Wellness Matters: Functional Medicine Brings the Focus from ‘What’ to ‘Why’?

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

Frequent migraines? Digestive issues? Can’t sleep? These and other chronic conditions are often byproducts of today’s high-velocity, high-stress lifestyle. When you visit a physician for help, you may want to see a doctor who practices functional medicine. Your experience will be quite different. You’ll complete an extensive questionnaire about the possible cause of your symptoms, such as diet, digestive patterns, sleep and stress levels, exercise, smoking and alcohol use. Your doctor will then explore any issues the health history turns up. Together, you’ll uncover what lies at the root of the problem and what you need to restore health.

Sam P. Pappas, MD, who practices functional medicine at Virginia Hospital Center, says the emphasis is on wellness, nutrition, ancestral health and optimal function. “We look at the big picture and treat the whole patient. It’s a true paradigm shift from organ-based diseases to functional dynamic systems.”

Functional medicine is a systems-oriented, science-based approach that takes your biochemistry, physiology, and genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors into account when looking for the reasons behind a specific medical issue. It shifts the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a patient-centered approach. Instead of just soothing your symptoms, functional medicine doctors work with you to identify and eradicate the source of your condition.

From What to Why

If conventional medicine is the medicine of what – What disease do you have? What drug should you take? – then functional medicine is the medicine of why. It addresses the whole person, focusing on your health history, your family history and the environmental factors that interact to influence your individual health. It’s an effective and powerful new method to tackle many common digestive, metabolic, hormonal and cardiovascular disorders.

Dr. Pappas explains further. “I bridge the science of medicine with the personalization of health and lifestyle. Medicine is an art masquerading as a science.”

What is Patient-Centered Care? 

Many caregivers say they offer patient-centered care, but what does that really mean? True patient-centered care puts the patient at the heart of every medical decision. Functional medicine supports a patient-centered approach to treatment. Individual preferences, needs and values are respected. Patients and clinicians work together as partners to achieve optimal health. Studies show that patients who take an active role in their own care and feel more in control of their well-being are more likely to make sustained lifestyle changes to improve their health.

Appointments with Dr. Pappas may be scheduled by calling the Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group – Primary Care McLean at 703-992-0649.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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