The defining characteristics of functional (and traditional Chinese) medicine

I recently read this very interesting article by Jeffrey Bland:

One part that jumped out at me was how similar the “seven defining characteristics of functional medicine” are to some of the core principles of traditional Chinese Medicine. My notes appear after the quoted list items in brackets.

“In 1991, the Institute for Functional Medicine was founded with 7 defining characteristics of functional medicine. These included:

Patient centered versus disease centered. [This is a core principle of Chinese medicine. You treat the patient as he or she presents not the disease as it is described in a textbook.]

Systems biology approach: web-like interconnections of physiological factors. [The use of the word web in this context is meant similarly to the way that Ted Kaptchuk used it in his seminal text on Chinese Medicine, The Web That Has No Weaver (which happened to be written around the very same moment in history that Jeffrey Bland was elucidating the foundations of functional medicine). One of the central organizing principles of Chinese medicine is that all of the systems of the body have interrelationships with the other systems of the body and that no disharmony (dysfunction) can be understood without consideration of these web like interconnections.]

Dynamic balance of gene-environment interactions. [TCM has the concept of prenatal and postnatal essence. Prenatal essence is what one inherits from one’s parents. Essence was understood as a unitary substance in ancient times. From a modern perspective, we know that one’s prenatal inheritance includes genes as well as any epigenetic information that made it across the generation. It would arguably also include the mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

Postnatal essence is what one acquires continuously after birth. A high quality of postnatal essence can slow the inevitable decline of prenatal essence. When prenatal essence is completely gone, life is no more. Food, beverages, and herbs contribute to your postnatal essence in ways that either help or hurt the expression of your genome. From a modern perspective, some of this postnatal impact on gene expression is probably mediated through epigenetic signaling and effects on the microbiome.]

Personalized based on biochemical individuality [TCM has a long history of personalizing medical treatment and lifestyle guidance according to the patient’s or client’s inherited constitution and unique patterns of disharmony. A considerable body of research from modern China has shown that patients presenting with the same diagnosed modern disease can be differentiated into groups according to Chinese medical patterns, and those patterns can then be shown to be biochemically distinct. [add citations]

Patients in such studies are treated with herbal formulas with different pharmacological actions despite having the same modern disease diagnosis. Herbal treatment based on this type of differentiation yields better results than applying the same treatment method to all patients regardless of the TCM differentiation. [add citations] The fact that Chinese patterns of disharmony represent distinct biochemical differences is further confirmed by the successful use of different pharmacological agents for the same disease.]

Promotion of organ reserve and sustained health span. [There’s a branch of traditional Chinese medicine called Yang Sheng, which is often translated as nourishing life. The practice of nourishing life centers around diet, lifestyle, and behavior. The purpose of nourishing life practices is to prevent morbidity and extend longevity.]

Health as a positive vitality—not merely the absence of disease. [The Chinese concept of Qi is central to the traditional understanding of health in that culture. Qi has many translations in different contexts, one of which refers to the correct and vigorous function of an organ, system, or the entire organism. The primary focus of Chinese medicine is to ensure that Qi is strong, correct, and free flowing.]

Function versus pathology focused. [TCM focuses on differentiation of patterns of disharmony rather than the diagnosis of disease. The symptom-sign complexes associated with the TCM patterns of disharmony are descriptions of functional disturbances in normal physiology. Each symptom complex is explicitly described according to how an essential function of the corresponding organ is impaired. If these dysfunctions are left unattended, the symptoms will continue to worsen and also begin to appear in other organ systems. Eventually, this will manifest as a disease.]