What is Functional Medicine?

You may have heard me refer, on more than one occasion, to “functional medicine”. So, what is this and how is it different from the traditional medical model?

In short, functional medicine is an approach that looks at the biological systems of the body that keep us ‘healthy’ and focusses on identifying and addressing the root cause of a disease in order to offer relief of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners take the holistic approach to understand who you are, knowing that every person is unique and should have a health plan that is custom fit for their needs.

Conventional medicine is critical in preventing, diagnosing and treating a host of illnesses and diseases but I believe that functional medicine can complement conventional medicine when it comes to your health. The Conventional approach has been more likely to prescribe medication or a medical procedure to alleviate your symptoms and, perhaps, eliminate the illness. With functional medicine, the investigation doesn’t stop at the symptom or illness level; it continues to peel away the layers of the onion to identify the source of that illness with the aim of restoring health.  The body is then supported with what it needs not only to eliminate the reported illness but also to eliminate other underlying illnesses that may not be showing symptoms and to prevent the onset of future illness. 

The table below compares the two approaches side-by-side.

Conventional MedicineFunctional Medicine
Diagnoses illnessLooks for the source(s) of illness
Treats illnessAims to restore healthy function to enable the body to eliminate illness
Uses pharmaceuticals, surgery, and medical procedures to treat illnessUses conventional, functional, nutritional, environmental and lifestyle changes
Symptom based treatment plansTreatment plan tailored to each individual
Patient passively receives treatmentPatient actively participates in treatment, which often requires attending to environmental and lifestyle factors
Treats from the outside in to alleviate symptoms and illnessTreats from the inside out to remove the source of illness and restore health

The Functional Medicine Tree

The Institute of Functional Medicine uses a tree analogy (see below) to describe functional medicine and highlight the differences between conventional and functional medicine. While conventional medicine diagnoses and treats what’s above the surface functional medicine also attends to what’s below the surface, at the root of the disease.

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