Functional Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Optimal Health

What is good health? If you turn on your television, you may feel that you better ask your doctor about the latest in prescription medicines, which appear to help you to be like those in the advertisements, hiking in the sunshine amidst butterflies – just before hearing a list of warnings often spoken too quickly to hear the details.

Personalized treatment plan

But for those who find they are not getting the whole picture of what it means to possess good health, there are alternatives. The trick these days is finding accurate sources with information that explains what works best for you. Being proactive about your health means using all the tools including the latest research and your doctor’s recommendations.

Western medicine often shrinks health down to a list of criteria found in your chart or your physician’s computer files. As you will find from those below offering alternatives, there is always hope if you are not currently finding what you need medically.

Lisa Tanner-Sweeters

Lisa Tanner-Sweeters, East Coast Acupuncture & Alternative Medicine owner, in Palm Coast, Florida, finds acceptance of this viable alternative to traditional western medicine a bit of a challenge. “Often my clients either have had surgery and it didn’t work or the operation created more problems,” explains Sweeters. “They may simply be tired of their pain medication and come in when their regular doctor tells them that there is nothing else that they can do for them.”

“Tinnitus is one of the conditions for which, if you visit an ear, nose and throat doctor, you will be told to get a white noise machine,” adds Tanner-Sweeters. “To that advice will be added, ‘there is nothing else we can do for you.’ But I generally have a 60% reduction in the volume level from tinnitus for my patients. People come to me when they’ve exhausted all of their other options.” Approximately 75% of her patients come in primarily for back and neck pain. Others may come in with fertility or in vitro fertilization issues, anxiety, digestive difficulties and other concerns. “One of the goals I strive for in dealing with my patients and potential patients is helping them realize that there are other options out there.

“There are situations where surgery is the best option. If I get hit by a car, I don’t want to go to my acupuncturist. I want to go to the hospital. I studied in China where acupuncture is used in the hospital alongside regular modern biomedicine. The disconnect between acupuncture and western medicine – that’s an American thing. In certain places in Europe, only acupuncturists are allowed to perform procedures, with it used in Chinese hospitals in addition to anesthesia.”

“I have taken pharmacology classes, studied anatomy and have a master’s degree. Acupuncturists are considered primary care providers in Florida. Patients do not need a referral from their doctor to see me, as they would need to visit a physical therapist. We do insurance and Workman’s Compensation, and I do a lot of work with the VA as well.”

Trisha Howell, IFM

Trisha Howell, owner of Smart Wellness, has a website,, with a comprehensive overview of what functional medicine and functional nutrition mean.  Essentially, it is a holistic approach to optimal health, creating a personalized “road map” for the prevention of diet and lifestyle-related disease. It is a patient-centered approach addressing the whole person, not just a set of symptoms.

“I see myself as something of a CSI investigator specializing in getting to the root cause of chronic health issues, not just the symptoms,” explains Howell. “I always establish a therapeutic relationship and spend up to two hours on the initial visit understanding the patient’s story, that is my cornerstone.”

With over 20 years’ experience as a registered dietician (RD) and extensive training, she is highly specialized in functional medicine with expertise in gut health and microbiome and autoimmune issues. Howell said, “I focus primarily on the gut as Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician said 2,500 years ago, ‘all disease begins in the gut.’”

Howell is not a medical doctor but is board certified in functional medicine with the Institute for Functional Medicine, the gold standard in the industry. She was the founding dietitian for the world’s first functional medicine center at Cleveland Clinic, and she is the only IFMCP in the Jacksonville area and one of five in the state.

Patients can expect a personalized treatment plan including an extensive patient history, advanced specialty testing with review of all results and a timeline and matrix to organize and evaluate seven possible core clinical imbalances and protocols for reversing and preventing chronic illness. She cannot discuss or prescribe medication; patients need to get that advice from their primary physician.

Trisha Howell reviews the Smart Wellness results with a client

“People just want to know there’s something else out there in a holistic sense. Everyone goes through the motions with their insurance provider. However, those providers concentrate on the symptoms, but your symptoms are not your problem,” said Howell.

“The organs communicate with one another. Yet in our society, there are specialists for each separate organ. Something such as ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ is a one size fits all diagnosis with a code able to be billed for insurance.”

As shown on her website, Howell maps out three steps in achieving health. The first is participating in the development of a lifestyle featuring goals for attaining optimal health and wellness outcomes.

“Step two is meeting you where you are,” adds Howell. “Once you begin with Smart Wellness, you’re in the driver seat and will receive the expertise and guidance needed to get you on your path to wellness. Success comes at your comfort level, setting your own pace to meet health goals. Lives change when habits change.

“In the third step, knowing your “why,” understanding what is causing specific health issues, not symptoms over a lifetime and the role-specific lifestyles, environmental exposures, and genes have played the story of your health. The “why” sets the stage for how to reclaim your life for optimal health.”