Conventional medicine often focuses on managing symptoms, but a growing movement towards root cause medicine is gaining momentum. Root cause medicine, or functional medicine, is an approach that seeks to identify and address the underlying causes of chronic conditions rather than merely treating the symptoms.
In this article, we’ll discuss our approach to root cause medicine and give a few condition specific examples to communicate the differences between these two medical approaches.
What is Root Cause Medicine?
Root cause medicine is an approach to treating health conditions and preventing disease by finding the root cause of your health issues. It is also commonly referred to as functional medicine. Instead of delivering a diagnosis and only treating your symptoms, functional medicine doctors find out why you have the diagnosis. They will do an in-depth assessment to look at all of your body systems (not just the one causing symptoms) and evaluate how well your body is communicating using specialized testing.
Condition Specific Examples
Imagine your health is like a tree, with a sturdy trunk symbolizing your body's foundation and your overall well-being. The branches represent the various symptoms and conditions that manifest on the surface, while the leaves reflect your vitality and quality of life. The branches of the tree are where we see the distressing symptoms. These branches are what traditional medicine often focuses on—trimming them back to alleviate the immediate issues. However, the branches will continue to grow and the tree will continue to host the disease unless we address the root causes. Root cause medicine digs deep into the soil to uncover the intricate network of roots that provide sustenance and stability to the tree. These roots represent the underlying factors contributing to your health issues.
Root cause medicine recognizes that chronic conditions rarely have a single cause; instead, they are often the result of a complex interplay of factors. These factors can include genetics, lifestyle, environmental exposures, diet, and more. The goal of root cause medicine is to uncover and address these underlying factors to promote true healing, eliminate symptoms, and prevent recurrence.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder affecting up to 16 percent of Americans, and it is significantly more common in women and young adults (1
Common symptoms of IBS include:
- Diarrhea, constipation, or a combination
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty or straining with bowel movements
Conventional treatment for IBS is largely based on which symptoms the individual reports. Certain medications may be prescribed like laxatives, fiber, anti-diarrheals, or even low-dose antidepressants.
On the other hand, root causes of IBS may include:
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Dysbiosis (a general imbalance in gut bacteria)
- Food sensitivities and/or leaky gut
- Low stomach acid
- H.plyori or other gut infection
While the treatment obviously differs depending on the overall assessment and root causes for each individual, a few common treatments for someone with IBS may include a personalized 5R gut healing protocol
to remove bacterial overgrowth, replace digestive components, repair the intestinal wall, repopulate healthy gut bacteria, and rebalance your lifestyle.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disease leading to progressive damage and inflammation of the thyroid gland. It is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism in America.
Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Thinning hair, brittle nails
- Cold intolerance
- Period irregularities and/or infertility
Hashimoto’s is not usually treated in the conventional health model unless the individual has subsequent hypothyroidism. In this case, a traditional doctor would likely prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement medication. However, while taking medication may lower TSH into the normal range and reduce some hypothyroid symptoms, many people continue to feel unwell.
Root causes of Hashimoto’s may include:
- Leaky gut and/or food sensitivities
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Chronic stress
A root cause treatment approach for Hashimoto’s may include a gut health protocol, nutrient repletion, a short-term elimination diet, and/or food and supplement recommendations aimed to lower inflammation.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders and may affect 10 to 20 percent of all women.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Thinning or loss of hair on the scalp
- Unwanted facial hair
Conventional treatment of PCOS is a symptom-centered approach. A conventional healthcare provider may prescribe spironolactone to reduce acne breakouts, the birth control pill to treat heavy periods, or Clomid for infertility.
However, root causes of PCOS may include:
- Insulin resistance
- Poor gut health
- High cortisol or DHEA levels
Once we know more about your type of PCOS, a Root member with this condition will work with our doctors and dietitians to form a realistic and effective treatment plan. A few common interventions we may recommend could include dietary modifications to promote blood sugar balance, a gut healing protocol to treat imbalances in gut bacteria, and lifestyle modifications to lower cortisol levels.
Root cause medicine represents a shift in healthcare towards a more comprehensive and personalized approach to managing chronic conditions. By delving into the underlying factors that contribute to conditions like IBS, Hashimoto's thyroid disease, and PCOS, Root members work with our doctors and dietitians to address the root causes of their symptoms, promote healing, and improve long-term health outcomes.