At mbg, we’re no strangers to the benefits of functional medicine. Nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress levels, relationships, and genetics are all major contributors to chronic disease, and sometimes piling medication upon medication just won’t cut it.
While we’re not suggesting you skip out on your routine checkups, it’s becoming increasingly popular—crucial, even—for people to start thinking about the ways lifestyle factors can influence and help treat disease.
In fact, there’s a new study (the first of its kind, no less!) to actually show how a functional medicine model can provide unique health benefits for patients. What researchers found was that functional medicine can yield a greater quality of life compared to the standard, primary care model of medicine.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, analyzed two groups of patients for two years: 1,595 patients treated at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and 5,657 patients treated at a primary care health center. To assess each patient’s quality of life, researchers used the PROMIS questionnaire, a validated measure by the NIH. This questionnaire assesses patients’ global physical and mental health through factors such as fatigue, physical function, pain, gastrointestinal issues, and emotional well-being.
In as little as six months, they saw around 31% of functional medicine patients improve their PROMIS global physical health scores by 5 points or more, an improvement that has a very noticeable effect on daily life, according to the study. Only 22% of primary care patients were able to raise their scores this high.
There are a variety of reasons why functional medicine could have helped raise these patients’ scores. Researchers believe that in addition to the holistic, functional medicine model itself, the types of patients seeking functional medicine and whether or not they believe in this model of care could have contributed to these global physical health improvements. While future research is needed to address these concerns, it’s exciting that people are now starting to recognize functional medicine as deserving of these evidence-based experiments.
“This is a first-of-its-kind study to evaluate the impact of functional medicine model of care on patients’ health-related quality of life,” leader of the study Michelle Beidelschies, Ph.D., agrees. “In the past, evidence to support the model has been primarily anecdotal, published as case reports.”
What’s even more interesting about this study is that the sample of primary care patients actually had a higher median income than the functional medicine group. It speaks to the significant benefits of the functional medicine model that despite these patients’ higher financial status, they still had a lower quality of life than the Cleveland Clinic group.
Perhaps these results can inspire even the most traditional of physicians to include integrative medicine into their practice—or, at the very least, allow them to regard functional medicine as a legitimate health care model.
“Functional medicine practitioners have suggested that their patients are improving with a systems-based approach to chronic disease,” Beidelschies says. “Now, they have evidence that their approach is associated with improved quality of life.”