Functional medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on determining and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of several contributing to a person’s illness.
A diagnosis can be the result of more than one cause. For instance, depression can be caused by many different factors, including inflammation. Likewise, a cause such as inflammation may result in a variety of different diagnoses, including depression. The precise manifestation of each cause depends on the individual’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle, and only treatments that address the right cause will have lasting benefits beyond symptom suppression.
The Functional Medicine Model
The functional medicine model evolved from the understandings and perspectives of a small group of prominent thought leaders who understood the significance of a personalized approach to disease causes based on the evolving research in nutritional science, genomics, as well as epigenetics. These thought leaders found ways to use these new advancements in the clinic to address root causes using low-risk interventions that adjust molecular and cellular systems to reverse these drivers of disease.
These functional medicines thought leaders were able to use new research in a way that often brought remarkable results to patients that had previously received unsuccessful treatments. Part of this advancement was a return to scientific principles of finding new ways to look for unifying factors at the cellular and systems levels that underlie organism-wide problems.
As others became interested in learning functional medicine, it became necessary to systematize the approach so that it could be taught to a broader group of practitioners of differing backgrounds. The IFM approach to applying functional medicine is mainly practiced through a set of devices that defines both history-taking and mapping symptoms to the categories of root processes that underlie illness. Three of these tools are the functional medicine Matrix, Timeline, and the GOTOIT framework.
The Functional Medicine Matrix
The functional medicine Matrix assists the clinician in organizing and prioritizing each individual’s health problems as elicited by a detailed personal, family, social, and medical history. The Matrix is like a web decoder– it organizes what appears to be disparate problems into a complete story to help the clinician acquire a comprehensive perspective of the individual and therefore facilitate discussion of complex, chronic diseases with the patient.
All clinicians take patient history, but what makes the functional medicine Timeline different is that it has the effect of offering the patient insight into previous life events to inspire them to change and participate in treatment. As an intake tool for organizing the individual’s history chronologically, the functional medicine Timeline is a visual representation that allows clinicians to determine factors that predispose, provoke, and contribute to pathological changes and dysfunctional responses in the individual. This way, practitioners will be able to view temporal relationships among events, which can expose cause-effect relationships that might otherwise go undetected. By covering the time from preconception to the present, the Timeline shows the link between the whole lifespan and one’s current health.
“GOTOIT” is a simple framework practitioner can use to discover the origin of each individual’s disorder and subsequently apply personalized treatments that address specific causes. Standing for “Gather, Organize, Tell, Order, Initiate, and Track,” GOTOIT is a teaching tool to help practitioners complete the Matrix and Timeline. Utilizing the GOTOIT framework can help providers establish rapport with their patients, identify unhealthy patterns, get to the root cause of their problem, and recommend suitable, personalized treatments and lifestyle changes.