Functional Medicine approach has a lot more to offer to patients for whom trials of healthy diet and lifestyle have perhaps not delivered the results hoped for. We also find that patients with chronic illness also find relief in being able to see their underlying dysfunctions on their test reports (after having many normal NHS blood tests).
Functional or lifestyle?
As you can see, there is some crossover between the functional and lifestyle approaches. They both focus on natural solutions and how we holistically live our lives as an alternative to conventional medicine. However, functional medicine is able to personalise lifestyle changes and treatment plans in a more scientific manner and handle complex health conditions like chronic illnesses.
So, if you are hoping to ward off winter colds and other common minor illnesses, lifestyle medicine may well fulfil that need for you. If you are dealing with a more complex health issues, autoimmunity or Chronic Fatigue, consult a Functional Medicine doctor.
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