The founding fathers of what is today known as functional medicine had a common goal: to establish a scientific basis for recognizing the role of our environment, and not just our genes, in the occurrence of health or disease.
Over the course of several decades, medical practitioners have had ample first-hand experience with the interaction of our genes and our environment. As it turns out, having the genetic predisposition is often not enough for any disease to occur – but combined with environmental factors, it can lead to changes in our wellbeing.
That is precisely why functional medicine came to be. It focuses on the underlying causes that lead to illness and functional medicine practitioners aim to apply a holistic approach to defeat the root culprit, and not just the symptoms. This thought caused a major shift in medical thinking and it has become a model within the medical community that is no longer in question.
1902 – Sir Archibald Garrod paving the way for functional medicine
At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Archibald Garrod discovered the relationship between disease and inheritance. However, he was also the one to note that genes alone wouldn’t be enough to guarantee that a disease would, indeed, occur.
Even though these diseases started in the genes, he said, the ultimate expression of the diseases depended upon the exposure of those genes to different environmental factors. As new micronutrients were being discovered, the likes of vitamin E discovered in 1922, their role in various metabolic processes also started to emerge. Suddenly, scientists from various spheres started getting a much more in-depth understanding of how the human body functioned, and how various external factors, like nutrition, could affect our wellbeing.
1949 – Dr. Linus Pauling’s contributions to preventing genetic disorders
One of the world’s most notable chemists, educators, and researchers, Dr. Linus Pauling continued demystifying the human DNA. Working on techniques meant to prevent the inheritance of genetic diseases, he noted that the molecular origin of disease would have extraordinary implications.
As we learned more about the origin of these diseases, he believed, we would find ways to modify the expression and function of these genes to prevent the expression of disease altogether.
Dr. Abram Hoffer’s remarkable “adrenochrome hypothesis”
In the 1950s, Dr. Abram Hoffer, an organic chemist, proposed that certain forms of mental illness resulted not from childhood trauma, but as a consequence of altered brain chemistry.
He found that increased doses of common B vitamins “could treat these conditions in some schizophrenic patients”. He provided the bridge that allowed psychiatry to enter the field of biologically-based, functional therapy.
Dr. Selye’s definition of “stress”
This pioneering endocrinologist gave birth to the field of psychoneuroimmunology (the study of interactions between our central nervous system and immune system), which defined the way practitioners view the impact of lifestyle and behavior on health. His contribution to the understanding of the influence of perceived stress on genetic expression served as a powerful driver for the evolution of functional medicine.
1956 – Dr. Roger Williams and prevention with nutrition
As a renowned hepatologist, Dr. Roger Williams dedicated his career to uncovering the purpose and use of vitamins in our wellbeing and disease prevention. He proposed a role of various nutrients preventing what he called “genetotrophic disease, the kind of diseases for which genetic uniqueness demands for specific nutrients beyond the average to facilitate optimal function and prevent premature disease”.
His work has greatly shaped the growth and advancements of functional medicine and its reliance on optimizing nutrition for the individual.
1990s and Dr. Leo Galland’s patient-centric philosophy
Refining the notion of functional and holistic medicine, Dr. Leo Galland is an internist whose work and contributions have earned him the title of one of the founders of what is today known as functional medicine.
Arriving at an accurate, detailed, structured assessment of the patient requires collaborative context within the patient’s story. In his own words: “We are interested in the effects of the common components of a life: patients’ thoughts and beliefs, home or work environment, exposure to potential toxins, and allergens, food and drink, stressful life events, social interactions, patterns of physical activity”.
2003 – Dr. Sidney MacDonald Baker’s holistic perception
Stepping further away from mass-diagnosing groups of people with the same illness when it’s possible and much more effective to treat the individual, Dr. Sidney MacDonald Baker states: “Questions are not applied to curing the disease but to healing the person…Based on the recognition that individuality, spirituality as well as a biological foundation in the sense that each of us is a unique creature”.
Hence, our patients are denied dignity when given a group identity (diagnosis) and group treatment (treatment of choice for the diagnosis). Functional medicine is rapidly moving away from that outdated methodology and towards person-specific treatments that take into account that individual’s lifestyle, genetics, and health.
The present day of functional medicine
With many functional medicine institutions and practitioners around the globe, this movement has come to life thanks to the trailblazing work of the listed physicians, scientists, and medical experts. There are many more who have contributed to the growth of functional medicine as a discipline that aims to help people lead healthy lives without merely curbing the symptoms of their ailments, but rather preventing diseases in the first place with mindful lifestyle choices and tailor-made treatments.