No matter how well American healthcare performs, some things warrant our continual attention – like chronic disease. Heart failure, diabetes, respiratory disease, stroke and cancer are on the rise. The cost of caring for these chronic diseases threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system.
We need new ways of thinking about chronic diseases, if we are to mitigate their effects on our society. One promising new approach is called functional medicine. It’s a preventive strategy that focuses on nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress levels, relationships and family history. It looks for the roots of disease in lifestyle factors, genetics and the environment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that chronic disease accounts for more than 75 percent of our total healthcare costs. Almost one of every two adults suffers from a chronic illness.
In an effort to make a dent in these statistics, Cleveland Clinic recently launched its Center for Functional Medicine. It will treat patients at risk for chronic disease, as well as patients whose tests come back “normal” but who are nonetheless clearly unwell. The new center will not only offer treatment and counseling, it will study the efficacy of functional medicine on chronic disease. Clinical trials involving asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and migraine are already underway.
The Center for Functional Medicine may seem like a significant departure for Cleveland Clinic, but it’s right in line with other Cleveland Clinic programs like our Wellness Institute, Center for Integrative Medicine, and Chinese Herbal Therapy Clinic. These programs reflect the proven fact that some health conditions can be improved through lifestyle strategies, counseling and relaxation techniques.
Cleveland Clinic is the first major academic medical center to embrace many of these strategies. We believe that doing so is justified by the magnitude of the disease challenge. Keep in mind that this functional medicine approach does not replace traditional medicine. It is not offered as a substitute for conventional treatments. In fact, it can enhance the effectiveness of traditional medicine by promoting healthy lifestyles and positive states of mind. And if functional medicine is indeed able to mitigate the coming crisis of chronic disease, I say more power to it.