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If you’ve ever attempted to treat a mental condition, such as depression or anxiety, with conventional medicine, you may have been frustrated with the treatment plan. It typically involves pharmaceuticals that you’ll be taking for the foreseeable future and maybe a weekly therapist visit.
You might not even have found true relief, as your physician tinkers with dosages and maybe even finds it necessary to change your medications.
It’s no wonder that more and more patients are taking the reins of their health and seeking alternative solutions, such as functional medicine psychiatry.
Functional medicine psychiatry could significantly enhance your life with a personalized, whole-body approach to your mental health that looks not just at symptoms, but at what’s causing them.
But is it right for you?
Let’s look into what functional medicine is, how it’s different from conventional medicine, and how it can help optimize your mental health.
What Is Functional Medicine?
For the most part, conventional medicine looks at an illness or disease and attempts to figure out the best way to treat it by addressing the symptoms. Often, this focus includes a heavy focus on medication.
Functional medicine, on the other hand, focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of any ailments.
Functional medicine places a heavy emphasis on lifestyle changes as part of a healthier, optimally functioning body. This includes looking into diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and other factors.
Some of the most popular forms of functional medicine include:
- Chiropractic medicine
- Hormone balancing
- Medical massage
- Tai Chi
While functional medicine leans towards natural ways of treatment, it may also incorporate some elements of conventional medicine. For example, a patient may temporarily take medication to lower their blood pressure while waiting for lifestyle changes to take hold.
Conventional Medicine Versus Functional Medicine
Conventional medicine is no longer viewed by patients as the best or only way to treat their diseases. Thanks to the ready availability of information, alternative treatment options are becoming more mainstream every day.
But how does conventional medicine differ from functional medicine? Let’s look at the contrasts between these two vastly different approaches to health and treatment.
Conventional medicine focuses on recognizing and treating symptoms. These symptoms are used to identify your illness or disease and formulate a treatment plan.
Medication is often the go-to solution for managing symptoms. Unfortunately, if the medicine is discontinued, the symptoms often return.
With conventional medicine, treatment is often more of a cookie-cutter approach. Certain pharmaceuticals are considered to be the most effective option, so those are most frequently prescribed. For example, a patient diagnosed with recurring heartburn is often given a prescription for Prilosec.
While this is may be an effective treatment and offer instant relief, it’s not without its shortcomings. For one, almost every medication brings with it side effects. In the case of Prilosec, your heartburn relief might come with increased headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and gastric issues.
Also, once you stop taking the medication, your condition will resume. It isn’t an actual cure, it only treats the symptoms.
Functional medicine, on the other hand, focuses on treating the patient. Symptoms are seen as clues and investigated to find their root cause.
Treatment then focuses on resolving the underlying cause of the symptoms, as opposed to the symptoms themselves.
Take the example above, a patient with heartburn. Instead of prescribing medication, a functional medicine approach might include magnesium supplements, a less stressful lifestyle, and making sure meals are less rushed. These lifestyle changes might resolve the heartburn issue, without the need for pharmaceuticals.
Some of the hallmarks of functional medicine include:
Functional medicine looks at each patient as a unique individual with one-of-a-kind genetic makeup, stressors, exposure to toxins, diet and so on. Because of this, even patients with identical symptoms can receive vastly different treatments.
Functional medicine is a collaborative process between doctor and patient. Your physician will work with you to establish a treatment plan that works for you and fits into your lifestyle.
Functional medicine is heavily based in science and research-proven results. Diagnostic tests are used to determine hormone variations, metabolic functions, and more. This gives your physician a more comprehensive picture of your overall health.
Then, treatments with proven results are put into action to restore balance to your physiological processes.
When you work with a functional physician, they don’t just treat your current illness. In working with you to restore your health, the lifestyle and nutritional changes they suggest can lead to lasting health benefits.
It’s not just about healing, doctors of functional medicine also want to prevent any future illnesses.
Finding Root Causes with Functional Medicine
Perhaps the biggest difference between conventional medicine and functional medicine is that the latter is focused on finding the root cause of your illness or disease.
What does that mean to you as a patient? It means that your medical visits will be much more in-depth.
- Along with traditional diagnostic examinations such as blood work, a physical exam, and so forth, your physician will also talk to you about your lifestyle and nutrition. They’ll make sure your hormones are balanced.
- Your medical history will be part of the conversation, but so will previous traumatic life events, which can cause lasting symptoms.
- Then, your physician will look at all of the factors that could be affecting you before determining what could be the root cause of your current condition. Often, they’ll find that it could be a combination of causes. Instead of prescribing a pill to treat your symptoms, a functional medicine doctor will address each of the causes to help you regain optimal physical and mental health.
Functional Medicine Psychiatry
Functional psychiatry offers the same approach as functional medicine. Instead of conventional treatments such as medication and talk therapy, a more customized diagnostic approach is used to determine the right action plan.
But whereas a conventional psychiatric approach focuses on the brain, functional psychiatry looks at the function of the brain in the context of the overall health of your body.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the health of your body can affect the health of your brain:
- Hormonal imbalances: may cause a number of psychiatric conditions.
- Immune system malfunction: can trigger inflammation, which in turn can cause psychiatric issues.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) imbalances: can throw off the bacterial balance in your gut microbiome and lead to psychiatric issues.
In all of these situations, finding and treating the root cause of mental illness will not only resolve current symptoms, but keep recurrences at bay.
Let’s look at how functional psychiatry differs in its approach to two of our biggest mental health problems in America: depression and anxiety.
Functional Medicine for Depression
Here’s a startling find: between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of Americans taking antidepressants rose by almost 50%. And yet, the number of Americans suffering from depression stayed almost the same. More medication, without any improvement.
It’s clear that something isn’t working.
Could functional psychiatry be the solution? Yes!
With functional psychiatry, your treatment plan would be quite different from the traditional treatment plan centered around antidepressant medication and visits to a therapist.
Because when your physician investigates the root cause of depression (in your unique situation), it could turn out that:
- You have an Omega-3 deficiency
- You have a low thyroid function
- You’re pre-diabetic
- You’re low on vitamin D
- You were recently on antibiotics
In this case, instead of treating the condition (depression), your functional medicine physician will address each of those issues above with dietary changes, supplements, and other lifestyle changes.
This approach is more conducive to a life of overall health versus a dependency on medication. Instead of a temporary treatment, functional psychiatry will result in a positive life change that not only treats your depression, but helps prevent it in the future.
And if you feel it’s best to use a little prescription medication to help “kick it off,” your functional doctor can help work with you on that, too.
Functional Medicine for Anxiety
The cutting-edge science-based approach of functional medicine psychiatry can also make it the ideal way to tackle anxiety.
Traditional treatments for anxiety are psychotherapy and medication. While these may help alleviate your condition, they won’t necessarily cure your anxiety. Medications, specifically, merely mask the symptoms while you’re taking them.
A far healthier approach is that offered by functional medicine and root cause psychiatry. By looking at the overall health of your body and brain, a functional psychiatrist might find that there are non-brain related causes of your anxiety.
Some of the common root causes of anxiety include:
- A gut microbiome imbalance: Your gut and your brain “talk” to one another. A healthy, happy gut leads to a healthy, happy brain. An imbalance in the gut can often lead to anxiety.
- Overactive HPA axis: The HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis controls your fight-or-flight reactions. If it is overactive, you’ll be in a constant state of stress, which can cause anxiety.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Certain nutrients are necessary, and in the right quantities, to be mentally healthy. Some of these include B12, copper, zinc, and vitamin D.
Instead of taking a pill to control symptoms, a functional medicine psychiatry approach would address root causes such as those above. As they are resolved, your anxiety will recede and eventually disappear altogether.
Let’s face it: the traditional approaches of conventional psychiatry just aren’t cutting it. In our high-stress, processed food, sedentary-job world, there are so many factors adversely affecting our health that it’s almost impossible to track them all. And merely addressing symptoms with pharmaceuticals won’t actually solve anything, especially in the long-term.
But functional medicine psychiatry could be the game-changer your brain needs!
By investigating the root causes of your mental condition, you and your functional psychiatrist can choose the right treatment plan for optimizing your mental health. The personalized approach will look at all of the factors that could be causing your symptoms, and work on them as a whole. This can not only eradicate current symptoms, but also prevent them in the future.
Functional medicine and functional psychiatry aren’t just temporary cures. By addressing root causes of illnesses and focusing on wellness, they can help you live your healthiest life!
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