When people ask me how I treat a particular condition, I often answer “it depends.” As a functional medicine doctor, I treat the cause of the symptoms instead of managing the symptoms. For example, in pharmaceutical medicine, seasonal allergies are treated with an antihistamine. Antihistamines block the signal that your immune cells send out when they encounter an allergen. The antihistamines stop the allergic response at one of the last steps of the process. Functional medicine treatments for allergies are directed at correcting the root cause so treatment for allergies may include treatments for immune changes that begin in the gastrointestinal system or they may include strategies for reducing exposure to allergens by flushing the sinuses or using a HEPA filter.
In functional medicine, the treatment is not the same for every person with allergies because we are not suppressing the allergic reaction; we are correcting the underlying problem that caused the immune system to react with an allergic reaction.
Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms
Functional Medicine treatments are based not only on the condition that a person has but also on the factors that led to that condition. There are very few things that happen spontaneously in the body. Most of the time, when we start to experience symptoms of a condition, there have been physical stressors, hormonal imbalances or structural changes that have been developing over months or years. Our goal is to remove the “obstacles to cure” and treat the factors that are pushing the body out of balance to allow the body to recover and heal.
Uncovering the Qualities of Symptoms
How do we discover the cause? During each visit, we ask lots of questions about specific qualities of symptoms:
- is the pain sharp or dull?
- does it come on suddenly or gradually?
- do your headaches get worse at a certain time of day?
We also trace back to when and how the symptoms began, what makes the symptoms better or worse and what other changes were occurring at the same time that the symptoms began. In thinking about cause, we consider factors that are known causes for those symptoms including environmental exposures, physical stressors including small things like keeping your wallet in your back pocket or bigger things like sleep apnea and food intolerances that are causing inflammation and digestive problems. By getting a thorough understanding of the history and the nature of symptoms, we can often discover the causal factor as well as other factors which perpetuate the problem.
The human body is not unlike an inflatable bop bag (also known as a punching bag but it’s better not to use that term in this situation) that rights itself easily after small, short hits like injury or acute illness. In chronic disease and more long-term illnesses, there is often something that is holding the bag down so that it cannot right itself or something that hit it so hard that it got knocked over. Our goal is to remove the factors that are holding the body back from righting itself and to support the body in healing.
Struggling with the same symptoms, but never finding the cause? Make an appointment and we’ll get to what’s causing your discomfort.
Dr. Gwenn Rosenberg