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Defining Functional Medicine

By Amy Kinze

In medical school, when we first began to study the human body, lessons in anatomy and physiology emphasize the interconnectedness of organs and systems.  Form influences function, and function, influences form.    

In the study of immunology; we are impressed with the communication between natural, and specific immune responses, as well as the tremendous innate healing force within us all. We learn that in times of stress, sympathetic nerve fibers send signals from the brain, to our lymphoid tissues, to elicit an immune response.  An adaption our ancestors evolved to ward off infection in the event they sustained injury in a time of danger.

We study the characteristics of immune cells, and learn lymphocytes possess adrenergic receptors, which account for a number of immunological changes during times of chronic stress, specifically reduced activity of natural killer cells; therefore, reduced viral resistance when cortisol levels remain high.

We study physiology, and begin to understand the immense coordination and communication required by every cell, organ, and system, to maintain homeostasis. For example, it is well known that endocrine function influences the cardiovascular system. Even conditions such as hypothyroidism can have a multitude of cardiovascular effects. 

Countless mechanisms such as these are covered in various health science programs.  However, within the traditional medical school model, a shift in focus occurs. The doctors of the future learn to address the so called disease states of their patients through the study of pharmaceutical and surgical interventions, as well as proper labeling and diagnosing.

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