December 11, 2020
Last Updated:
January 29, 2021

What Is Functional Medicine?

What is functional medicine?

Functional medicine is a patient-centered approach to chronic disease management. This individualized approach focuses on finding the root cause behind illnesses, and implementing lifestyle and behavioral changes to improve or resolve those issues. This model of medicine offers a more holistic and hands-on approach than traditional healthcare.

Mark Hyman, MD, an IIN visiting teacher and functional medicine physician, is well known in the functional medicine field for his work in addressing chronic conditions through a holistic approach. He and other visiting teachers, including Andrew Weil, MD; Robin Berzin, MD; and Lissa Rankin, MD, have paved the way for functional medicine to become more mainstream.

Functional Medicine vs. Traditional Practices

When it comes to traditional or conventional medicine, there are specialists for every area of the body, such as neurologists, cardiologists, and gastroenterologists. Traditional practices in conventional medicine are essential in dealing with severe or emergency symptoms.

Functional medicine practitioners focus on the body as an interconnected system of parts, which requires a holistic approach and comprehensive treatment plan. Functional medicine is more effective in treating long-term chronic illness and pain than urgent health issues.

Functional medicine practitioners delve into all areas of a patient’s medical history, inquiring about not just their physical health but also their mental and emotional health. They can then form a unique health plan that caters to the patient’s individual needs.

Areas functional doctors can consider when creating personalized health plans include:

  • Nutrigenomics – Nutrigenomics is the study of how food affects gene expression, and vice versa. Functional doctors may use genetic testing to determine how certain foods you eat interact with your genes. This testing can also take family history into account, especially when determining if you’re at higher risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
  • Microbiome health – Your microbiome contains about 70% of the cells that make up your immune system! Functional doctors will often perform a GI assessment to measure the diversity of microbes that inhabit your gut; high diversity is an indicator of a healthy gut! From these results, they’ll work to identify the foods, medication, activities, and environments that may better support gut health.
  • Allergens – Whether you experience chronic migraines, itchiness, or sinus congestion, allergens, from food to environment, are often the culprit! Functional doctors offer detailed assessments and testing procedures to determine the source of these allergic reactions.
  • Poor Nutrition – Functional doctors will measure your nutrient levels to identify any potential vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Poor nutrition can be the cause of many health issues, such as anemia (too little iron), thyroid dysfunction (too little iodine), or even hormonal imbalances. A personalized nutrition plan can address your unique nutritional needs and help eliminate many conditions at the source.
  • Stress – Some chronic conditions are the result of excess stress, and functional medicine takes stress, and how one experiences stress, very seriously. Whether stress is caused by a person’spersonal life or work life – or both – a functional doctor can provide personalized lifestyle modifications to help patients create sustainable stress-management techniques for better health.

The Rise of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine recognizes that healthcare solutions are not always a one-size-fits-all approach! Rather, it’s important to address the bio-individual needs of a person – otherwise known as the nutrition plan, activities, and environment that help them thrive.

Instead of a quick diagnosis and prescribed drug, functional medicine practitioners start by developing a thorough understanding of their patient, acquiring a detailed medical history as well as learning about how they eat and what their lifestyle is like. From there, diet and lifestyle changes are recommended to address symptoms holistically. If needed, prescribing a drug would be one of the last paths to explore.

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The functional medicine model is gaining recognition in healthcare because of the patient-centered approach – people want to be seen and heard when they go to the doctor, not waved away with a prescription. By inspiring patients to take control of their own health through sustainable diet and lifestyle changes as well as other health practices, such as acupuncture and adopting a meditation practice, functional medicine empowers people to be more involved in their healthcare experience and explore alternatives to conventional medicine.

In practice, functional medicine can look like:

  • Getting acupuncture or using essential oils to manage chronic fatigue or migraines
  • Making dietary changes that support better hormonal health and treat thyroid issues
  • Creating better sleep habits through supplementation and lifestyle changes to improve mood, energy, and digestion
  • Developing a meditation practice to calm racing thoughts and ease anxiety
  • Implementing an exercise routine for better weight management

The benefits of a whole-person health approach

Functional medicine treats the whole individual, taking into account how all bodily systems are communicating with one another. A comprehensive and holistic approach to treating these interconnected systems can transform a person’s health – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Wondering where Health Coaches fit in? A functional medicine practitioner provides patients with a detailed protocol to follow based on lab work and medical assessments; a Health Coach can provide support in making the recommended changes from the protocol as part of their daily routine. Health Coaches also provide accountability and a safe space to explore what these changes mean for a client’s daily life, which is incredibly helpful on their health journey.

Taking control of your health is an empowering endeavor, and it all starts with seeking the answers and opening yourself up to improving your health holistically. A holistic health education can introduce you to health concepts beyond traditional or conventional medicine, helping you learn to tune in to your body and its needs!

Interested in adopting more functional and integrative health practices to enhance your daily life? Try a free Sample Class today for a glimpse into our bio-individualized approach to wellness.

Author Biography
Rebecca Robin
IIN Content Writer

Rebecca holds a bachelor’s in English with a focus in public relations and has a writing background in retail and entertainment advertising. Some of her favorite things include juicing, creating the perfect bowl of oatmeal, and getting in a HIIT workout.

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