What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a system of medicine focused on improving a patient’s health by improving the body’s function.

There are many generic recommendations made, such as:

  1. Improving the quality of food eaten
  2. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night
  3. Balancing sitting and moving
  4. Managing stress

But functional medicine really shines in its ability to assess a patient’s physiologic dyfunction via symptoms and functional diagnostic testing. The practitioner will create a personalized plan that includes:

  1. Specific diet
  2. Macronutrient ratios
  3. Caloric intake
  4. Botanical and supplemental protocols
  5. Prescription medication

Functional vs Conventional Medicine

In conventional medicine, there’s a doctor for every part of your body: cardiologists for the heart, gastroenterologists for the digestive system, neurologists for the brain and nervous system, podiatrists for your feet, and ophthalmologists for your eyes. Due to this siloing, conventional medicine focuses on individual body systems, but does not look at the whole person to understand the interrelated causes underlying disease and chronic illness. Rather, it looks at symptoms in order to name a disease and find a corresponding drug.

In functional medicine, we see the body as an interconnected whole, within a larger environment. We recognize that in order to treat one part of the body, all other parts must also be considered. This breaks apart artificial divisions of the body. Functional medicine looks at underlying phenomena that occur across specialties (inflammation, oxidative stress, toxicities, cellular energy problems, etc.) in order to understand the root cause of disease and find the right tools, at the right time, individualized for each person.

The table below compares eight key distinctions between functional and conventional medicine.

Functional medicine is a bridge between Chinese medicine practitioners, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, nurses, and medical doctors. Therefore, diagnostics and treatment approaches will vary widely.

Many do not require you to be in their office, offering phone and virtual consults, whereas a Chinese medical practitioner will emphasize the physical exam to assess the body, pulse and tongue.

MD’s can easily order diagnostic testing, or prescribe medication. Whereas the more holistic practitioner will focus on diet, lifestyle and botanical therapies first. But many MD’s are now just as holistic. Which is wonderful!

Regardless of what the functional medicine practitioner’s background is, their goal is to determine what mechanisms in the patient’s body are dysfunctioning, causing their symptoms or disease.

Initially they will thoroughly evaluate a patient’s history and current presentation, order diagnostic testing, and outline a treatment plan focusing on diet and lifestyle. Once the testing is back, they will review the results and outline a personalized treatment plan.