My Personal Functional Medicine Philosophy

I want to shift gears from other blog posts and write more of a personal reflection on my functional medicine philosophy.  Functional medicine redefines the healing potential, and I hope this exploration is enlightening.

I thought I’d let you in on my “why” – The ideas that motivate me to use functional medicine as my primary vehicle as a healer.

Throughout my years of training in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chiropractic, and Functional Medicine, each of these personal philosophies have revealed themselves at the perfect times.  I have no doubt this sequence of events, learning, and patient interactions has brought me to this very moment.

We explore concepts that I believe are foundational, sometimes profound, to healthcare and healing.  In some ways, I embrace technology and advancement.  In others, I believe going back to basics can promote the deepest healing and change.  

Also, I am in no way “anti-medicine.”  I believe it is powerful, important, but has a time, place, and responsibility to consider its place in one’s truest expression of health.

Remember, these are just my viewpoints and beliefs, some that are popularized within functional medicine too.  In no way do I expect adoption of my ideas, but perhaps something will resonate or spark a novel thought or conversation.

Let’s dive right in, and I look forward to sharing this inner perspective with you!

This image depicts a summary of each of the components of Dr. Kenny's personal functional medicine philosophy.  From personalized, lab-based treatment programs, holism, the important of lifestyle for long term healing, and patient empowerment - each of these and more are discussed in the blog post body.

Patient Empowerment at the Core of Healing

First and foremost, I think a discussion on patient empowerment is where it all begins. I feel that in so many ways, our current healthcare model has the potential to strip patients of their autonomy, active involvement, and empowerment.

From the mysterious language of medicine, the ever-rising costs of basic care, to the power imbalance in the treatment rooms, many experience an understandable fear and confusion approaching anything medical.

In fact, a 2023 poll of 2,000 Americans surveyed about their thoughts on doctor visits revealed the following shocking statistics:

  • 41% delay going to the doctor
  • 52% of those said their top reason was potentially being unable to afford care
  • Around 40% said they were too exhausted, had fear of their potential diagnosis, and were anxious about the procedures
  • Finally about 40% of those ages 26-54 had not been to a doctor in the last 5 years

What are your thoughts about these numbers?

Though it is a small sample size, it gets me thinking for sure.  And this mirrors a lot of what I see in practice by the time patients come to see me for acupuncture or functional medicine.

So, you can see, patient empowerment is a real issue, and it’s probably what drives me more than any other facet of my philosophy.  If I can “teach a patient to fish”, that does something quite different for a person.

Patient Education & Active Participation in Health Creation

I believe that healing comes from within.  Patient education is a portal to patient empowerment.  When I visit with them, I try to “translate” their concerns or diagnoses or symptoms into words that can be understood.

I often say, “when you can define something, you can deal with something,” and this applies to our ability to define and understand our health situations more deeply and personally.

“When you can define something, you can deal with something”

Something that I love about functional medicine is that it emphasizes lifestyle as a foundational treatment intervention.

Rather than first (and sometimes only) going to PASSIVE drugs and surgery, it returns empowerment to the patient by showing them all of the ways they can ACTIVELY participate in their health creation through lifestyle.  More on this shortly.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that it is no coincidence that as technology, medicine, and capitalism (Big Pharma) have evolved and intertwined together, this has shifted empowerment away from patients

Undeniably, there is a lot of potential, life-saving good that comes from this, but there’s also plenty of entrapment.

Holistic Healing: Addressing the Whole Person

Holism is one of the concepts that underlies both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Functional Medicine.  (Read more about the Principles of Functional Medicine).

In short, everything is connected according to holism.  Our physical, mental, spiritual, and social health synergistically come together to express our most complete self.

Balance in all of these “microsystems” expresses health, vitality, life!  Imbalance in any one or combination of these microsystems” expresses disease, dysfunction, depression.

This image depicts some of the factors that make up holistic health including nutrition, movement, exercise, sense of meaning and purpose, social health, physical health, spiritual health, and mental health.

There’s a saying in the functional medicine world that “anything can cause anything.”  This may sound futile and dark when it comes to our health, but I think it’s also where the beauty lies in functional medicine and healing.

When we leave space to consider the entire health of a person – their physical pains, their home life, their socioeconomic stressors, their toxin exposure, their genetics, etc. – we leave the space to understand how unique and complex each of our expressions of health truly are!  

Arguably, the contemporary healthcare model focuses very much on the physical world.  It tries to make everything black and white, measurable, A/B Testing.  There is nothing wrong with this inherently, but it does have its limitations when we consider individual variability.

I would consider myself a spiritual person, and I believe that our expression of health aligns very much with holism.  No matter your belief system, many religious systems recognize this principle. 

That’s why leading with holism is something that I appreciate so deeply. I know that this allows for healing, in the fullest sense of the word, to have a stage.

The philosophy of my functional medicine mentor is to “heal the physical body so people can access and engage in emotional and spiritual growth and pursue their life purpose.” 

This resonates so profoundly with my personal philosophy, and it guides me daily!

Personalized Care through Functional Medicine Lab-Based Supplement Programs

Now, for those of you who grew up with, you know I’m a total nerd.  And I mean it!  Math, science, classical music, Traditional Chinese Medicine, competitive calculator UIL – Sure, there was some bullying.

But after my mom told me that N.E.R.D. stood for Never-Ending Radical Dude in third grade, I had the armor I needed to be myself academically.

This brings me to the fact that I totally geek out over functional medicine.  Though functional medicine is integrative and actually contains mostly conventionally trained practitioners, it’s also just enough outside the conventional model that it gets to align with the ever-changing and evolving research, and quickly!

Functional medicine laboratory interpretation is one of the aspects that leads the charge for me.  There’s a beauty in the fact that functional labs are a method of looking deeper into the individuality of each person that I spoke about in the last point.  It gets us closer to the root causes and the complexity of our health, still rooted in quality science!

Conventional medicine labs look at population data and determine what is “normal” and “abnormal” on a mass scale. In contrast, functional medicine labs are all about looking at the individual person’s experience of health on a continuum.

Additionally, conventional interventions tend to be geared toward raising or lowering end-stage measures of dysfunction. Functional medicine interventions center around support internal processes to create health and restore balance from the inside out.

What are some examples of functional medicine labs? 

  • Functional stool testing analyzes a person’s microbiome, digestive function, and gut inflammation markers.  
  • The DUTCH test analyzes hormones over an entire month to look at the details of a person’s rhythmic hormonal control.  
  • Organic Acid Testing actually gives us insight into the actual function of our mitochondria, cellular health, and ability to detox.  Healthy cells make healthy people.
  • Salivary hormone testing can track the rhythm of our stress hormones and gives us insight into resilience to stress, energy, and our ability to fall and stay asleep. (Learn more about sleep and fatigue issues related to hormones)
  • The list goes on and on!  

See how it’s the perfect opportunity for me to geek out??

This is where I see a beautiful revelation My nerdiness serves a purpose as a healer.  I get to be the one to take the incredible information through lab tests, translate them to patients clearly, and then get to design supplements and lifestyle protocols to promote balance from the inside out!

The treatment programs become informed by the individualized data.  Treatment becomes unique to that person.  And all the while, holism is being taken into account.

Sustaining Long-Term Health Through Lifestyle

Let’s turn our attention to lifestyle as the foundation for sustaining long term health.  Focusing inward on our lifestyle habits returns us to an active state rather than a passive state in our health creation. The more we look externally for health, the more we are left wanting more or finding incomplete answers.

I’m a firm believer that supplements should generally be used for short-term, strategic applications to influence health.  There are few exceptions for maintenance of chronic conditions and daily nutrition support.

For example, it’s important to have a quality multivitamin considering the state of our food supply and our increasing exposure to environmental toxins. But lifestyle factors sustain our health when disease and dysfunction resolve.

5 Functional Medicine Lifestyle Factors

The following 5 Lifestyle Factors make up the foundation of health creation in my personal functional medicine philosophy:

  • Natural Movement & Exercise
  • Nutrition and Hydration
  • Quality Sleep (7-9 hours)
  • Meditation & Relaxation
  • Sense of Self & Social Connection

The “Age of Convenience” that Challenges a Healthy Lifestyle

As humans, we are wired to prefer the pathways of least resistance, and this is exactly what modern medicine, the food industry, and technology focus on.”

I’m a firm believer that our lifestyle factors are our major determinants of health.  In this society, we live in what I call the “age of convenience,” and it comes with trade-offs in our healthfulness.  

I’m all about productivity, and I enjoy modern conveniences myself.  But in my mind, it’s all about promoting balance in this world.  Balance is a central concept in Chinese medicine and functional medicine alike as well!  

Convenience has a sneaky way of overtaking our programming.  As humans, we are wired to prefer the pathways of least resistance, and this is exactly what modern medicine, the food industry, and technology focus on.  Pain = pain killer, doom-scrolling = unnecessary purchases, etc.  It’s not our fault, it’s our programming.  The first step is awareness. 

Creating habits that positively impact our health can be one of the most challenging things to do in our present day and age.  Going against the grain of a convenience culture requires effort, planning, and time.  But it’s well worth it in the grand scheme of life and longevity.

Extending Healthspan: Looking Beyond Lifespan

Quality of life.  This is a phrase we all recognize, but what does it mean to you personally?  

It’s unique for each person.  What would you be doing if your physical health was not hindering your ability to experience life and connection around you?  

This image is a quick thought bubble that shows the factors of quality of life include health, emotional well being, work, safety, financial health, and more!

Queue the idea of healthspan versus lifespan.  Lifespan is an “end-game” focus which mirrors the focus of conventional medicine in many ways.  Conventional medical approaches tend to focus on extending life through “controlling” symptoms, turning off particular enzyme reactions in our bodies, removing organs that are inflamed, etc.  

Not that these interventions are not useful and necessary at times, but imagine if we oriented ourselves much further upstream.  Rather than waiting for symptoms to appear, lab values to rise or dip outside “normal”, if we focus on the expression of health, the possibilities and function – the healthspan greatly expands!

Healthspan is a term that is used to describe the length of time in one’s life that they are functional and even thriving.  Healthspan is supported through the lifestyle factors we just discussed.  It’s supported through building resilience, quality social connection, strong sense of self and purpose, and similar factors.

In my mind, my personal health goal is to have my healthspan be just as long as my lifespan.  We have the potential to support this goal, but this is unfortunately not a focus within the conventional medicine world.  This is a task for functional medicine, lifestyle medicine, and other holistic modalities. 

The Importance of Connection in Overcoming Health Challenges

This is a slogan that just came to me one day as I was envisioning a health oriented community that I would help foster one day – be it virtual, in-person, or both!

This is a fact that never leaves my mind.  Our social environments impact our health in direct ways.  In fact, there’s an entire study of the way chronic illness presents in communities and families called sociogenomics.

I remember starting my functional medicine training and being met with some of the following statistics and ideas:

  • You are 171% more likely to experience obesity if you have a friend with obesity, and 40% more likely if a family member has obesity.
  • Non-healthful habits such as smoking and drinking begin or increase in the presence of other people
  • Chronic diseases such as hypertension, cholesterol, high blood sugar, type II diabetes may be more “communicable” than we think.

I hope to continue forming a healthful, empowered community of people that can resonate together in health promoting activities and conversations.  Just as connection can be supportive of human health, isolation can be deleterious to one’s health outcomes.

Just think back to the most recent pandemic and consider the impact that relative isolation may have had on you or your loved ones.  It’s a major factor that determines our ultimate expression of health.

Conclusion: Embracing Deep Healing through a Functional Medicine Lens

Thank you for exploring this deep reflection on my personal functional medicine philosophy with me!

I hope there were some enlightening or empowering moments that you took away from this post.  These are really the undertones that I lead with as a practitioner, and my goal is to weave them into understandable, honest, and connected communication everyday.

Hopefully, you can see that there are some many beautiful tools that can be used to help return health empowerment in your own journey.  From supportive lifestyle habits, functional lab testing and treatment programs, to fostering supportive social connections, these form the basis of health in our world. 

I look forward to hearing from you about this post or anything around functional medicine.  Thank you for being a part of this wellness community.  Feel free to reach out via Instagram, comment below, or subscribe below to my mailing list.

Remember, “health is contagious, share the love.”

About the Author

Headshot of Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt for Author Bio in Color

Kenny Mittelstadt is an acupuncturist and functional health practitioner based in San Antonio, Texas.  He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through creating opportunities for integrated understanding and personalized root-cause healing - starting with gut health and growing beyond!

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