What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better
addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional
disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered
approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an
isolated set of symptoms.
What Is Functional
Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to
their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental,
and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic
diseases. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of
health and vitality for each individual.
Why Do We Need Functional Medicine?
Our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who
suffer from complex, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer,
mental illness, dementia, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, and
troublesome conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
The treatment that patients receive for these and other chronic conditions is
often inadequate. This is due, in part, to:
• Focus on acute care. The system of medicine practiced by most physicians
is oriented toward acute care—the diagnosis and treatment of trauma
or illness that is of short duration and in need of urgent care, such as
appendicitis or a broken leg. The acute-care approach to medicine lacks the
proper methods and tools to prevent and treat complex, chronic diseases.
• Gap between research and practice. The way many doctors practice isn’t
up-to-date with new research. The gap between emerging research in the
basic sciences and its use in medical practice is enormous—a few decades
or more—particularly in the area of complex, chronic illness.
• Shortfalls in training. Most physicians are not adequately trained to assess
the underlying causes of complex, chronic disease and to apply strategies
such as nutrition, diet, and exercise to both treat and prevent these illnesses
in their patients.
Version 2© 2022 The Institute for Functional Medicine
How Is Functional Medicine Different?
Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention, and
treatment of complex, chronic diseases. Hallmarks of a functional medicine
• Patient-centered care. The focus of functional medicine is on patient-
centered care, promoting health as a positive vitality, beyond just the
absence of disease.
• An integrative, science-based healthcare approach. Functional medicine
practitioners look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions
in the patient’s history, physiology, and lifestyle that can lead to illness.
The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with
both internal (mind, body, and spirit) and external (physical and social
environment) factors that affect total functioning.
• A combination of best medical practices. Functional medicine integrates
traditional Western medical practices with what are sometimes considered
“alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention
through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing
and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs
and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification
programs, or stress-management techniques.