By Dr. Martha Calihan | 01/25/2016

Functional Medicine Q & A with Dr. Martha Calihan

What is Functional Medicine? (How is it different from Conventional Medicine?)

Functional Medicine is a new approach to medicine that looks for and addresses the root causes of disease. Functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just a set of symptoms. In functional medicine, the physician looks at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. It is a very personalized approach to health.

Compared to traditional medicine, in functional medicine there is a bigger emphasis on a person’s individuality, and more focus on lifestyle and environmental factors.

What are the most common reasons people come to your practice?

Most people come to my practice because they are interested in diving into the root causes of their issues and in looking at their risk factors for disease based on their unique genetics, environments and lifestyles.

Functional medicine goes “upstream” where assessments and interventions can help alter the course of a disease. We look at the factors that set the stage for and allow the continuation of a condition, rather than waiting until a situation is locked in.

Many of my patients come to me with complex, sometimes chronic conditions including autoimmune disease, IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, Lyme disease and thyroid disease. Others come because they are interested in prevention and wellness, or because they are experiencing bothersome symptoms which have not been satisfactorily addressed.

What factors do you evaluate with your patients?

In a functional medicine evaluation, we focus on lifestyle factors, particularly nutrition, and the interactions among lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors that influence long-term health. In my practice, I believe that optimal health comes from being in balance in body, mind and spirit, so I also address each of these components.

What type of testing do you offer (that people can’t get from a conventional doctor) and how do you use that information to help patients?

A functional medicine physician will often use different labs than a conventional physician will use. A common test is a digestive stool analysis, which can detect imbalances in the gut flora. Both the immune system and neurotransmitters can be greatly affected by the balance of gut microbes.

A 24-hour salivary cortisol test is another common test for functional medicine physicians. This test measures the levels and patterns of a person’s cortisol over the course of a day. A saliva test can also be used to measure estrogen and progesterone and their relative balance over the course of a cycle.

Heavy metal testing can shed light on the cause of many ill-defined symptoms and is something conventional medicine usually doesn’t address.

An organic acids test is an in-depth nutritional evaluation that can give vital information about someone’s nutrient levels and metabolic pathways.

We also look at testing to understand a person’s genetic makeup. One genetic test that we order is the MTHFR test. MTHFR refers to a specific enzyme, methyltetrahydrofolatereductase (!) that is integral in the utilization of folate by the body.

Want to learn more about how functional medicine works?

Read a patient case study to learn how a functional medicine approach turned this 54-year woman’s health around.

About Dr. Martha Calihan

Dr. Calihan is a Certified Functional Medicine physician, and the founder and owner of The Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center.


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