My Journey to Functional Medicine

I was introduced to functional medicine in 2009, quite by accident. However, that “accident” was a logical destination in my search for fulfillment as a doctor. I moved to Hartsville in 2002. In order to justify to myself a move from my “dream job” in Atlanta to a small town, I thought I would do something that impacted the lives and health of my patients. I decided that a weight loss program might be the most effective way to impact the health problems facing my patients.

I started a weight loss program, and generated a lot of interest. There was a problem though; I tried to promote diet and exercise rather than using prescription weight loss medications. Soon enough, the buzz about my program faded, only the occasional patient showed interest.

In order to improve my program, I started searching medical journals and explored courses on weight management. At one conference, I bought a “Textbook of Integrative Medicine.” I registered the book online, and started receiving invitations to integrative medicine conferences. In 2009, I attended a conference on integrative medicine in New York. At that conference I saw a “Textbook of Functional Medicine,” published by The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). I was puzzled because after nearly 20 years as a doctor, I had never heard about functional medicine.

Curiosity made me purchase the Textbook of Functional Medicine. I started reading it, and I could not let go until I had read practically the whole book. As medical textbooks go, it is a small textbook with about a thousand pages. I will not go into details about the book here. Needless to say, I was fascinated with the functional medicine approach to medical diagnosis and treatment. After the excitement faded, I began to wonder if this was some sort of scam. It sounded too good to be true.

About six months before my introduction to functional medicine, I had bought a book, “The Molecular Biology of Aging,” by Guarente, Partridge and Wallace. It’s an even smaller textbook based on the science of aging. I bought this book only because one of the editors (Wallace) was my first year biochemistry professor in medical school. It was meant to be a souvenir for my home library. I decided to look at it after I read the functional medicine text, because the information seemed related. I read only the first chapter, incidentally written by Dr. Wallace, and I was sold on functional medicine. The information in that chapter validated everything I read in the functional medicine textbook. I registered to attend the Annual International Conference of IFM, and I have not looked back.

So what is functional medicine? Well, to tell you more about functional medicine, let me tell you about how medicine is taught in medical schools.

The 4-year medical school curriculum is organized into the preclinical and clinical years. The first two years are typically the preclinical years, also informally called the basic science years. During those years, medical students learn the foundations of medicine. These are basic science subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, human behavior, human development, immunology, microbiology, neuroscience, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, toxicology. The clinical years are the years when students get in-depth exposure to patients, and the methods of diagnosing and treating patients. Clinical training is like an apprenticeship. Curiously, the vast amount of knowledge we acquire in the basic science years is ignored when we start practicing medicine in the clinical years.

Functional medicine assigns basic science a central role in its application. Function means physiology, and functional medicine means physiologic medicine. The functional medicine approach looks for functional (physiologic) imbalances in a person that create illness and disease. In looking for functional imbalance, the functional medicine practitioner draws on knowledge from all the basic science disciplines, as well as clinical information from the history and physical to diagnose and treat. Clinical imbalances are assigned to functional systems. Example, fatigue is a disorder of energy metabolism or bioenergetics. But fatigue may also be a disorder of hormone or neurotransmitter system of function. Functional systems interact with each other, and exploring those interactions is an integral part of functional medicine. Functional medicine assigns significant importance to cause. As such, every effort is made to identify and eliminate causes of physiologic and clinical imbalances rather than just alleviate symptoms.

Applying functional medicine in my practice has been one of the best things to happen to my medical career. I have seen functional medicine patients ranging in age from 18 to 89. I have had results that I could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Functional medicine principles are basic to human function. These principle can be applied to any medical condition. To find out more, please send a message.

To your good health,

Emmanuel Quaye, MD

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