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Functional Medicine has its Roots in Naturopathic Medicine

May 01, 2016 11:06AM
by Dr. Isabel Sharkar
As the movement for functional medicine arises, let’s not forget where it originates. Dr. Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., who is widely considered one of functional medicine’s leading pioneers, launched the functional medicine movement about 30 years ago after he grew frustrated with what he calls “fragmented, organ-based specialty care.” Dr. Bland was the first member of the board of trustees of Bastyr University (a naturopathic medical school) in Washington state, the first federally accredited university in the United States offering graduate and undergraduate degrees in natural medicine, and contributed significantly to its founding and accreditation.

Although the United States is spending more on health care than the next ten-top- spending countries combined, we have the most chronic disease and shortest life-span of all industrialized nations. We have the best advancements in life-saving surgeries and emergency care, but when it comes to chronic health conditions, we have missed the mark entirely. Are you aware that 84 percent of healthcare costs in the U.S. go toward treating lifestyle preventable chronic disease? It is estimated that we could spend $47 trillion over the next 20 years on lifestyle preventable chronic disease. Fortunately, through naturopathic and functional medicine, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Both naturopathic and functional medicines interpret labs differently from our conventional model. Both run more extensive labs (stool test, gluten and food sensitivity, Lyme titers, adrenal stress profile, macronutrient testing), customize health care, spend more one-on-one time with patients, address underlying dysfunctions and root cause, and use natural treatments. Additionally, both view the patient as genetically and biochemically unique, providing personalized health care that treats the whole person and root cause of the disease, not the disease itself. When we create a healthy ecosystem in the body, health happens.

Like naturopathic medicine, functional medicine is a wonderful approach to health and provides M.D.’s and other health care professionals the opportunity to look outside of the conventional model. It allows healthcare professionals to use science-based medicine that understands the web-like interactions among the body’s physiological processes and how they affect every aspect of functionality. The body has the innate ability to heal itself, through a dynamic balance of all body systems. Everything affects everything else in the body and works together as a whole to create health.

Regardless of which health care system you go with, when it comes to treating dis-ease, remove what causes the imbalance and provide what creates balance. Ask yourself these two vital questions:

1)   What am I putting in my body that my body is not agreeing with?

2)   What do I need to put in my body for my body to function better?

The environment drives 90 percent of chronic disease. Stress, toxins, drug exposures and pollution all set the stage for the emergence of imbalance. Our environment shapes the structure and function of our internal ecosystem. Nutrients and phytochemicals, or lack thereof, speak to our genes. Every bite you take speaks to your biology and has the power to change your microbiome and gene expression within minutes. Even our social networks influence health and disease.

The five causes of disease include:

  • Toxins
  • Allergens
  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Microbes
With functional medicine, it is possible to create a health thriving human environment through food, vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, hormone balancing, good sleep hygiene, sunlight, water, breathing fresh air, movement, love, community, connection, meaning and purpose.

Isabel Sharkar, ND, is a licensed naturopathic physician and co-owner of Indigo Integrative Health Clinic, in Georgetown. For more information, call 202-298-9131 or visit


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