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Over the last years, functional medicine has awoken considerable interest as we try to improve our health from the inside out. 

Functional medicine is a personalised, patient-centered and science-based approach to healthcare which involves understanding the root causes of chronic disease. The ultimate goal is to heal disease and promote a healthy life.

To explain what functional medicine is, and how it can help us improve or look after our health on a daily basis, we interviewed a trained Medical Doctor qualified in functional medicine based in London, U.K. 

Going beyond her medical degree, Dr Amel Seghouani, has also trained as a naturopath, a nutritional therapist, herbalist and hypnotherapist. 

She is a member of the renowned Institute for Functional Medicine and Certified IFM Practitioners.

Originally from Algeria, she was fascinated by science and physics since she was a little girl in a dense socialist country where she had to study hard or risk no play.

She moved to Paris, to complete her medical training at University of Paris VI and she also undertook an MBA at PSB Paris School of Business, a top French business school.

First, I asked why she moved from conventional medicine into functional medicine. Her answer is that they are not mutually exclusive. 

“Conventional medicine has taught me many things but unfortunately, it did not teach me to see the bigger picture, which is the holistic approach. Medical doctors are not experts on nutrition, many do not know more than the general public does as our training includes very little information on nutrition and it is often not linked to the illnesses and how to treat them unless it is with drugs”.

Therefore, she decided to study naturopathy, nutrition and herbalism and completed the certification programme with the Institute for Functional Medicine which is based in the U.S.

Before she became a fully trained functional medicine doctor, Dr Amel also worked as a pharmaceutical physician for several years.

It was while working for the pharma industry that she became interested in natural health.

“When I decided to go to medical school it was because I wanted to help people improve their health and fight diseases” 

After many years of working with patients and then with pharmaceutical companies on different medicines that she believed would change patients’ lives, she started to realise the numerous limitations of conventional medicine. 

“Why do we get sick in the first place?. The body’s underlined role is to create balance (‘called homeostasis in the scientific world). In traditional medicine, every illness is based on an infectious model. It is a pill for an ill approach rather than treating the root cause of the disease to cure the patient”

According to Dr Seghouani; 

“At medical school we are not taught to look for the root cause of the disease which is the only way we can eradicate it, it sounds very logical but despite many years of studying physiology, pathophysiology and biochemistry we do not take a holistic look at the patient”

“Western medicine has divided the body into organs and many specialities and subspecialties that will often not connect with each other, but I am not aware of any organ that functions in isolation to the rest of the body. However, this approach is the foundation of modern medicine”

Whereas she agrees on the key role of Western medicine in dealing with acute disease and illnesses, she also says that “anything chronic that will require a holistic approach is a big challenge and results in a failure since its model is only designed to treat symptoms and symptoms are not the cause of the body’s imbalance”.

According to Dr Amel; “they are a manifestation of it and can vary from one individual to another depending on their genetic and environmental make up.This is the reason why one size fits all of drugs companies, doesn’t always work”

For medicine, nutrition is the basis of everything. She quotes the famous Hippocrates line about letting food be your medicine and medicine your food.

“It is our intake of vitamins and minerals that allows every cell to work and every organ to do its job so that we can breath and live to enjoy ourselves.The body is able to heal itself if the right ingredients are there, such as essential vitamins and minerals”. 

She argues that people think of food like fuel, just calories needed to go through the day. 

“The ill-pill model has been created to suit consumers who are looking for a quick fix and will unfortunately continue as long as the demand is still there”.

I’m curious to know how a functional medicine doctor practice is different from an MD practice and she explains that with functional medicine she learned how to look for the root cause and take a holistic understanding of the body rather than segmented. 

A patient-centered care where she listens to the patient. 

“Symptoms are great because they are a sign of a dysfunction in our body but when not well understood they can be very misleading as they can overlap in many cases, so the only driver is the patient story”.

After years of practice, she is still amazed at how small dietary and lifestyle changes can improve a person’s life. 

Something she would have never considered with her initial medical training.