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Functional Medicine

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Functional medicine doctor at desk
What is Functional Medicine?

Everything you want to know

Functional medicine is an innovative approach to healthcare, focusing on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of illness. It uses a personalized approach to treat patients holistically rather than treating symptoms in isolation.

By taking into account each patient’s unique lifestyle and environmental factors, functional medicine practitioners strive to provide relief from chronic health issues and help patients achieve optimum health and vitality.

Functional Medicine

Evaluates and identifies the underlying cause of illness using conventional methods of testing and “whole view” methods of treating.

Identifies root cause
Focuses on genetic and lifestyle factors


There are various types of functional medicine practitioners and health coaches.

For clinicians, there are board-level examinations and certificates in Functional medicine. Diplomates and board certifications typically require more education hours than certificate-level programs; however, each requires a foundation in a clinical discipline. The Institute for Functional Medicine is one of the most well-known research and certification institutes, but others include Functional Medicine University and Kalish Institute.

Certification is open to most clinical disciplines, such as a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of chiropractic medicine, naturopathic doctor, registered dietitian, physician assistant, and nurse practitioner.

There is also a specialty for health coaches through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. A health coach is an individual who may need a clinical background and will help implement a clinician’s recommendations. They may also support lifestyle changes and focus on the “how” of behavioral interventions.

How Functional Medicine is Different

Meditation and yoga class

Functional medicine takes a “systems biology” approach to health–looking beyond the symptoms to uncover the underlying cause of illness. Instead, it seeks to identify and address the patient’s physical symptoms and psychological, social, spiritual, and environmental factors.

Unlike conventional medicine, which often relies on prescription drugs or surgery to treat a condition, functional medicine looks for the “root cause” of illness. Then, it seeks to address it with a combination of natural and conventional medicine. The treatment foundation often includes lifestyle modifications such as lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and nutritional supplements.

Functional medicine professionals use a combination of assessment techniques, such as:

  • lab tests
  • physical exams
  • patient questionnaires
  • genetics analysis

This approach supports the systems in the body that are affected by illness and disease and allows the body to heal itself.

Functional medicine has become increasingly popular as more people look for holistic solutions to their health and wellness needs. By taking a personalized approach to healthcare, functional medicine practitioners strive to help patients achieve optimum health and vitality.

What Can Functional Medicine Treat?

Functional medicine treats a wide variety of chronic health conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive disorders
  • Infertility
  • Mental health disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Skin conditions

Woman scientist in lab testing functional medicine

By considering the patient’s unique lifestyle and environmental factors, functional medicine practitioners can take a patient-centered approach and provide personalized treatments that support the body’s healing process. In addition, this approach often reduces the need for prescription medications and potential side effects.

Functional medicine is also very successful in treating chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Where a conventional medical doctor might order lab work to evaluate pieces of the puzzle, a functional medicine doctor looks at that lab work to understand the puzzle itself.

Traditional medicine may offer treatments to manage symptoms of chronic illness, while a functional medicine doctor provides treatment options to heal the underlying disease.

Functional medicine is also an excellent choice for preventative care, as the practitioner will look to identify and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to ill health. This allows patients to take control of their health and wellness.

Functional medicine practitioners versus conventional medicine

Functional medicine practitioners differ from conventional doctors in that they look at the whole person and treat the underlying root causes of the disease rather than just treating the symptoms.

Functional medicine practitioners work with their patients to create personalized treatment plans tailored to their individual needs, taking into account any lifestyle and environmental factors impacting health.

Conventional medicine focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of an illness or condition. Functional medicine, however, seeks to create a personalized plan that looks at the patient as a whole and addresses any underlying causes of disease.

Peach trees healthy

Functional medicine also considers any lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, sleep habits, stress level, etc., that may contribute to illness and symptoms.

History of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine has its roots in holistic medicine, which looks at all aspects of a person’s life, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This approach has been used for centuries in many cultures around the world to treat chronic illnesses that are not well understood by conventional medicine.

In the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, natural medicine began to find a place in healthcare. This new wave of progressive practitioners sought solutions at the root of disease by treating each individual as unique rather than relying on traditional methods alone.

By 1980 these innovative doctors had begun testing things like amino acid levels, fatty acids, and hormones which enabled them to relieve many chronic ailments through nutrition supplements or physical activity.

Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., coined the term functional medicine and brought seminars across America discussing subjects such as gastrointestinal health & hormone balance with his wife Susan, who started the Functional Medicine Institute.

What to expect from a functional medicine visit

A typical functional medicine visit is a comprehensive undertaking.

Medical history

A visit will start with a comprehensive review of your health history, lifestyle, diet, and environment.

Physical exam and testing

The practitioner will conduct a thorough physical exam with lab tests to determine the root cause of potential bodily imbalances, including lab tests such as allergy testing, genetics analysis, hormone levels, metabolic/nutritional analysis, liver/kidney panel, and more.

Testing interpretation

The practitioner will also look for any underlying factors contributing to the illness, such as environmental toxins, nutrient deficiencies, or emotional stressors.

Treatment plan

After a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s condition has been made, a personalized treatment plan is created, which may include lifestyle modifications, nutritional counseling, herbal supplements, stress management techniques, and other treatments to address the root cause of the illness.

Functional medicine aims to help patients achieve optimal health and wellness by treating the entire person rather than just focusing on symptoms.

Is Functional Medicine Right for You?

Functional medicine may be right for you if you have an ongoing condition or chronic illness that has not responded well to conventional treatments.

If you are looking for a more holistic approach to health care that focuses on the whole person and addresses underlying causes of disease, then functional medicine may be the right choice.

If you are interested in functional medicine and want to know more, you can search for one in your area. In addition, many can offer telehealth visits to rural areas or those without a local provider.

functional medicine doctor at desk

Frequently Asked Questions

Is functional medicine legitimate?

Yes, functional medicine is a legitimate and evidence-based approach to healthcare. It looks at the underlying causes of disease rather than just treating symptoms.

What is an example of functional medicine?

An example of functional medicine is using nutrition, lifestyle changes, and supplements to address underlying causes of chronic illness.

Is functional medicine expensive?

Functional medicine treatments can vary in cost depending on the complexity of your health concerns. However, many practitioners offer payment plans or accept insurance for some services. Before starting treatment, you must speak with your health insurance and your functional medicine provider to understand any and all insurance benefits.

What is a functional medicine diet?

A functional medicine diet is a personalized approach to food and nutrition that considers your biochemistry, genetics, lifestyle, and environment. It focuses on eating whole foods in nutrient-dense forms, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fibers.

It also emphasizes the importance of avoiding processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and hydrogenated oils.

The goal is to provide the body with the nutrients to support optimal health and functioning. This approach also recognizes that food is medicine for many chronic conditions, such as digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic disorders.

Is it worth it to see a functional medicine doctor?

A functional medicine doctor can work with you to identify the underlying causes of illness and develop an individualized treatment plan. This approach looks at the whole person and emphasizes prevention and self-care to promote long-term health and wellness.

It is essential to find a practitioner with experience in functional medicine to assess your individual needs and create a treatment plan tailored to your unique health concerns.

Consulting with a functional medicine doctor can be worth the investment if you want a more personalized approach to healthcare and want to address the root cause of your health issues.

Is a functional doctor an MD?

Some functional medicine doctors are MDs, while others may be naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, or other health care professionals. Therefore, it is essential to research the qualifications of any practitioner you are considering and make sure they have experience in functional medicine. You also want to ensure that their approach meets your needs and is aligned with your health goals.

Is a functional doctor the same as a naturopath?

A functional doctor is not necessarily the same as a naturopath, although some practitioners may offer both. Functional medicine requires an underlying medical degree, such as an MD, DO, RD, DC, PA, DDS, or other health care professional. Naturopathic doctors are trained in naturopathic medicine and have the delineation ND after their names. Naturopathic doctors can have a specialty in functional medicine.

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