Why Functional Medicine?

OVER THE YEARS I HAVE SHARED with many of you my passion for an emerging health care model based on systems medicine -- functional medicine -- that can reduce the global burden of chronic disease, improve patient outcomes, create healthy communities, and avert an economic crisis from escalating health care costs. Welcome to my first e-newsletter created to provide in-depth synthesis and review of scientific literature and trends from today's leading thinkers in this exciting field, whose work represents a paradigm shift from reductionist, disease-based medicine to systems-based or network medicine. As Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, the newsletter will be part of my effort to support its mission to extend education, research, and collaboration. These are times of powerful change: IFM has just created a five-year, $20-million strategic plan to advance each of those areas. Through editorials, papers, and commentary in upcoming issues, it's my hope to deepen your understanding of this medicine of the 21stcentury and share insights about its science and practice. Why Functional Medicine? After 15 years of practicing functional medicine and witnessing the extraordinary clinical results from applying this new operating system to chronic disease, I am clear this must be the model for medicine going forward. I want to enlist your help as advocates, activists, and leaders in making this new paradigm the medicine we do now. Part of this involves learning about the theory and practice of functional medicine through case studies and review articles that will be the subject of upcoming newsletters. The Institute for Functional Medicine's strategic plan serves as its handbook and blueprint for how we are going to accomplish the expansion, validation, and diffusion of functional medicine that we know is desperately needed to bring this form of research, medical education, and clinical practice to the forefront. From heart disease to diabetes, from depression to dementia, from attention deficit disorder to autism, from asthma to autoimmune disease, from digestive disorders to cancer, we must change not only how we do medicine, but the medicine that we do. We cannot arrive at the solutions for our health care crisis only by improving access to care and medical quality and reducing errors or waste while still applying the same 20th century diagnostic and therapeutic methods. We cannot arrive at a better health care system by doing the same things better. We must transform medical education, research, practice, and policy to match the current scientific shift from reductionist, organ-based medicine to a more ecological understanding of health and disease based on systems medicine. We cannot otherwise get to the solutions for our health care crisis, or solve the problem of chronic disease. Functional medicine is the best-kept secret in science and medicine today. That must and can change by implementing initiatives in research, education, collaboration, and policy on a large scale to support and nurture the seed of a viable health care system nationally and globally. The new National Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health, created within the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is poised to become a vehicle for transformation through changes in related policy in the health sector, education, agriculture, transportation, and the environment. I was recently nominated by Senator Harkin to be part of a 25-member advisory group to support the new council. Functional medicine provides a framework for how to create health, not simply treat symptoms or diseases, and can serve to inform the policy changes needed to create a healthy nation. The nation's first "health council" is chaired by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and composed of senior government officials across federal departments and agencies. The council is charged with elevating and coordinating prevention activities and designing a focused strategy across federal departments to prevent disease and promote the nation's health. This presents a historic opportunity to bring prevention and wellness to the forefront of the nation's efforts to improve the health status of all Americans. Functional medicine needs to be at the forefront of this activity. I know there are many things competing for your time and interest, but I believe that functional medicine is one of the most important ideas of our time -- an idea that can help relieve the unnecessary suffering of millions. I encourage you to explore, learn, investigate, question, and become re-enchanted with medicine alongside me, through the doorway of functional medicine. I hope that you look forward to hearing from functional medicine's leading thinkers, teachers, and scientists -- including colleagues like Jeffrey Bland, Sidney Baker, Leo Galland, Joe Pizzorno, Patrick Hanaway, Bethany Hayes, and Catherine Wilner -- starting in the next issue. To your good health, Mark Hyman, MD
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