Putting the FUN in FUNctional Medicine: An Overview
In September 2020, I had my final post-surgery follow up, where my doctor and I would decide what options I had for my decade-long medical woes. (If you’re like, uh Ms. Girl I don’t know what you’re talking about - it’s ok, you can read more about my health journey here!)
After talking through a few options to sustain long-term health, we boiled it down to two treatments: functional medicine or relying on steroid injections and muscle relaxers for an undetermined period of time.
I don’t even like taking Advil… seriously, I’m the queen of never finishing prescriptions and just “waiting it out” whenever I get sick. (But don’t get it twisted, I believe in science and vaccines!!)
So, when I was presented with a referral to functional medicine I jumped at the chance. I had my first functional medicine consultation in December 2020 and have a follow up in about a month - here’s what I know so far.
First things first - what is functional medicine?
According to my friends at the Cleveland Clinic, “The functional medicine model of care offers a patient-centered approach to chronic disease management. It seeks to answer the question, “Why are you ill?” so you can receive personalized, effective care for your needs.”
Functional medicine focuses on holistic and natural treatment. Food is considered a first-line treatment option that, along with supplements, can heal your body.
What did my first appointment entail?
Before I even walked into the Clinic, I had to take a comprehensive two-hour questionnaire. The questions ranged from my eating habits as a child (seriously - like when I first had solid foods) to my daily stress level and lifetime trauma. I also had to do a one week food diary for my dietician.
When I arrived, I first met with my general practitioner. We reviewed my entire questionnaire and she focused on certain points of concern, along with health issues I was hoping to tackle. My main concerns for functional medicine are pelvic and lower back pain, bloating and nausea, migraines, mood instability, and acne - hey, might as well list it all while I’m there, right?!
After talking through my questionnaire and health concerns, she prescribed some supplements, ordered blood work, and a diagnostic test for the microbiome of my gut.
From there I went to the blood lab where I got 16 vials of blood taken - everything from my basic vitamin levels to blood sugar and hormone markers.
I refreshed myself with a little bagel and headed to an appointment with a health coach, where we talked through stress management and lifestyle choices that could negatively impact my health.
And, finally, I ended the day with a nutrition class hosted by my dietician where I learned about the importance of diet in your overall health and foods I would need to eliminate.
After my Appointment
I had a few to-dos once I left the office. First things first was to get my gut health checked. You got it, folks, that means a stool sample! I did what I had to do and sent my little package away to learn more about what was going on inside my gut. Did you know that nearly 70% of your body’s immune cells are in your gut?! So if that’s messed up, well dear, you’re in trouble.
Then, it was time to add in my supplements and start my elimination diet. (More to come in this blog series diving into both topics!)
My elimination diet was pretty comprehensive - I had to completely cut:
The goal is that over time I’ll be able to reintroduce certain categories and see how my body reacts to these potential triggers. While my full elimination diet was six-weeks, most of these changes will be life-long switches in my diet to best support my body.
I think it’s important to note that this is NOT a diet to restrict eating or cause weight loss. While weight loss may occur throughout the process, I do not count calories or carbs or anything like that. I read every label and eat strictly whole, real, and fresh foods but am not concerned about weight, calories, NATURAL sugar intake, or anything like that.
So, you’re interested in functional medicine - here’s what you need to know:
I want to put a big disclaimer that, while I’ll share my personal journey with function medicine, it’s important to realize that this is a plan customized for me by dedicated healthcare professionals. I am not endorsing or encouraging any changes in your diet, healthcare, or vitamin intake!
If you are interested in doing functional medicine, make sure you do your research before you dive in and always work with a doctor.
Here’s what I’d recommend:
Go to a holistic or functional medicine doctor attached to a large-scale medical facility, if possible. I am going to the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine. This is just my general recommendation - but for me it provided the backing of academic research and medical expertise that I needed to feel comfortable going a more natural route.
Look into your insurance coverage. Since I knew the Cleveland Clinic was a provider within my insurance network, I had a good idea of what could be covered overall. My bloodwork, for example, was covered by insurance since it was done by an in-network provider.
Be aware, though, that not all testing will be covered. My microbiome testing, for instance, was ordered by the Clinic but sent to an outside laboratory that was out-of-network. I had to pay out of pocket for that test as it was deemed medically unnecessary by my insurance and sent to an out-of-network provider.
Good supplements aren’t cheap! I am currently on four supplements that I take 1-3 of daily (more info on this to come!) and they can run me anywhere from $40-$65 per bottle of pills. These aren’t always your run-of-the-mill, easy-to-find, supplements that you can buy off a store shelf.
This is a slow process! To reset your body from diet alone requires six weeks. Yep - you can eat something like gluten or added sugar and it can stick around for over a month! So if you’re looking for a quick fix, I’d say functional medicine may not be your path.
This will become a mini-series on the blog. My next post is going to focus on all things elimination diet - my easy swap outs, my results, my first reintroduction, and more!