You’ve spent a fortune visiting an army of doctors and have undergone numerous tests. Results are either inconclusive or negative. Despite this, you still feel sick and emotionally spent. You wonder if you are crazy, or are destined to remain a medical Super-Utilizer.  That was my story until a caring friend, who happened to be a functional medicine physician, offered to help.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership… Functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease.  – Courtesy The Institute for Functional Medicine.


Functional medicine doctors are D.O.’s and M.D.’s who use evidence-based measures to find the root-cause of many conditions. They are not complementary or alternative medicine care providers. These doctors look for relationships between all of your symptoms to find the root cause to your conditions, recording your symptoms like pieces to a puzzle. Functional medicine doctors might temporarily prescribe medications to help calm the body as it heals through changes in diet and lifestyle. Situations vary by individual.

My life had been a merry-go-round of different symptoms since childhood. For me, many of the reasons I’ve listed below were of my life. Although it took years of frustration, research and persistence paid off! Are you frustrated? Are you fed up with the answers your doctors have or haven’t been able to give you? Then it might be time to find a functional medicine doctor. Consider a functional medicine doctor if:

1. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

No matter what you have tried, your health has not improved and has become chronic (lasting beyond a few months). Exhaustion may be due to insomnia, mood, stress levels, or a combination of these issues.

2. Your tests have come back as “normal.”

The symptoms clearly don’t match the test results. Regardless of test results, you feel sick, fatigued and/or in pain.

3. You are being treated for a variety of conditions.

If you have multiple issues, your doctor/s may be treating each issue separately. You may have intermittent eczema or psoriasis, joint or muscular pain, headaches, tingling in your fingers and toes, mental fog, fatigue, puffy eyes, dark circles under your eyes or intestinal issues. You may have chronic insomnia, cravings for certain foods, a mood disorder, chronic heartburn, high cholesterol levels, cystic acne, etc. The list goes on. While the dermatologist may treat you for eczema, your primary care provider may provide medications for high cholesterol. In the end, some symptoms lessen, while others stay the same or worsen.

4. You are on many medications.

Refer to #3. This is what the medical world calls “polypharmacy,” a term used for people using multiple medications. Despite using medications, you continue to have symptoms and limited relief. For some, medication side effects may require prescribing MORE medications to alleviate those symptoms.

If you are on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, you may notice minimal or modest improvement. For some, the side-effects override any positive outcomes. You feel you are out of choices.

5. You’ve become overweight or underweight – and can’t change it.

No matter what diet you try or exercise you do, your weight has become an issue. You may even experience sudden, drastic weight changes, and can’t determine why or how this has happened. Current tests for possible illnesses come up negative. Your weight remains a frustrating mystery.

6. You have gut issues.

People with gut issues are prone to chronic constipation and/or diarrhea with unpleasant episodes of flatulence or terrible gas pains. No matter what you eat or medicines you take, nothing really works well. For women, the never-ending cycle of “IBS” may peak with their menstrual cycles.

7. You may be diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, like all syndromes, are a set of conditions that don’t apply to any specific disease. Therefore, the doctor has assigned these latest buzz words to your condition because they have no other answers. You may have tried medication for the pain, and notice no improvement.

8. Doctors say “I don’t know how to help you.”

Every answer you get depends on the doctor’s training and experience. As I eventually learned from years of persistence, when one doctor (or many!) can’t find a solution, find another doctor. Your answers may come from a doctor trained to look at underlying causes connected to all of your symptoms. Keep looking, keep researching, keep asking, and don’t stop until you find a solution! This process will help you become a subject matter expert for your condition.

Getting Started: Learn About Functional Medicine and Find a Doctor

The following links can direct you to local functional medicine providers, and also discuss what functional medicine is:

The Institute for Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine Doctors

Hyman, Mark, M.D. Functional Medicine: How to Access the Future of Medicine Now.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Information regarding safe and informed medical practices for complementary modalities.

Ask Around

Not all doctors who practice functional medicine are listed in professional organizations. Call your local hospital or clinic and ask if they have a family medicine or internal medicine practitioner working with functional or integrative medicine. If you are not sure what else to ask, inquire if there is a doctor who works heavily on change of diet and lifestyle practices in addition to or instead of medications. These are key words in the functional medicine and integrative medicine world. Word of mouth is a powerful reference.

Dare to be different: Network. Add health and wellness interests to your LinkedIn profile, and join functional and integrative discussion boards. Although doctors can’t answer questions specific to your condition for liability purposes, they can direct you to resources in your area and current research. They can also provide other questions you may want to ask your current provider. You can also search *community discussion boards to see how and where people with similar conditions are finding the right doctor. Keep an open mind. Don’t. Give. Up.

*Community discussion boards should not be used for self-diagnosis. Use them for information to ask your doctor questions. Any discussion board that promotes or sells supplements, diets and methods should be approached with caution.

Next time: What it’s like to be a functional medicine patient.