Thursday, March 20, 2014

What is Personalized Nutrition and Functional Medicine?

The Masters program of study I am working on at the moment is Personalized Nutrition and it is grounded in Functional medicine.  I'm often asked what Functional medicine is, so thought I'd take a moment to explain it here.

In functional medicine, we look at the underlying causes of disease, engaging the patient with the practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.  There is a shift from traditional medicine being disease focused to functional medicine which is patient focused, and addresses the whole person, not a set of symptoms.

Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention and treatment of complex and chronic diseases.  So for example, if someone is obese and diabetic, the approach isn't to look at their symptoms and prescribe a diabetic medicine, but rather to go back into their health history and look at what imbalance may have caused this shift.  It could be that a situation years ago affected their microbiota in the gut, which led to obesity; or it could be that they have leaky gut and food sensitivities, and that was the trigger; or there could be a polymorphism; or they could be deficient in certain co-factors (micronutrients or macronutrients) that are needed for chemical reactions in the body.

Another example would be someone who has GERD - or reflux disease and has been given Nexium by their doctor.  For one person, the cause of the GERD could be their diet and eliminating the foods that caused the program can solve it. For another, giving probiotics to adjust the microbiota and nutrients to heal the lining of the gut solved the program.  For a third person, they were actually low on HCl - the acid in the stomach and this was because of a deficiency in zinc, which is involved in forming HCl, so restoring zinc sufficiency, solved the problem.

So personalized nutrition then comes into play in trying to correct the imbalances that are at the root of the cause.   It is personalized because what causes one person to present with symptoms can be very different to what causes those same symptoms in another person. The pathway by which they got there can be completely different.

As you can see from the Institute of Functional Medicine tree, we look at all aspects of a person's life, their stress, relationships, sleep, spirituality etc, as all these can create imbalances in the body. Its not about diagnosing disease, it is about looking at root causes, some of which may have started many years ago.  The approach is evidence based.

It is grounded in nutrition and in fact, their annual conference this year is all about nutrition. Its in San Francisco in May - and nearly sold out, so if you want to know more, take a look.

IFM conference
For me personally, I am not a doctor, but after my program is completed, I can work with clients within my scope of practice to help people nutritionally restore balance and also through my health psychology background.


Mary Lou Clark said...

Ruth, I would be so very interested in whatever you may learn regarding the disease called Samter's Syndrome or sometimes called AERD and nutrition.

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