Functional Medicine Approach to Reproductive Health
Functional medicine, while it utilizes many tools used in conventional healthcare, differs in the way it treats patients. Practitioners take on a more individualized approach by examining the ways that genetics, the environment, and lifestyle affects someone’s overall health.
This approach allows for the incredible advancements science has made in medicine to be used on a case by case basis.
What is Functional Medicine?
The roots of functional medicine started in the 1950’s, when emerging holistic healers saw a growing amount of scientific studies backing alternative medicine practices. Diagnostic lab testing is one of the integral pieces of this modality. Accessibility to functional medicine grew, as more and more labs began to emerge in the 70’s and 80’s.
You may be wondering what exactly these labs test for. The standard panel includes gut testing, blood chemistry, food sensitivities, chemical and metal sensitivities, hormone testing, adrenal testing, and DNA genetic testing.
These tests allow providers to base their treatments on empirical data, as well as use follow up tests to determine how well treatments are working.
Functional medicine providers see their patients as whole individuals, instead of just separate organs and parts. This is crucial in regards to reproductive health. Imbalances in this area are widespread and chronic. This means that treatment must be done on a holistic level – aka addressing the whole person.
Almost any imbalance or ailment a person can have regarding their reproductive health is a systemic issue, and one that needs to be approached from a variety of angles. That’s where functional medicine comes in.
Reproductive health covers a vast array of topics. Everything from pregnancy, to uterine disorders, to menopause – and all the spaces in between. So many women are left unsatisfied, and undertreated (or treated in the wrong ways) by their conventional medicine providers. Which is why they turn to alternative approaches that are backed by science.
Are you wondering if functional medicine may be for you? Or just curious to learn more about it? Here are some common reasons people turn to it, and what treatments may be offered.
The process of becoming, and staying, pregnant is not always an easy road. For some it means heartbreak, waiting, and anticipating.
Most people who have difficulty conceiving or have recurrent miscarriages, are actually on a range of less to more fertile, instead of being outright infertile. Fertility is a direct reflection of someone’s overall health.
One of the first steps a provider will recommend is getting their hormone levels tested. Especially for imbalances in progesterone, which is vital for preparing the lining of the uterus for successful implantation of an embryo.
Many hormonal imbalances are due to environmental exposures to endocrine disruptors, and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead in our environment. Giving the body natural support in detoxifying these, can help lead it to a state of balance.
This painful, yet all too common condition, is often marked with unbearable cramps, an abnormally heavy flow, chronic pain, and infertility.
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease, as well as the result of a hormonal imbalance – often coming from a genetic predisposition.
Because of this, functional medicine doctors will gear treatment towards reducing the amount of overall inflammation in the body with specific diets and lifestyle changes.
For the most part, this diet change entails utilizing one of nature’s best medicines – plants. There is an abundance of herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are high in natural anti-inflammatory properties, while also boost the immune system.
This is especially important for balancing one’s gut health, and the microbiome that lives there – an integral part of functional medicine.
In addition to diet, treatment plans typically recommend some form of movement or exercise, stress reduction, quality sleep, and potentially acupuncture for pain relief.
Because of its holistic approach, functional medicine understands that pregnancy is not a medical condition, but a natural process that could use some extra support with quality care.
Many of the functional medicine tips you hear towards pregnancy are predictable but often overlooked. Watch your exposure to plastics, cleaning supplies, and personal care products that may contain harmful chemicals.
Just like with infertility, you can get tested to see how much lead is in your system while pregnant, to prevent any harmful effects that can come with excess levels.
A provider can help you figure out a manageable food sourced fuel plan, any potential supplements that may be beneficial (like folic acid), and help you walk away from harmful habits like smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.
While many people find relief from menopausal symptoms with the help of Hormone Replacement Therapy, functional medicine can help women in naturally balancing the changing hormone levels that come with this time in their lives.
Once again, nature’s bounty is full of gifts with foods and herbs high in hormone balancing super nutrients like zinc, protein, selenium, sulfur, Vitamin A, and B vitamins. An increase in essential fatty acids, while decreasing sugar helps the body regulate fluctuating hormones.
The Bottom Line
You may have noticed that many of the treatments for different stages in your reproductive journey are pretty similar. This is because the underlying goal of functional medicine is to increase the individual’s overall vitality.
While treatments look similar, the various methods of lab testing allow providers to tailor them to their patients’ specific needs.
There are some go-to functional medicine treatment methods, that can be done without the consultation of a practitioner.
Stress-relieving activities like yoga and conscious breathing, taking quality probiotics, reducing or removing caffeine and alcohol intake, and increasing the amount of organic plant-based products in your diet can all be done with a quick trip to the grocery store or your yoga mat.
This lab testing is becoming more and more accessible with at-home services, and convenient pop-up locations. Integrative approaches to health are the future, and the key to taking your health back into your own hands.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.