Treatment sometimes involves eliminating and reintroducing foods to see what’s causing inflammation in the body, or adding dietary supplements, Foroutan says, explaining that nutritionists work closely with functional medical teams to ensure an optimal diet.
“Sometimes, it’s more nuanced where we want to promote gut healing or we want to support the body’s detoxification processes,” she says. “Depending on what’s going on with the person and where their key imbalances are in terms of body metabolism and different kinds of functions of the body, we can use the diet in a therapeutic way to help support healing.”
Along with nutrition, functional medicine also examines other parts of a patient’s lifestyle to improve sleep and physical activity, and reduce stress, Menolascino said.
“It’s not about becoming a vegetarian monk and meditating all day,” he says. “It’s about for you—with your personal health goals and your story—what are the things that we can help you shift to make better choices?”
Doctor visits are in-depth
Routine primary care doctor’s appointments average about 15 to 20 minutes, studies show. Functional medicine visits can last hours.
Visits often include going over the matrix and meeting with doctors, nutritionists, health coaches and others, like behavioral health specialists. Health coaches help keep patients on the “wheel of success,” Bradley says, through regular check-ins.
“We just find that people do better when they’re supported,” says Menolascino. His patient visits last an hour, as he takes the time to get to know each patient and understand why someone has a specific illness.
He said health coaches and nutritionists spend more time with patients, and implement the doctor’s recommendations in a way that works best for the patient. In some cases, health coaching is virtual to make things more convenient for patients. The team may also include a naturopath, a chiropractor, acupuncturist and others.
“Whatever we need in that team that helps that individual, we try to rally those resources,” Menolascino says.
Healing takes time
Since functional medicine looks for underlying causes and treats the whole patient, healing can take time. Bradley says the most successful patients are willing to invest time and energy into the process.
“You have to be motivated to change your diet, motivated to change habits that you’ve had forever, and motivated to want to feel better, and not just take a pill,” she says.
Some patients may feel better within six months, while others may need a year or more to work through and treat all of their symptoms, she explains.
“I use the analogy similar to layers of an onion,” Bradley says. “We peel off each layer; we go deeper and deeper until we feel like we’re where we should be.”