(NaturalNews) Chronic diseases are on the rise, and something needs to be done to stop them. Functional medicine is increasingly being recognized as a viable method to treat and prevent many of these illnesses. The system is centred on discovering the root causes of disease, focusing on the complex interactions between genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
The Traditional Approach to Disease
Traditional medicine practiced by today's physicians is great for treating acute problems, such as broken bones or infections. These types of illnesses are typically short in duration, or require immediate treatment. However, the top three killers in the USA (heart disease, cancer and lower respiratory disease) are all chronic diseases. In 2011, they took more than 1.3 million lives between them. 
The current model uses the same acute-care approach for many different illnesses, but the statistics suggest that it does not work so well when applied to chronic diseases.
Medication is prescribed to combat high blood pressure. Heart surgery is performed to remove arterial plaque. Statins are given to lower cholesterol levels.
Although sometimes necessary in extreme cases, these medications and surgeries are designed to artificially cause a response in the body, without taking into account the factors that have caused the disease in the first place.
Many drugs and surgeries present harmful side effects, but despite this, patients often remain medicated for life -- never addressing the root of their problems.
Unfortunately, traditional doctors often lack formal training in disease prevention and the impact of lifestyle choices on disease. It seems that more focus is put on the treatment of disease than preventive measures. There are definitely exceptions, but this seems to be the standard.
For example, many studies demonstrate the role of nutrition in preventing and even reversing chronic diseases.  Despite the evidence, medical students across the USA receive on average just 23.9 contact hours of nutrition instruction during medical school. 
The Functional Medicine Approach to Disease
Functional medicine places an emphasis on the patient's lifestyle history and genetic makeup, which interact to produce a unique set of symptoms. The symptoms are believed to be the body's response to an underlying issue; they highlight that there is a problem, but they are not the problem themselves.
For example, inflammation is the body's response to a problem. Anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce inflammation, but the underlying cause remains. Treating the symptoms gets us nowhere in the end.
Consider your health as a leaky tap. Traditional medicine is mopping up the water. Functional medicine instead looks at the cause of the leak and attempts to fix it.
A functional medicine clinic typically contains experts in different fields, including medical doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists and acupuncturists, all working together with a common goal in mind: improve the patient's health.
Once the underlying problem is found, an individual treatment plan is made. It may be as simple as a dietary change or a combination of herbal medicines and chiropractic adjustments. Patients often experience drastic improvements in health and may even rid themselves of chronic disease, without the use of medication or surgery.
The medical system we have today is great for treating acute illnesses, but it may not be sufficient to deal with chronic disease.
There seems to be a growing awareness that drugs and surgery are not always the answer, and traditional doctors are increasingly recognizing the importance of alternative treatments.
Traditional medicine saves millions of people every year and will always be important. Nevertheless, perhaps if we integrated more functional medicine practices into the mainstream, many chronic diseases could be prevented, and many more people could reach their full health potential.
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 Lanou, A. J., & Svenson, B. (2011). Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Management and Research, 3, 1
 Adams, K. M., Lindell, K. C., Kohlmeier, M., & Zeisel, S. H. (2006). "Status of nutrition education in medical schools." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(4), 941S-944S
About the author: Luke Jones is the creator of Health Room, a blog dedicated to investigating and sharing ideas in plant based nutrition, moving freely, living mindfully and existing sustainably.
Luke is a graduate of Imperial College London, a martial artist, and nutritionist.
He enjoys exploring natural movement and eating a whole-food, plant based diet. He also loves seeing other people chase their dreams, and realise their health potential.