what-is-functional-medicine

What is Functional Medicine and What are Its Benefits?

The idea of functional medicine goes beyond the medical approaches we had the opportunity to meet and experience. It relies on both the alternative medicine treatments and conventional medical methods, and its primary goal consists of addressing the root causes of the patients’ diseases.

Functional medicine practitioners believe that addressing the root causes of a particular disease instead of its symptoms provides better results and gives them the opportunity to offer better and more efficient treatment options. Namely, some disorders are way more complex than others, which is why they require a more comprehensive approach.

The following article will present a more detailed explanation of the functional medicine core concepts, applications, and benefits to help you understand the importance of such an approach.

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What Exactly is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine can be defined as an individualized, patient-centered, and science-based approach that’s entirely focused on patients and their medical condition. It encourages the collaboration between patients and practitioners, empowering them to work together to address the root causes of disease, and promote overall wellness.

By addressing the underlying causes of a particular disease, a functional medicine practitioner can identify the complexity of the condition and develop a more effective treatment solution that improves the patient’s overall health.

To get a full picture of a patient’s health and conditions, a functional medicine doctor will ask for their genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle details. That way, clinicians can create personalized treatment plans and increase the chances of a person’s improvement.

How is Functional Medicine Unique?

Although you might not notice any significant difference between this type of medicine and the Western methods, many factors distinguish one idea from another. To begin, let’s mention the focus of care.

The conventional (Western) medicine uses symptoms as guidelines that help them identify a patient’s disease. Therefore, their treatments focus on improving the symptoms by prescribing drug-based therapies, which are similar for all the patients that suffer from the same condition.

Functional medicine, on the other hand, focuses on each person’s overall health and vitality. Practitioners will examine each patient’s lifestyle and individual lab test results to determine the underlying cause that might be impacting the onset of their disease and find treatments that will improve their overall health.

The relationship between a doctor and a patient is significantly enhanced here. Namely, functional medicine practitioners consider every aspect of a patient’s health, and they’re not trying to separate one from another based on their specialties – endocrinology, gynecology, neurology, and more. That said, they won’t send you to other departments if they see that their specialty doesn’t encompass the problems that you have, but they’ll collect the valuable data and use it to find the best medical treatment possible.

Functional Medicine vs. Conventional Medicine

The following table will present a more detailed image of the differences between conventional and functional medicine:

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Conventional Medicine

Functional Medicine

Disease oriented Health-oriented
Focused on doctor Focused on patient
Patients are treated in the same way Treatments based on individual biochemical results
Specialized approach Holistic approach
Can be quite expensive Cost-effective
Addresses the symptoms of the disease Addresses the underlying causes of disease
Encourages early detection Encourages prevention

Functional Medicine vs. Holistic Medicine

Although functional medicine relies on the holistic approach, we cannot use holistic medicine as a synonym. Holistic medicine focuses not only on the body but also on the mind and spirit, and it is considered one of the most efficient methods for treating any disease and improving a person’s overall health.

All competent practitioners are also holistic, which is why this term has become more of a description of their style rather than a unique approach to healthcare.

Functional Medicine vs. Naturopathic Medicine

People have always believed in the healing power of nature, and such a belief remains popular even in the 21st century. Naturopathic medicine offers a wide variety of natural treatments that focus on diet, lifestyle modifications, detoxification, or even acupuncture.

Acupuncture has proven to be one of the most efficient treatments for different kinds of conditions – ocular, neurological, sports injuries, and all types of pain that prevent people from performing their daily activities. It’s entirely safe, and the chances of side effects are at a minimum.

Botanicals, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceuticals are commonly used to manipulate the body’s physiology and biochemistry, unlike FM, which focuses on nutrition and supplements, avoiding the use of any drug-based treatments.

Functional Medicine vs. Integrative Medicine

As its name says, integrative medicine is a healthcare model in which conventional medicine is integrated with non-conventional approaches such as herbs, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, and similar treatments.

Unlike functional medicine, which focuses entirely on the root cause of the condition, integrative medicine doesn’t necessarily do that. They can or cannot address the underlying disease, but it’s not their primary goal in general.

In conclusion, this type of medicine has some aspect of each of the mentioned medical approaches, but it shouldn’t be confused with any of them. It is holistic, conventional, naturopathic, and integrative, which is why it’s so efficient and worth trying whenever you can’t solve your problem with Western therapies.

What Does a Functional Medicine Doctor Do?

A functional medicine practitioner examines the core aspects of your lifestyle, including sleep, exercise, stress levels, nutrition, genetics, and relationships. Such factors are fundamental since they can be influenced by many triggers and ongoing physiological processes, which is why they commonly result in signs and symptoms based on which doctors can make a diagnosis.

Instead of prescribing a drug-based therapy, FM practitioners will relieve the patients’ symptoms by recommending adequate nutrition, supplements, and regular exercise without necessarily treating the specific condition.

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What are the Benefits of Functional Medicine?

The primary benefit of functional medicine lies in its ability to treat a wide variety of chronic diseases, such as:

  • Cardiometabolic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
  • Neurological and psychiatric conditions, including depression, migraines, and attention deficit disorder.
  • Digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, acid reflux, chronic pancreatitis, diverticulosis.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Skin disorders, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
  • Hormonal problems, including thyroid conditions, menopause, and chronic fatigue.

Other benefits of FM include:

  • Improve the heart span: As the FM focuses on the entire organism, it enhances the organ reserve, which leads to an improved heart span.
  • Patient-centered approach: Care is entirely focused on the patient, which brings much better results than disease-centered methods.
  • Dynamic balance: A functional medicine practitioner makes sure your body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, which delivers exceptional results.
  • Focus on overall health: Health is not described as the absence of disease, but as a positive vitality, which encourages the patient to take the importance of the overall health more seriously.
  • Individual treatments: Unlike conventional medicine, which tends to treat the patient with similar symptoms using a more or less the same approach, functional medicine is known for an understanding of the biochemical individuality of each human being, which is based on the concepts of genetic and environmental uniqueness.

Does Insurance Cover Functional Medicine?

One of the most common questions regarding this medical approach is about insurance. The truth is that most non-conventional medical treatments aren’t included in the insurance policy, but the best way to check that is to call your insurance company and ask them whether your treatment costs can or cannot be reimbursed.

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Functional Medicine Certification: Explained

When you’re looking for a functional medicine doctor that will provide the necessary treatments for your condition, make sure you find a certified and qualified one who has passed all the tests and has an adequate certification that proves their knowledge.

A qualified functional medicine practitioner has the following skills:

  • Promotes and understands the difference between patient-centered diagnosis and disease-centered approach.
  • Uses holistic methods to address the patient’s condition, especially the root causes that impacted its onset.
  • Promotes optimal health and wellness of patients, focusing on pathological, nutritional, and functional disorders.
  • Understands the concept of environmental toxins, heavy metal toxicities, toxic emotions, and hormonal disbalances.
  • Identifies metabolic deficiencies, such as amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, co-factors, vitamins, minerals, etc.
  • Understands the complexity of chronic diseases.
  • Competent in planning preventive interventions using proper diet, lifestyle, nutrients, phytonutrient, mind and body, and pharmaceutical modalities.