A detective following a tree root holding a magnifying glass.

Functional Medicine and Rheumatoid Arthritis


According to The Institute for Functional Medicine, functional medicine "determines how or why an illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual."1

Now, think about that for a minute. Whew! That is a big claim and one you’d think would be the foundation of any medical field.

Drilling down to the root cause (or even causes) of any illness, including rheumatoid arthritis, is where I think so many medical professionals drop the ball, perhaps through no fault of their own.

What is functional medicine?

In theory, functional medicine seeks to answer the ultimate question - Why?

Sometimes, understandably so, we get hung up on managing our symptoms; after all, those are what drove us to see our doctor in the first place. Those are the things that scream the loudest at us.

So it is easy to see how symptom management falls at the forefront of treatment. But that's all it is, symptom management.

Often, there aren’t enough medical professionals stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. This is where I think functional medicine has an especially interesting take on rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

How functional and traditional medicine differ

What I really like about the idea of functional medicine is that it isn’t dependent on individual specialties the way traditional medicine is set up. Our body isn’t made up of individual, independent boxes of organs and systems.

Rather, everything is interdependent and connected. So why are we treated by traditional medicine doctors that specialize in each little independent box? If your problems don’t fit within that "box" then you are sent to another doctor who specializes in a different "box."

Could a functional medicine doctor be right for you?

There are several occasions where I will fully admit that I didn’t tell my doctor about some symptoms I was experiencing because I (right or wrong) pretty much knew that it would just end up in yet another referral to a different doctor. And, I felt I didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to add yet another doctor to my expanding medical file.

Of course, that’s certainly not the advice I’d give to others, but it is a reality of life with rheumatoid arthritis. And a decision I’m pretty sure many others have made as well.

A more balanced approach

Taking a step back from our disease and looking at how we want to manage it is vital to choosing the approach that might work for you. All in all, I don’t believe that one singular approach is my best bet when it comes to managing my RA/RD.

So far, I’ve combined dietary changes, added simple stretches/yoga/PT, various supplements, as well as traditional pharmaceutical therapies. In my opinion, it is unlikely that there is one cause of RA/RD so it makes sense that there needs to be a combined approach to treat it.

Important things to remember

There are some things to keep in mind when considering functional medicine, not the least of which is financial.

Many health insurance providers don’t cover parts of (or all) of the cost for a visit to a functional medicine doctor and the associated tests, so that is certainly something to check before making your appointment.

Also, please keep in mind that the information that I’ve shared with you just barely scrapes the surface of available information.

Remember, not only are you your best advocate, but I believe that it is also in your best interest to approach any type of medical practice with a bit of skepticism. RA/RD is a potentially lifelong, progressive disease - promises that sound too good to be true likely are. Ask plenty of questions and PLEASE don’t get taken advantage of!

There's still more to learn

Clearly, there is quite a bit to learn and understand about functional medicine and rheumatoid arthritis. I’ll update you on the additional research I’m doing.

My hope is to pull the funds together to have a few visits with a relatively nearby functional medicine doctor and share the ins and outs of functional medicine so you can be more informed about your options too.

If you have any experiences or questions about functional medicine, please comment below! I’d love to know your experiences and if there is something, in particular, you’d like to know more about as I share this experience with you.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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