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What is Functional Medicine?

About Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and physician in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.

Functional Medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, Functional Medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.

How Functional Medicine Changes Everything

Functional Medicine is a personalized, systems-oriented model that empowers patients and physicians to achieve the highest expression of health by working in collaboration to address the underlying causes of disease. 

  • Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century.

  • Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and understanding of how environmental and lifestyle factors influence the emergence and progression of disease.

  • Functional Medicine enables physicians and other health professionals to practice proactive, predictive, personalized medicine and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.

The Functional Medicine Tree

The illustration below uses a tree to visually represent the core aspects of the Functional Medicine paradigm and highlight the difference between conventional medical care and Functional Medicine.

How is Functional Medicine Different?

The illustration above uses a tree to visually represent the core aspects of the Functional Medicine paradigm and highlight the difference between conventional medical care and Functional Medicine. The graphic itself has undergone some changes through the years, but its essence remains the same. In order to keep a tree healthy and allow it to flourish, you need to support the most basic and essential elements first; the foundation: the roots and soil. Similarly, if a tree is not healthy, the first place you should look for answers is those same foundational elements.

In Functional Medicine, the same approach applies to patients. The most important factors, and the ones we examine first when gathering information about the patient, are the foundational lifestyle factors; sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress levels, relationships, and genetics. These are the roots and soil, which are in turn influenced by specific predisposing factors (antecedents), discrete events (triggers), and ongoing physiological processes (mediators), and may then result in fundamental imbalances at the trunk. These can eventually result in the signs and symptoms that are grouped into a diagnosable constellation that we call disease, represented by the branches and leaves.

Conventional medicine tends to look at the constellation of symptoms first (the branches and leaves), which usually results in a disease diagnosis. Often, this diagnosis is associated with a drug or drugs that can be prescribed to treat this constellation of symptoms, and that is the end of the story. But this approach neglects the more fundamental aspects of health that reside in the roots and the trunk of the tree. It treats all patients that present with similar symptoms the same and completely neglects both the inherent differences among patients as well as the myriad possible causes that a “disease” can have.

How is Functional Medicine Different?

So how is Functional Medicine different from today’s conventional Western medical system? To begin, the focus of care is different. The goal of conventional medicine is for doctors to identify diseases by recognizing patterns of symptoms and to treat those symptoms by prescribing drug-based therapies that are similar for all patients with a given disease.

The goal of Functional Medicine is to promote health and vitality in each patient. Practitioners examine each patient’s lifestyle and unique biochemical factors to identify the underlying causes of their disease and find treatments that help return patients to optimal health.

Conventional medicine separates doctors based on their specialties (e.g., neurology, gynecology, endocrinology), effectively arranging medical care into separate silos. Functional Medicine is holistic, in that one clinician looks at all aspects of the patient, instead of saying, “Oh, that sounds like a hormone problem. That’s not my department.”

Functional Medicine is highly cost effective for patients, as it focuses on prevention and health promoting lifestyle changes and sustainable treatments that address the underlying causes of dysfunction, restoring patients to health. Conventional medical treatments are often expensive medications that must be taken indefinitely and do not address the underlying problem, but merely suppress the symptoms.

Functional Medicine
  • Health oriented

  • Patient centered

  • Biochemical individuality

  • Holistic

  • Cost Effective

  • Looks at underlying causes of disease

  • Preventative approach

  • High touch/high tech

Conventiional Medicine
  • Disease oriented

  • Doctor centered

  • Everyone is treated the same way

  • Specialized

  • Expensive

  • Diagnosis based on symptoms

  • Early detection of disease

  • High tech