Have you ever made an appointment with your doctor and ended up leaving more confused than when you got there? Or have you been sent home with a diagnosis and prescription that you don’t even understand?
If so, you’re not alone. While our conventional medical model cures diseases and saves lives every single day, it doesn’t always address the underlying causes of chronic disease. This leaves many difficult to pinpoint symptoms left untreated or brushed off.
That’s where functional and integrative medicine come in. Today we’re going to explore exactly what functional medicine and integrative medicine are, the differences and commonalities between the two, and how to choose which is right for you. Let’s dive in.
What Is Functional Medicine?
So what exactly is functional medicine? Functional medicine is also sometimes referred to as “root-cause” medicine. This is because functional medicine focuses on finding the root issue that’s causing a patient’s symptoms.
The functional medicine model integrates our understanding of the human body, genetics, and external factors to identify and treat the underlying causes of disease. So rather than focusing on suppressing and managing symptoms, functional medicine looks deeper. Functional medicine practitioners seek to understand the “upstream” issue that’s causing the “downstream” symptoms.
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example of how a functional medicine approach differs from a conventional medical approach.
Functional Medicine vs Conventional Medicine
Let’s say you’re struggling with a recent onset of depression feelings and symptoms. The conventional medical model primarily focuses on management and suppression – meaning if you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, you may end up with a prescription for antidepressants and perhaps a referral to a mental health professional.
But if you approach a diagnosis of depression from a functional medicine standpoint, you’ll see that there’s much more at play here. Rather than trying to simply mask the symptoms of depression, a functional medicine doctor will seek to understand and address the underlying cause of depression by assessing things like:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Hormone imbalances
- Exposure to toxins and heavy metals
- Gut health and your microbiome
By going directly to the source of the problem, functional medicine is able to treat the root issues and produce long-lasting results.
What Does a Functional Medicine Doctor Do?
A functional medicine doctor uses a science-based approach to look closely at the complex interactions between human biology, genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Each of these elements impact your long-term health and your likelihood of developing chronic disease. By taking all these factors into account, a functional medicine doctor is able to tailor their approach to each unique individual.
They seek to understand each patient on an individual level by:
- Ordering specific tests that provide a clinical picture of you as an individual
- Understanding each patient in context by doing a deep dive into your history and past health
- Carefully assessing lifestyle, habits, and other contributing factors
- Taking a patient-centered and directed approach
Once the root cause is identified, functional medicine doctors aim to correct any imbalances or abnormalities through a holistic approach – eliminating the problem at its source. Treatment often encompasses multiple modalities that can include things like:
- Supplements and nutritional therapies to correct imbalances and reduce inflammation
- Lifestyle changes to improve diet, exercise, sleep, and stress
- Detoxification methods to help your body eliminate toxins
Now that you have an understanding of functional medicine, let’s take a look at another emerging field of healthcare – integrative medicine.
What Is Integrative Medicine?
The integrative medicine model seeks to treat individuals from a holistic standpoint. That means evaluating each patient as a whole – including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Integrative medicine “integrates” all facets of well-being to heal and optimize your health.
Because integrative medicine seeks to address health on such a multifaceted level, it often incorporates a number of different modalities to heal each person as a whole.
Now let’s revisit the same hypothetical example we used to compare functional medicine and conventional medicine, but now we’ll explore it through the lens of integrative medicine.
Integrative Medicine vs Conventional Medicine
Using the same example from above – a new onset of depression – let’s look at how integrative medicine might approach these symptoms. While an integrative medicine practitioner may consider aspects of the conventional medical model approach (like antidepressants and therapy), they’ll also seek to understand the underlying cause from a more holistic standpoint.
Addressing a diagnosis of depression from an integrative medicine approach might include:
- Assessing lifestyle habits like nutrition, exercise, and sleep
- Running diagnostic tests to rule out underlying conditions that may contribute to your symptoms
- Asking in-depth questions about your stress levels, emotional health, and current coping mechanisms
- Reviewing your work and family life, support systems, and spiritual beliefs
By assessing each patient as a whole and unique individual rather than just a diagnosis, integrative medicine is able to achieve a deeper level of healing.
What Does an Integrative Medicine Doctor Do?
After a comprehensive evaluation is complete, an integrative medicine doctor works with you to create a personalized treatment plan. This plan will incorporate a variety of modalities to enhance healing and restore balance in all aspects of your life. An integrative medicine approach to healing might include:
- Making lifestyle tweaks to your nutrition, supplements, exercise, and sleep
- Incorporating alternative healing modalities like acupuncture, chiropractic care, and/or massage
- Integrating modalities aimed at improving emotional and spiritual well-being like meditation, energy work, and/or behavioral therapy
By treating not only the body, but also the mind and spirit, integrative medicine is able to restore and optimize health in a more meaningful and lasting way.
Functional Medicine vs Integrative Medicine: Differences and Commonalities
When it comes to functional medicine versus integrative medicine, the two terms are often used interchangeably because there are some commonalities between them. Both of these medical models:
- Seek to understand the underlying causes of diseases and symptoms
- Direct treatment at the “upstream” issues rather than simply suppressing or masking the “downstream” symptoms
- Take a patient-centered and patient-driven approach
- Believe that lifestyle habits are major determining factors in the development of disease and are key to healing
These two medical models have many similarities, they simply approach healing in slightly different ways. Functional medicine seeks to understand and address the biological root cause while integrative medicine aims to heal the mind-body-spirit.
So now that you have an understanding of functional medicine versus integrative medicine, you’re probably wondering which is right for you.
Choosing Between Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine
The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to choose between functional and integrative medicine. Both of these medical models evolved from the idea that true healing requires personalized solutions that target the root cause of imbalance and disease.
There are many doctors and practitioners that incorporate both functional and integrative medicine into their practice to help each of their patients achieve the vibrant health and longevity we all deserve. So if you’re struggling with a chronic condition, suffering with unexplained symptoms, or you’re simply looking to optimize your well-being – I strongly encourage you to work with a practitioner that merges the framework of both functional and integrative medicine.
If you’re new to this approach to health and aren’t sure how to choose the right doctor, head over and check out my article on How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner. It’ll walk you through my best tips to help you find a practitioner that will help you find the root cause of your issues and address your health from a holistic standpoint.
When It Comes to Your Health, You Are Your Own Best Advocate
While our conventional medical model is incredibly necessary and plays a crucial role in our healthcare system, it’s only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to our health – as individuals and as a collective. Integrative and functional medicine are truly the key to genuine and deep healing on all levels.
Functional and integrative medicine are at the cutting edge when it comes to reversing chronic disease, optimizing health, enhancing performance, and promoting longevity. Functional and integrative medicine practitioners are there to be your partner in achieving your health goals – guiding and empowering you to take your well-being into your own hands.
Because when it comes to your own health, you truly are your own best advocate. So if you’re interested in learning more about the functional and integrative medical approach and taking charge of your health, I encourage you to browse through my blog. – or better yet, sign up for my email newsletter.
As a functional and integrative medical practitioner myself, it’s my mission to empower you with the knowledge and tools to advocate for your own well-being.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the commonalities and differences between functional medicine and integrative medicine? What are your best tips for finding the right integrative and functional medicine practitioner? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
your article is very informative. Unfortunately, the “Functional Medicine” doctors where I live simply substitute vitamins and herbs for prescription medicines, but don’t look for causes or eliminating them. I was very disappointed that they didn’t look for causes or look at the whole person instead of organ system by organ system. very good article. Wish you lived near me.
oh I am sorry to hear that Sharon! It is so important to find a medical detective to help you find answers. Try searching for IFMCP practitioners on ifm.org
Where does a naturopath doctor fall?
Naturopathic doctors are wonderful and trained in natural methods of treating illness without drugs or surgery
Thanks for this excellent explanation of the ‘Venn diagram’ between functional and integrative medicine, Dr. Jill. And for the recent update on your forthcoming film. Wish it were safer to gather in large groups these days- I’m sure all your patients (at least those of us in the Rocky Mtn region) would be eager to attend an opening screening 😉
Thanks for a great explanation between the two as I have found this to be a confusing subject in the past. Can functional /integrative medicine help with Parkinson’s disease ?
Yes, Laurie! You might check out Dr. Dale Bredesen’s protocols
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