Wellness Blog

What is Functional Medicine?

Jul 25, 2018 8:01:00 AM / by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

The term “functional medicine” might seem vague or confusing.

In the early 1990s, you might haven see only a few practitioners practicing or learning about functional medicine.

But over the last few years, functional medicine has become more common among physicians with conventional medical training.

But what is functional medicine? What does a functional medicine doctor do?

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine takes a whole body approach to health. It is a fundamentally different approach from conventional medicine.

The approach includes evaluating lifestyle choices, focusing on disease prevention and providing patient-centered treatment.

Functional medicine care providers work to identify and understand the root causes of a disease, instead of just treating your symptom. This involves unique lab testing and different treatments than you might be used to after seeing a conventional medicine care provider.

Additionally, the relationship between a patient and their doctor is key to functional medicine. When you see a functional medicine professional, you are going to be encouraged to be more involved in your own journey towards health and wellness.

Functional Medicine Versus Conventional Medicine

The main difference between conventional medicine and functional medicine is how doctors treat a patient and their individual dysfunctions and diseases.

At a functional medicine practice, doctors treat the individual, not the disease.

Functional medicine doctors always work to get to the root cause of someone’s ailments.

Most of the time, a more conventional care provider will rely on medication to deal with a patient’s dysfunction or disease. This is common in most general care practices across the United States.

Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all solutions found in conventional medicine fail many people who are struggling with chronic conditions.

To sum it up, the main differences between conventional and functional medicine are:

  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Integrative, Science-Based Approach
  • Lab-Based System
  • Integrating Best Practices

Patient-Centered Care

Where a conventional doctor might ask, “What drug matches up with this disease or these symptoms?” a functional medicine provider asks very different questions, like…

  • Why do you have this problem in this first place?
  • Why has function been lost?
  • What can we do to restore function?

At a functional medicine practice, the care providers listen to the patient’s story and history. Patients are brought into the discovery process as well as the treatment process.

This doesn’t mean that conventional medicine is bad or wrong – it’s just a different approach. Functional medicine asks entirely different questions than conventional medicine, and conventional medicine isn’t right for every patient and every disease

An Integrative, Science-Based Approach

Functional medicine is deeply rooted in science. Some naysayers consider functional medicine and other forms of alternative medicine to be the equivalent of a witch doctor, which if far from reality.

A functional medicine provider stays up to date on research and training. They also know that the body is made up of a complicated network of relationships and must know how every part of the body interacts and impacts the others.

When you go to a functional medicine care provider with a problem, they will consider the entire web of interactions in your personal history, physiology and lifestyle to get to the root of that problem.

A functional medicine provider will consider…

  • Your unique genetic makeup
  • Your mind
  • Your body
  • Your spirit
  • Your physical state
  • Your social environment

Lab-Based System

One component of functional medicine, as we discussed above, is understanding the full picture when trying to identify the root causes of a patient’s problems.

This tends to involve specialized functional medicine labs. If you’re seeing a functional medicine practitioner, you are likely to go through more lab work and testing.

Lab work can often reveal hidden problems that have been plaguing a patient for years, like toxins, hormone imbalances and more. It helps a functional medicine practitioner get a clear picture of their patient’s unique situation and guides their treatment plan.

Integrating Best Practices

While conventional medicine rarely branches out, functional medicine integrates more traditional Western medical practices with alternative medicine and/or integrative medicine.

That means when you see a functional medicine provider with a specific problem or ailment…

  • There will be a focus on prevention through lifestyle choices.
  • Your doctor will use the latest laboratory testing and diagnostic techniques.
  • You will be prescribed both conventional medication as well as botanical medicines and supplements.

What Is A Functional Medicine Doctor?

A functional medicine doctor focuses on bringing their patient back to normal body function and optimum health, rather than just treatment of specific diseases and treatments.

Functional medicine is an area of specialty that doctors can receive advanced training in. So, a doctor could be specialized in internal medicine and practice functional medicine.

Some doctors only practice functional medicine and completely bypass their original training, but most doctors will combine their original training with functional medicine.

What Does A Functional Medicine Doctor Do?

At the end of the day, functional medicine doctors still do the same work as any other doctor – they see and treat patients.

The way they see and treat patients, of course, is fundamentally different.

Most functional medicine care providers start by meeting with a new patient for an extended period of time. Your doctor will want to know your complete history – not just your medical history, like if you smoke or if you’ve ever received a certain diagnosis.

The doctor might ask you about your lifestyle, about the things that cause you stress in your life and about your overall wellbeing.

All functional medicine doctors will order lab testing – many of which are unique to the functional medicine field.

From there, your doctor will use both your complete history and your lab results to get to the root of any issues you are experiencing or identify potential issues that could come up.

You might also notice that functional medicine professionals spend more time with their patients and see less patients overall. This is due to the focus on the personal relationship between a functional medicine doctor and their patients.

Why Do We Need Functional Medicine?

Most of the time, conventional medicine is oriented towards in-the-moment care for people with trauma or illness. Doctors prescribe specific treatments that aim to treat the immediate problem a patient is experiencing.

Conventional doctors see many patients a day and can’t spend the necessary time with each and every patient.

At the same time, our society is seeing a sharp increase in the number of people struggling with chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disorders.

The acute care approach to conventional medicine isn’t equipped to both prevent and treat these chronic diseases. That means people with these issues or who are likely to develop them in the future aren’t getting the help they need in the long term.

Functional Medicine Myths

There are still a lot of naysayers out there when it comes to forms of alternative medicine like functional medicine.

Let’s talk through a few common misconceptions about functional medicine:

  1. If Functional Medicine Worked, My Regular Doctor Would Do It.
  2. Functional Medicine Is Too Expensive.
  3. Functional Medicine Isn’t Scientifically Based.
  4. I’ve Already Tried Everything.
  5. I Can Figure This Out By Myself.
  6. All Functional Medicine Practitioners Are The Same.
  7. I’m Too Busy For This.

1. If Functional Medicine Worked, My Regular Doctor Would Do It

This is a common rebuttal to functional medicine.

If this approach is as effective as functional medicine supporters say, wouldn’t all doctors be practicing functional medicine?

This claim assumes that conventional medicine learns about new research and approaches and implements them immediately.

But it can take years for new research to be disseminated through conventional medicine circles. It can take even longer for that new research to become the norm.

2. Functional Medicine Is Too Expensive

If you’re coming into this thinking that your insurance will cover a functional medicine care provider, that likely isn’t the case.

Functional medicine doesn’t usually fit into the insurance framework. That doesn’t mean you can’t use insurance, but it doesn’t always cover the testing and treatments recommended by your functional medicine doctor.

However, being unhealthy is far more expensive. Consider that the average person spends more money in their lifetime in the conventional medicine model to manage a disease or illness than they would in a functional medicine model.

While the cost of functional medicine is likely higher than conventional medicine, the value of prevention will make it a better option for anyone concerned about their health and wellness.

3. Functional Medicine Isn’t Scientifically Based

On the contrary, much of functional medicine is scientifically based.

Most functional medicine care providers use their knowledge of the body, as well as lab work and diagnostic testing, to get to the root cause of diseases and illnesses.

4. I’ve Already Tried Everything

If you’ve been struggling with a chronic disease for a long time, you may feel like you’ve tried everything.

However, until you’ve worked with a care provider who developed a personalized wellness plan and coached you to reach your wellness goals, and you have followed that wellness plan, you haven’t tried everything.

There are more options available to people outside of conventional medicine. It can be easy to feel like if you’ve tried everything in conventional medicine, then you’ve tried everything.

However, there is more to treating chronic disease than just disease management.

5. I Can Figure This Out By Myself

Many people think, after hearing about functional medicine for the first time, that they can do their own research on their problem and fix it on their own.

You certainly can do research into the issues you’re experiencing. However, a functional medicine doctor has been exposed to lab tests hundreds of times, studied for hundreds of hours and spent years looking at individual patient wellness plan outcomes.

While it is important to care about your own personal wellness and stay educated, you will need a partner in your journey to optimum health. That should be your care provider who has an in-depth knowledge of your history, lifestyle and medical needs.

6. All Functional Medicine Practitioners Are The Same

Although the fundamentals of functional medicine will be the same no matter where you go, no two functional medicine practitioners will do their work exactly the same.

Their specialties, individual training and experience will all factor into how they approach medicine. Each care provider’s personality and personal style of engaging with a patient will be different from doctor to doctor, too.

7. I’m Too Busy For This

If you are too busy for your health, that’s another problem altogether.

Everyone is busy with their work, family, friends and personal responsibilities. However, it is crucial that you prioritize your own health as well as the other things that are important to you.

If you take the time now to set up a wellness program with a functional medicine professional, you will spend less time overall with unplanned doctors’ appointments and unexpected diseases or illnesses.

Functional Medicine at Essential Health & Wellness

Our care providers at Essential Health & Wellness are board certified with advanced training in integrative and functional medicine.

The team is committed to helping all of our patients reach their optimum health and to being their partner on their wellness journey.

Contact us today to learn more about functional medicine at Essential Health & Wellness and schedule your free Meet & Greet with one of our care providers.

We can’t wait to meet you!

The Essential Health and Wellness Team

Written by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

As integrative and functional medicine providers, the Essential Health & Wellness team will always take a personalized approach to your care. Our board-certified physicians and advanced care practitioners believe in treating people, not symptoms, and place wellness and prevention at the forefront of our practice.

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