facebook icon

What Is Functional Medicine? Part 2

Are you struggling with an autoimmune disease and want better treatment options and better results? A lot of people have heard about functional medicine but don’t know how it is different from the care they get at their conventional doctor’s office. In Part One of this blog post, I explained how functional medicine tries to prevent and reverse disease by addressing the root cause of illnesses, how treatments are individualized, and how the laboratory tests go above and beyond standard lab tests. In this blog, Part Two, I’ll address some frequently asked questions about this approach, discuss the time and cost investment, and show how it’s different from conventional, integrative, and naturopathic medicine. 

What Is the Difference Between Integrative Medicine and Functional Medicine?

If you’re wondering about functional medicine vs. integrative, functional medicine is a type of integrative medicine. Integrative medicine is known for combining multiple treatment modalities such as nutrition, exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic care, physical therapy, as well as conventional treatments such as pharmaceuticals. Functional medicine often uses those same types of modalities, including nutrition, lifestyle, and therapies for mental and emotional health. It is an integrative approach. However, unlike integrative medicine as a whole, functional medicine selects modalities for each patient based on the functional medicine framework and underlying imbalances or dysfunctions. Functional medicine personalizes a comprehensive treatment approach to each individual, looking at what approaches would be best for that person instead of using the same approach for everyone. Functional medicine takes more of a systems biology approach, which means it looks at the body as a complex web of interconnected systems and processes. It does not look at the brain as separate from the gut as separate from the liver, but instead sees them as all interconnected. A problem at one site can affect illness at another.

Is Functional Medicine Evidence-Based?

A common misconception about functional medicine is that it’s not based on scientific evidence. Functional medicine boasts a broader understanding of health, incorporating research from various fields including nutrition, endocrinology, and genetics. There is a large and growing volume of scientific evidence to support a functional medicine approach.

Is Functional Medicine All About Supplements?

People often think that functional medicine is all about supplements. And a lot of functional medicine practitioners use supplements because the supplements can be a good tool to help the body get what it needs to function better. But we also emphasize other things like nutrition and lifestyle. So it’s not all about supplements. 

With supplements, you’re not always getting at the root cause. Some practitioners employ what’s called green pharmacy. Some patients have gone to other practitioners who are trying the natural approach, but all that’s been done for the patient is giving them 30 supplements like herbs and vitamins. It’s something to look out for because a lot of practitioners will say they’re doing functional medicine because they’re using supplements instead of pharmaceuticals, but they’re still just putting a band-aid on the problem. 

Functional medicine also is not just about diet. Obviously diet is a critical component of someone’s health, but there are so many other pieces that can be involved such as lifestyle and stress

Functional Medicine vs Naturopathic: How Are They Different? 

Another misconception is that functional medicine is the same as naturopathy. There is an overlap between functional medicine and naturopathic medicine, but they’re not the same. Like functional medicine, naturopathic medicine looks to establish and address the root causes of a disorder. It is based on the philosophy that the human body has an innate ability to heal and aims to maximize the body’s ability to do so using natural remedies. 

Functional medicine extends naturopathy by emphasizing a systems biology approach to root cause discovery and therapies. Systems biology includes the biological pathways and networks throughout the body that link different systems together. It’s how we can understand how the gut or adrenal system are connected to immune health, for example. Advances in testing allow functional medicine practitioners to investigate imbalances or dysfunction in these biological pathways and networks. It’s a customized approach where a functional doctor finds the treatments that are truly best suited to each individual patient. 

Like naturopathic medicine, functional medicine’s main goal is to find the root cause of the patient’s illness. Some functional medicine practitioners will incorporate naturopathic principles into their approach, so there is overlap between the two types of medicine.

Is Functional Medicine Only Used for Chronic Illnesses?

Functional medicine myths include the belief that it’s only for chronic illnesses. Functional medicine definitely is beneficial for people with chronic illness, but it’s also applicable for prevention and certain types of acute care. It’s a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach. So, it works well even for people who are just trying to optimize their health. By intervening early, they can prevent disease from developing or progressing in the first place. 

Functional medicine and autoimmune disease are good examples. Even conditions like autoimmune disease are somewhat preventable when you address the potential root causes ahead of time and make sure that everything is working well in the body. The emergence of an autoimmune disease is like a perfect storm of various underlying factors that aren’t working well, which eventually triggers an autoimmune disease. So, if you’re being preventative and looking at the whole health picture you can help prevent diseases like that from developing.

Functional Medicine vs Conventional: Can They Work Together?

Another misconception is that functional medicine ignores conventional medicine. But functional medicine is not in competition with conventional medicine. The two approaches work really well together. Conventional medicine is really good at diagnosing and labeling a disease, but functional medicine digs a little bit deeper to help fix the underlying reasons why that disease was happening in the first place. Functional medicine is like bridging the gap between the conventional world and the alternative medicine world. 

Is It Expensive?

Another myth is that functional medicine is expensive and out of reach for a lot of people. However, by focusing on prevention and fixing the root causes, functional medicine can actually  be potentially cheaper in long-term health care costs by minimizing the need for long-term medication management and treatments like surgery. It actually can end up saving people money in the long run if they are proactive in the present. Performing more testing now means that individuals can fix any problem before it gets worse, potentially avoiding more treatments in the future. 

Insurance coverage for functional medicine is not yet widespread because functional medicine is very different than the conventional medicine model. Functional medicine practitioners spend much more time with their patients to figure out the root causes of their illness. In functional medicine, there isn’t a single pill that will fix a person’s condition, but instead a combination of diet, lifestyle, and supplements. While most insurance companies still do not cover the functional medicine approach, it is changing as I write this. The results speak for themselves and this approach is spreading throughout the world. Even without insurance coverage, functional medicine is a worthwhile investment in being healthy and staying free of disease.

Is It Just a Trend?

Many people mistakenly believe that functional medicine is a trend. Yet, it has been around for decades, since 1988. Its foundational principles are rooted in combining an understanding of biochemical pathways and systems with ancient healing traditions, using food as medicine, using herbs as medicine, helping the person with their lifestyle, and looking at the mind-body connection. 

Functional medicine is becoming more popular because it’s so effective. Many people are seeing how helpful it is. There are many conventional and new practitioners moving into functional medicine practice because they see the outcomes. They can see the difference it’s making in their patients’ lives. That’s why it’s growing and more people are hearing about it, but it’s definitely not a trend. 

Are All Functional Medicine Practitioners the Same?

Perhaps you’re wondering “what is a functional medicine doctor” and are they all the same? Just like in conventional medicine, there is a range of expertise and skills among functional medicine practitioners. Some functional doctors have been around longer than others and have more experience and understanding of how to do things. 

Not every practitioner is going to be the best fit for every patient. Some have certain ways of doing things that will work really well for certain patients and not for others. Same with conventional medicine—there’s not always one magic medication that works for every patient just like there’s not going to be one type of treatment that a functional medicine practitioner is using that’s going to work with every patient. It should be highly personalized. 

How Long Does Treatment Typically Last?

Once you get a diagnosis, conventional doctors look at most diseases as chronic, progressive, degenerative, and life-long. In conventional medicine you might be on a pill or other type of treatment regimen for the rest of your life. Compare this to functional medicine where we’re being proactive and helping to fix the causes of problems, so treatment doesn’t have to last forever. Most of our patients only work with us for about six months to a year, and either decide to leave once their symptoms are resolved or return only for routine, preventive check-ups. 

In functional medicine, you can accomplish a lot within a short amount of time. The reason why we can create such drastic changes in people’s health in a relatively short amount of time is because we are educating and empowering them, and we’re fixing the problem. When you fix the problem, then the symptoms go away. When the symptoms go away, you won’t have to manage the symptoms forever. Within a matter of months people can be feeling a significant improvement in their health. These types of successes are not as common with conventional medicine because the symptoms are being covered up (or Band-aided), without addressing the root causes of the disease. 

How to Find a Functional Medicine Doctor 

It’s important to find a functional medicine doctor that is highly skilled and knowledgeable. As an experienced functional medicine doctor specializing in autoimmune health, I can help you conquer the root cause of your lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or other autoimmune disease. The first step? Schedule a free 15-minute discovery consultation, by phone or video. If you come on board as a practice member, I’ll personalize your treatment approach to find the best strategies for you. I’ll also help educate you so that you can be empowered to take part in your healing. If you haven’t tried a functional medicine approach before, you may be surprised to see how simple diet and lifestyle changes can send your autoimmune symptoms packing, leaving a healthier, happier, and stronger you.

Don’t miss a thing about the functional medicine approach to wellness. Read “What Is Functional Medicine? Part 1”. 

Author Profile

Board Certified in Integrative Medicine
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner