Functional Medicine Terms
Allostasis: The process of achieving stability, or homeostasis, through physiological or behavioral change. This can be carried out by means of alteration in HPATG axis hormones, the autonomic nervous system, cytokines, or a number of other systems, and is generally adaptive in the short term. It is essential in order to maintain internal viability amid changing conditions.
Antecedents: Factors that predispose to acute or chronic illness. For a person who is ill, antecedents form the illness diathesis. From the perspective of prevention, they are risk factors. Examples of genetic antecedents include the breast cancer risk genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Apoptosis: Programmed cell death. As a normal part of growth and development, cells that are superfluous or that become damaged activate a cascade of intracellular processes leading to their own demise. In cancer cells, DNA damage may inactivate the apoptosis cascade, allowing mutated cells to survive and proliferate.
Biochemical individuality: Each individual has a unique physiological and biochemical composition, based upon the interactions of his or her individual genetic make-up with lifestyle and environment—i.e., the continuous exposure to inputs (diet, experiences, nutrients, beliefs, activity, toxins, medications, etc.) that influence our genes. It is this combination of factors that accounts for the endless variety of phenotypic responses seen every day by clinicians. The unique makeup of each individual requires personalized levels of nutrition and a lifestyle adapted to that individual’s needs in order to achieve optimal health. The consequences of not meeting the specific needs of the individual are expressed, over time, as degenerative disease.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy: Giving exogenous hormones that are identical in structure to the endogenous hormones.
Biomarker: A substance used as an indicator of a biological state. Such characteristics are objectively measured and evaluated as indicators of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention. Cancer biomarkers include prostate specific antigen (PSA) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).
Biotransformation: The chemical modification(s) of a compound made by an organism. Compounds modified in the body include, but are not limited to, nutrients, amino acids, toxins, heavy metals, and drugs. Biotransformation also renders nonpolar compounds polar so that they are excreted, not reabsorbed in renal tubules.
Cancer: A group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, which, if not controlled, can result in death. Cancer is caused by both external factors (tobacco, infectious organisms, chemicals, and radiation) and internal factors (inherited mutations, hormones, immune conditions, and mutations that occur from metabolism), two or more of which may act together or in sequence to initiate or promote carcinogenesis. Ten or more years often pass between exposure to external factors and detectable cancer.
DIGIN: A heuristic mnemonic for assessment of gastrointestinal dysfunction. Thorough assessment of the GI tract should include investigation of the following:
Functional Medicine: A systems-based, science-driven approach to individualized medicine that addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It reflects a personalized lifestyle medicine approach and utilizes the Functional Medicine Matrix to organize the patient’s story and determine appropriate interventions for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.
Cytokines: Immunoregulatory proteins (such as interleukin, tumor necrosis factor, and interferon). They may act locally or systemically and tend to have both immunomodulatory and other effects on cellular processes in the body. Cytokines have been used in the treatment of certain cancers.
Genomics: The study of the whole genome of organisms, including interactions between loci and alleles within the genome. Research on single genes does not fall into the definition of genomics unless the aim of this functional information analysis is to elucidate the gene’s effect on the entire genome network. Genomics may also be defined as the study of all the genes of a cell, or tissue, at the DNA (genotype), mRNA (transcriptome), or protein (proteome) levels.
GO-TO-IT: A heuristic mnemonic for the processes involved in the clinical practice of functional medicine:
Heuristic: A strategy used for problem solving, learning, and discovery that is experience-based, not algorithmic. When an exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods may be used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. A heuristic is sometimes referred to as a rule of thumb.
Homeostasis and Homeodynamics: The former term describes the tendency of living things to maintain physiological parameters within a narrow range usually considered normal in order to maintain optimal function. Under this definition, disease can be defined as a departure from the homeostatic state. The latter term describes the tendency of homeostatic set points to change throughout an organism’s lifespan, and thus describes how departures from a homeostatic norm can be adaptive (e.g., fever) or pathological, depending on the context.
Integrative Medicine: Medicine that combines treatments from conventional medicine and those from Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. In a broader sense, it is healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle, and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative. The field is more than 10 years old and it is the only one of the emerging models to explicitly encompass the integration of therapeutics that, until recently, were the sole purview of complementary and alternative medicine. Note: functional medicine is different from integrative medicine because functional medicine emphasizes the evaluation of underlying causes of health and dysfunction and organizes assessment and treatment using the Functional Medicine Matrix, the timeline, and GOTOIT.
Long Latency Disease: Disease that becomes manifest at a time remote from the initial exposure to disease triggers, or that requires continued exposure to triggers and mediators over an extended period of time to manifest frank pathology. Examples include heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Mediators: Intermediaries that contribute to the continued manifestations of disease. Mediators do not cause disease; instead, they underlie the host response to triggers. Examples include biochemical factors (e.g., cytokines and leukotrienes) as well as psychosocial ones (e.g., reinforcement for staying ill).
Metabolomics (or metabonomics): “The study of metabolic responses to drugs, environmental changes and diseases. Metabonomics is an extension of genomics (concerned with DNA) and proteomics (concerned with proteins). Following on the heels of genomics and proteomics, metabonomics may lead to more efficient drug discovery and individualized patient treatment with drugs, among other things.” (From MedicineNet.com)
Nutrigenomics (or nutritional genomics): The study of how different foods may interact with specific genes to increase the risk of common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. It can also be described as the study of the influence of genetic variation on nutrition by correlating gene expression or single-nucleotide polymorphisms with a nutrient’s absorption, metabolism, elimination, or biological effects. Nutrigenomics also seeks to provide a molecular understanding of how common chemicals in the diet affect health by altering the expression of genes and the structure of an individual’s genome. The ultimate aim of nutrigenomics is to develop rational means to optimize nutrition for the patient’s genotype.
Organ Reserve: The difference between the maximal function of a vital organ and the level of function required to maintain an individual’s daily life. In other words, it is the “reserve power” of a particular organ, above and beyond what is required in a healthy individual. It can also be thought of as the degrees of freedom available in the body organs to perform their functions and maintain health. Decline in the organ reserve occurs under stress, during sickness, and as we age.
Organ System Diagnosis: In the allopathic medical model, it is common to give a collection of symptoms a name based on dysfunction in an organ system, then to cite the named disease as the cause of the symptoms the patient is experiencing. This bit of circular logic avoids any discussion of the systemic or underlying causes of dysfunction and also treats all people with “disease X” the same, despite the fact that two people with the same collection of symptoms may have completely different underlying physiological causes for the symptoms they display.
Organizing Physiological Systems: To assist clinicians in understanding and applying the complexity of functional medicine, IFM has organized and adapted a set of seven interrelated biological systems that underlie all physiology. Imbalances in these systems or core clinical imbalances are the underlying cause of disease and dysfunction.
Using this construct, it becomes much clearer that one disease/condition may have multiple causes (i.e., multiple clinical imbalances), just as one fundamental imbalance may be at the root of many seemingly disparate conditions.
Oxidation-Reduction (also called Redox): Paired chemical reactions that occur in balance with each other within the body of a healthy individual. These reactions involve the transfer of electrons (or the distribution of electron sharing) and thus require both a donor and acceptor. When this physiological parameter is out of balance, a net accumulation of donors or acceptors can lead to deleterious cellular oxidation phenomena (lipid peroxidation, free radical formation).
Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of damaging reactive oxygen species and an individual’s antioxidant capacity to detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Disturbances in the normal redox state of tissues can cause toxic effects through the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA. Oxidative stress is implicated in the etiology of several chronic diseases including atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Personalized Lifestyle Factors: The modifiable lifestyle factors that appear along the bottom of the Functional Medicine Matrix. Clinicians and their patients can partner to develop an individualized plan for addressing these issues. Health-promoting lifestyle factors include:
Personalized (Individualized) Medicine: Personalized medicine can be described as the effort to define and strengthen the art of individualizing health care by integrating the interpretation of patient data (medical history, family history, signs, and symptoms) with emerging “–omic” technologies—nutritional genomics, pharmacogenomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. It is also defined as medicine that treats each patient as a unique individual and takes into account the totality of personal history, family history, environment and lifestyle, physical presentation, genetic background, and mind/body/spirit. Interventions are tailored to each patient and adjusted based on the patient’s individualized response.
Precipitating Event: Similar to a trigger—a trigger, however, only provokes illness as long as the person is exposed to it (or for a short while afterward), while a precipitating event initiates a change in health status that persists long after the exposure ends
Prospective Medicine (aka: 4-P Medicine): A relatively new concept introduced in 2003, prospective medicine is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive term, encompassing “personalized, predictive, preventive, and participatory medicine.” Snyderman argues persuasively that a comprehensive system of care would address not only new technologies (e.g., identification of biomarkers, use of electronic and personalized health records), but also delivery systems, reimbursement mechanisms, and the needs of a variety of stakeholders (government, consumers, employers, insurers, and academic medicine). Prospective medicine does not claim to stake out new scientific or clinical territory; instead, it focuses on creating an innovative synthesis of technologies and models—particularly personalized medicine (the “-omics”) and systems biology—in order to “determine the risk for individuals to develop specific diseases, detect the disease’s earliest onset, and prevent or intervene early enough to provide maximum benefit.
Proteomics: The large-scale study of proteins, particularly their structures and functions, how they’re modified, when and where they’re expressed, how they’re involved in metabolic pathways, and how they interact with one another. The proteome is the entire complement of proteins, including the modifications made to a particular set of proteins, produced by an organism or system. This will vary with time and distinct requirements, or stresses, that a cell or organism undergoes. As a result, proteomics is much more complicated than genomics: an organism’s genome is more or less constant, while the proteome differs from cell to cell and from time to time.
PURE: A heuristic mnemonic for assessment and treatment of toxicity-related disorders. Steps to consider when assessing and treating patients with toxic exposures include:
PTSD: A heuristic for general treatment of hormone-related disorders. Factors to be considered include:
Relative Risk: A measure of the strength of the relationship between risk factors and a condition. For example, one could compare the risk of developing cancer in persons with a certain exposure or trait to the risk in persons who do not have this characteristic. Male smokers are about 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers, so their relative risk is 23. Most relative risks are not this large. For example, women who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with a history of breast cancer have about twice the risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who do not have this family history.
Systems Biology: Although there is not yet a universally recognized definition of systems biology, the National Institute of General Medical Services (NIGMS) at NIH provides the following explanation: “A field that seeks to study the relationships and interactions between various parts of a biological system (metabolic pathways, organelles, cells, and organisms) and to integrate this information to understand how biological systems function.”
The 5Rs: A heuristic mnemonic for the five-step process used to normalize gastrointestinal function that is a core element of functional medicine:
Three Legs of the Stool: A framework for practicing functional medicine that includes three parts:
Timeline: A tool that allows clinicians to visualize a patient’s story chronologically by organizing important life events and health issues from pre-conception to the present.
Triggers: Triggers are discrete entities or events that provoke disease or its symptoms (e.g., microbes). Triggers are usually insufficient in and of themselves for disease formation, however, because the health of the host and the vigor of its response to a trigger are essential elements.
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