What is Functional Medicine?

3-legged stoolI first encountered the term Functional Medicine a few years ago during a lecture by Dr. Lane Sebring at a World Future Society dinner. In keeping with the focus of this organization, he titled his talk The Future of Medicine is … Not Medicine, which links to my notes and a video of the 71-min lecture. Dr. Sebring looked to anthropology to understand why, even with modern medicine, many of our diseases today didn’t even exist about a century ago when Heart Disease was almost unknown and Cancer was rare, not even making the top 10 as a cause of death.

The more he looked into the cause of illness, the more he became disillusioned and frustrated with modern healthcare and the traditional practice of providing “sick care” and just another pill in a “disease management” system that profits from illness. To focus his practice on health & wellness, he became an expert in Functional Medicine, which he describes as a form of evolutionary, integrative, holistic, or alternative medicine.

Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, and Lifestyle Choices are Disruptive

Sebring attributes much of today’s disease to changes in diet and exercise, and to that I’d add sleep as well, because these are the three pillars to good health. He and others like him believe functional medicine can replace 70% of traditional medicine, and I agree. But that naturally makes incumbent healthcare providers defensive. And the fact that this jives with “Fed Up,” an eye-opening documentary about sugar and processed food, angers the food industry.

Why are You Sick?

Dr. Mark Hyman, Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, describes functional medicine as “the medicine of why.” Another way to put it is that it’s the opposite of … dysfunctional medicine, because it’s based on mechanisms and causes rather than symptoms and diseases.

I’ve already published two of Dr. Hyman’s articles and also recommend this presentation to functional medicine doctors about The Future of Medicine from the May 7th Functional Forum in NYC, where he discussed functional medicine as being personalized and involving the four C’s:

  1. Content (nutrition),
  2. Connections (between people) where social Friends matter more than genetics,
  3. Community (the environment, including social environment), and
  4. Connectivity (quantified-self sensors & technologies)


Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen talks about how incumbents lobby government to protect their income from disruption.

EDITOR COMMENT:  Americans ALREADY live sicker and die younger than most other industrialized nations, according to the World Health Organization, even though we spend twice as much on health care. Our $3 trillion/year “sick care” industry is complicit in this food addiction problem and has no financial incentive to address it, since they profit from sick people.

As Stephen Brill wrote in “A Bitter Pill: Why High Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” we have a medical industrial complex (hospitals, insurers, drug companies, equipment providers, and testing companies) that spends twice as much on lobbying as the military industrial complex. This perversely profitable industry views patients as paying customers and works to keep them (paying) by treating symptoms rather than promoting health, wellness, and prevention.

The cause of all of this, in my view, is the corrupting influence of big money in government, and the Roberts Supreme Court.

With the right policies and more effective health reforms, we SHOULD be able to cut medical expenses in half, saving over $1.5 trillion/year (each and every year, not spread over 10-15) while dramatically improving the health and productivity of our workforce; but I don’t see that happening under our toxic political climate, which favors wealthy special interests over the public good.

As a technologist and futurist, I love reading and writing about the future, and I compiled this list of movies & documentaries about that future of healthcare. I’ll surely be writing more about the future of functional medicine in … the future.

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