The Functional Medicine Tree

When we look at a tree, we judge its health based on the aspect of its leaves, the strength of its branches, and the integrity of its trunk. However, these are only signs of what is going on underneath the earth.

The Functional Medicine model of care uses the graphic below to illustrate the methodology that practitioners use in clinical settings. When a tree shows any signs of illness in its leaves, instead of trying to fix the damage in each individual leave we start investigating what is going on in the soil and the roots. As oppossed to conventional medicine – where each symptom belongs to an organ system that is treated by a specific professional -, FM teaches us to look beyond the superficial symptoms and explore the client’s core clinical imbalances, reaching all the way down to the root level.

In the FM tree, disease stems from root causes linked to our lifestyle and environment: Nutrition, Sleep and Relaxation, Exercise and Movement, Stress and Relationships have a direct impact in our wellbeing. When we do not nourish one of this aspects, the associated channels effect changes that become visible in the surface (symptoms). And they are not independent… every root communicates with the others, sharing information and picking up the slack when required. When one or more of these roots is not able to perform optimally for a long time, the rest start to overwhelm. Chronic disease appears.

In the soil we encounter our antecedents, triggers and mediators. Antecedents are those facts we cannot change: where we are born, our family history, the pollution around our mum during pregnancy. Triggers are the experiences that kick-start a change in our balance: a course of antibiotics, a car accident, the onset of autoimmunity. Mediators are the lifestyle aspects that facilitate a progression in the disease: a highly processed diet, lack of movement, poor work-life balance.

Our DNA is strongly influenced by these. Our genetic predispositions dictate a number of risks and challenges we should be aware of; however, as it is often said in nutrigenomics science, the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger… Our roots, together with mind-body-spirit connections, or mental, emotional, spiritual influences combined with our life experiences, attitudes and beliefs, will ultimately dictate how we express those risk genes.

But the key differentiation point in a Functional Medicine assessment model is that we look at metabolic processes rather than individual organ systems when taking a case. While conventional medicine identifies symptoms, assigns an organ system specialist and treats every patient with the same illness in a very similar way,  FM investigates how effective our body is at carrying out the tasks it is designed to do across all systems: assimilation, defense & repair, energy production, communication, transport and structural integrity. A radically different yet complementary perspective to standard Western medicine.

The take home message is that when we invest the time in finding the clinical imbalances, we are better equipped to decide which kind of soil will best nourish our deepest roots; when the roots absorb the nutrients and circulate them to the branches, our leaves are reborn stronger. So if you have tried to understand why your leaves are weak but the tree surgeon hasn’t gone deeper than branch level, consider seeing a Functional Medicine practitioner. Perhaps the answer has always been in the soil…