What Functional Medicine is and Why it Comes With Major Benefits

LAST UPDATED: December 14, 2021

As medicine has evolved, doctors are identifying new ways to address human health and illness. 

With so many things to keep track of in the human body, it hardly makes sense to look at problems you’re experiencing and then try to address the issue. However, this is how many doctors deal with illness and diseases today. 

But, another way to approach health is through functional medicine. If you’ve never heard of functional medicine, then you may be in for a treat! 

This creative new approach to studying the human body and treating illness is flipping the script on how humans approach health care. 

Two doctors sitting at a table with laptop and notes talking


What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a system-based approach where a practitioner focuses on the patient in order to address pain, illness, or treat disease. 

Doctors who practice functional medicine ask patients: “Why are you ill?” rather than assessing the myriad of issues that the patient presents. 

Like holistic medicine, functional medicine takes a more targeted approach to solving health problems. However, through organ system responses and tracking issues, the functional medicine approach might look at genetic predispositions to mental, emotional, and spiritual influences. It can also track genetic predispositions to attitudes and beliefs!

Functional medicine takes on the patient-centered approach, which refers to health care that is “respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensures that patient values guide all clinical decisions.”

Functional medicine has 6 core principles:

  1. An understanding of the biochemical individuality of each human being (genetic and environmental uniqueness)
  2. Awareness of the evidence that is patient-centered rather than disease-centered
  3. Finding a dynamic balance between body, mind, and spirit inside and out
  4. Finding interconnections between physiological factors
  5. Identifying health as a positive vitality and not merely the absence of disease and using these factors for an enhanced vigorous physiology
  6. Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance the healthspan 
Women running in a park


Benefits of Functional Medicine

While one of the most obvious benefits of functional medicine includes better health care, there are so many more, including:

  • Individual and biochemical treatments
  • Patient-centered approach
  • Patients feel better and more cared for
  • Cost-effective because the doctor does not refer the patient to another department

Functional doctors attempt to address a person’s internal makeup. They might look at the differences between a person’s environment and physiological factors. And, more than that, they aim for a balance between the body, mind, and spirit, both inside and out. 

With this patient-centered approach, doctors look at factors that improve physiology and well-being. This goes above and beyond health as humans know it today. Just because there is no disease, this does not mean that a person is healthy!

If you went to your doctor, and they were a regular medical practitioner, they may not ask why you’re sick or look at root causes. Instead, they may simply be solving the problems as they emerge. 

This can be tiresome, painful, and sometimes deadly. Without a functional medicine approach, patients are left unattended, or they might diagnose themselves!

Functional medicine really changes everything. Replacing outdated models of acute care, functional medicine uses pathway tracking to identify genetic predispositions to better understand emerging diseases or illnesses. 

If you want more personalized health care (and you do!), then you want functional medicine!


What Types of Doctors are Practitioners of Functional Medicine?

Functional medical practitioners range from doctors to other types of health practitioners. 

A conventional medical doctor can decide to use functional medicine once they have completed their medical training. 

You don’t have to be a medical doctor to promote this approach. 

Chiropractors and naturopaths can practice functional medicine. The key difference between these practitioners will be the level of prescribing that they can do and the issues that they would look at. 

For example, you wouldn’t want to visit your chiropractor for a blood-related illness or breathing problem. Instead, you’d want to source a medical doctor who is trained in the functional approach. 


How is Functional Medicine Different?

Functional medicine is an approach to health care that can differ from other types of medical approaches like naturopath and alternative medicine.

doctor hands reaching out with two different pills on either palm

Unlike an M.D. (medical doctor), you don’t need to get a specialized medical degree in functional medicine to practice that. And, as mentioned earlier, you don’t even need to be a doctor to practice it. 

Therefore, think of functional medicine as an approach above all else. 

This is different from, but similar to, holistic medicine. Holistic medicine is also an approach and is typically used by naturopath doctors. The holistic medicine approach might use the same 6 core principles that holistic medicine does, but it will look at external factors to problem-solve diseases. 

This can all be confusing because a naturopath might be referred to as someone who practices holistic medicine or functional medicine. But really, you can think of it in two categories: alternative medicine and conventional medicine. 

Conventional medicine refers to the mainstream medicine that Western society promotes as primary health care, like prescribing medicine, treating ailments with surgery first, using X-rays and MRIs to diagnose and solve problems. While alternative medicine may use technology to solve problems, the key difference lies in their approach. 

Conventional medicine might treat issues, whereas alternative medicines might practice health care through different approaches. The alternative medicine doctor who practices functional medicine will use a patient-centered approach that addresses genetic and environmental causes for an issue. 

Similarly, a naturopath might use functional medicine in their approach style, or they might use another approach like the holistic approach.

Vegetables in mason jar with wooden spoon and other vegetables surrounding on the table


Why Functional Medicine?

So what’s the big deal with functional medicine?

Functional medicine takes the patient-centered approach and goes one step further. It also takes the holistic approach and applies technology, physiological health response, and genetics to problem-solving. 

A functional medicine doctor is one that you might visit even if you aren’t having a problem. 

One way to look at functional medicine is to see it as preventative medicine, but better. 

A functional medicine approach looks at your health and asks “How can it be better? What’s missing here?” And goes from there.