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-Root Cause versus Symptom Management -

When we suffer from an illness, our first thought may be of the pain, nausea, fever, dizziness or even difficulty breathing that the disease brings about in the body. These signs and symptoms cause discomfort and a realization that disease is present.

When we feel unwell, we may work on alleviating the discomfort such as the pain, nausea or fever. However, something is causing the body to react in these ways, and “treating” the symptom alone will not correct the underlying problem.

When signs and symptoms get treated, and the underlying problem is left to worsen, chronic disease conditions can occur. So, what can be done to prevent an acute disease from becoming a chronic condition? Let’s take a look at two varying methods of treating disease today…

Root Cause of Disease

Functional Medicine, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the medical practice or treatment that focuses on optimizing the functioning of the body and organs in a holistic way (treating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit).

Functional medicine looks to the process that resulted in the patient’s illness rather than directing the focus to the manifestations, like the symptoms, or the disease. For example, when the patient has pain due to arthritis, the Functional Medicine doctor will look for the underlying cause of why the patient developed arthritis and what might be causing inflammation to look to resolve the patient’s arthritis while helping to manage the pain during the process.

Seven Characteristics are said to define Functional Medicine:

1. Patient-centered versus Disease-centered

2. Systems Biology Approach (focuses on complex interactions within the system)

3. Personalized plan based on the patient's biochemistry

4. Focus on patients vital health

5. Balancing Genetic and Environment interactions for the patient

6. The focus is on the patient living in the best health possible through life cycles

7. Function-focused versus Pathology-focused

Functional medicine focuses on recognizing early warning signs and intervention to improve not only the physical and physiological but also mental function before the disease becomes acute (the phase of the illness when the disease reaches its full intensity, with severe signs and symptoms).

Functional medicine is said to engage the patient and practitioner in a working, therapeutic partnership focused on the patient's needs.

Symptom Management of Disease

Conventional Medicine, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the practice of medicine that follows the traditional path, or the way medicine has been done for many years.

The National Institutes of Health, through the National Cancer Institute, defines Conventional medicine as: “A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and disease using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine.”

For example, when the patient has pain due to arthritis, the Conventional medicine doctor will treat the arthritis pain with pain medication such as NSAIDs (like ibuprofen and naproxen), acetaminophen or even steroids or antidepressants.

The Mayo Clinic states that all pain medications come with the risk of side effects.

Some of the stated side effects of these pain medications include:

NSAIDS: Nausea, stomach pain, bleeding, ulcers, increased risk for heart attack and stroke, interact with other prescription drugs, larger doses can lead to kidney problems, fluid retention, and high blood pressure.

Acetaminophen: Headache, upset stomach, allergic reactions (like hives), breathing problems, unusual bleeding or bruising, overdosing causes liver injury and kidney impairment.

Steroids: Glaucoma, fluid retention, high blood pressure, psychological effects, weight gain, cataracts, diabetes, infections, osteoporosis, suppressed adrenal gland function, poor wound healing.

Antidepressants: Drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, insomnia, nausea, fatigue, weight gain, blood pressure changes, confusion, dizziness, and can interfere with electrical impulses of the heart.

When it comes to physical interventions such as trauma, broken bones and wounds that require necessary surgery, Conventional medicine excels, and many would say there is no better option!


Integrating medical practices or modalities, such as the Functional and Conventional medical practices, can give the patient the best of both worlds. In utilizing both, the patient has access to medical professionals who will correct the physical dysfunction (like the broken bone) and also get to the root-cause of chronic conditions (such as arthritis) to eliminate the problem and remove the future need for symptom management.

Perhaps, rather than taking an either/or approach, we should think more about which medical professional is best able to deal with our current medical problem. For example, if we need surgery, the Conventional medical practitioner may be our better choice. And, if we are dealing with dysfunction, such as an autoimmune condition like arthritis, the Functional medical practitioner may be the better choice.

Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”



Bland, Jeffrey, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., F.A.C.B. (2017). Defining function in the functional medicine model. Integrative Medicine, 16(1), 22-25. Retrieved from Gazella, K. A. (2004). JEFFREY S. BLAND, PHD, FACN, CNS: FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE PIONEER. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 10(5), 74-81. Retrieved from Bland, J., PhD. (2015). Functional medicine: An operating system for integrative medicine. Integrative Medicine, 14(5), 18-20. Retrieved from Vrbová, M., Rousarová, E., Brucková, L., Cesla, P., & Rousar, T. (2016). Characterization of acetaminophen toxicity in human kidney HK-2 cells. Physiological Research, 65(4), 627-635. Retrieved from Chow, G., M.D., Liou, K. T., M.D., & Heffron, R. C., M.D. (2016). Making whole: Applying the principles of integrative medicine to medical education. Rhode Island Medical Journal, 99(3), 16-19. Retrieved from

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