3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative.
Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.
Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?
HI: I always knew I wanted to be in medicine or rather the health field. Traditional medicine felt like it was leaving out so much to consider when evaluating someone’s health, that we are more than just a set of symptoms. After studying Traditional Chinese Medicine and Naturopathic medicine I felt that these are the foundations of Functional Medicine with the best part of traditional medicine blended in.
Who have been your greatest mentors in your functional medicine journey?
HI: Dr. Datis Kharrazian was my first introduction to functional medicine. He taught me how to work through a client’s issues to go beyond the symptoms, not only find root cause by all the various factors that contribute that also need to be addressed for full health recovery. He continues to be my main source of information, protocols and most importantly keeping up with research. Dr. Alex Vasquez and Dr. Robert Roundtree and Dr. Kara Fitzgerald are practitioners that are big influences in my practice.
What excites you most about your day to day work?
HI: Working with patients. I love digging in and figuring out all the pieces and then giving them the tools to find their wellness. I enjoy seeing the clients progress and grow as we progress on the journey of their health. It’s a bit like helping them set up for success.
What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work?
HI: Working with clients. While it brings a tremendous amount of joy there is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into each person. They are unique in every way and cannot be reduced to a blanket protocol. So there is more prep time required and more regular follow ups.
What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine?
HI: A common misconception patients have is they come in with the conventional mindset, meaning they will come in briefly, say what they’re dealing with and the doctor will tell them what to take, only using supplements and it will be fixed. Functional medicine is a partnership in health. The initial visit is preceded by several in-depth questionnaires and the time with the practitioner is a minimum of an hour. Oftentimes the patient comes in with the idea that function medicine is fast and gets frustrated when they are not completely better in a few weeks. Our bodies are amazing. They are constantly adjusting and adapting to the inputs: food, stress, sleep etc. We do not get sick overnight so it will take time to unwind the path that led them to this point. Another misconception is that we do not believe in conventional medicine. It has been shown 75-80% of the illness out there can be cured by diet and lifestyle so functional medicine is powerful but there are times when medication and conventional medicine need to be used. It does not have to be one or the other. The real power is the combination.
What’s holding the field of functional medicine back?
HI: Insurance. Most functional medicine testing and office visits are not covered in any way by insurance. The current “care” is sick care, we will pay for you if you are sick but we won’t pay you to stay well. This structure makes functional medicine only available to those with money. It needs to be an option for everyone.
What has your experience been with genetic testing?
HI: I think genetic testing has brought tremendous insight to health care and particularly functional medicine. Because each individual is unique the genetic testing helps provide insight to predispositions that could be manifesting or contributing to the cause of their ill health. The genetic testing for pharmaceutical compatibility is so important I feel everyone needs this on record before drugs are administered. This could reduce the 70,000 plus deaths a year from proper pharmaceutical prescriptions use. I believe we have scratched the surface of genetic testing potential.
How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead?
HI: Functional medicine will evolve into the mainstream because it does focus on health care rather than sick care. Covid has opened the publics and administrations eyes (I hope) to the fact that those with poor health are the most vulnerable to this virus or any virus. I am not talking people with cancer, but simply obese people, high blood pressure, diabetes, all the “illnesses” functional medicine has shown and backed by studies to prevent. This virus has needlessly cost lives, businesses and has left conventional medicine scrambling for answers. We have amazing bodies that function at a high level if we give it the right nutrients, enough water and rest. Functional medicine teaches people how to stay well, stay less vulnerable to the viruses now or in the future.
About Heidi Iratcabal
A naturopathic practitioner, Dr. Iratcabal is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner, board-certified by The American Alternative Medical Association, a Doctor of Pastoral Therapy, and a Certified Gluten Practitioner. At the center of Dr. Heidi Iratcabal’s impressive credentials is a lifelong passion for the mind-body connection and she uses this to unlock each person’s unique ability to achieve optimal wellness and vitality. Her interest in alternative medicine includes a focus on chronic disease, functional endocrinology, hormone balancing, chronic pain, and athletic performance.