What is Functional Medicine & How is It Different?

Functional Medicine is touted as the new way of healthcare for the 21st century and beyond. In a nut shell Functional Medicine seeks to treat the individual as a whole and not just a symptom or disease. What, you may ask, exactly is the difference between this and traditional or allopathic healthcare—the healthcare system of which we are most familiar? Let’s dive in and look at the differences.

Figure emerges from the comos depicting total body welnness with light shining from center

What is Allopathic, Conventional, Mainstream or Traditional Medicine?

Allopathic, traditional or conventional healthcare is defined this way:

A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine. (1)

Essentially as we know it today, conventional medicine aims to treat disease using drugs and/or surgery. Routinely doctors are isolated in their specialized fields to one area of the body. This had been seen for years as the best practice for treating disease. One would seek out or be referred to a specialist in that particular field for the treatment of that particular symptom, concern or disease.

A person with several diseases likely has several different specialists they consult on a regular basis. A doctor for heart concerns, another for diabetes, another for aches or pains, etc. It is not uncommon for someone to have several doctors they visit on a regular basis to “treat” their various diseases independently.

Each of these doctors or specialists all treat the disease in their field of speciality and rarely consult each other. Care is also generally kept to the treating of said disease with respect to what symptoms are already showing. A drug or surgery is then prescribed to treat the symptom ongoing.

In most cases, other factors such as diet, exercise, stress reduction and other preventative measures are outside the scope or just barely discussed within conventional medicine. And conventional doctors receive only a handful of hours of nutritional and alternative training during their schooling.

How is Functional Medicine Different?

This is where Functional Medicine differs. Functional Medicine focuses on the alignment of the entire body. It constantly looks to the body as a whole and not just individual parts. It aims to identify the root cause of a certain symptom. Then looks to naturally treat that root cause as opposed to just the symptom.

Functional Medicine essentially believes that without getting to the root cause, the underlying disease or imbalance will show itself somewhere else in the body as another symptom since the body works together as a whole.

Functional Medicine utilizes a rigorous more in-depth testing formulation that uncovers deficiencies and imbalances in the body that might otherwise be over looked. It also seeks to restore the body first using natural methods such as diet, nutrition, movement, stress relief, sleep conditioning, supplements, and botanical medicines.

They are also open to drugs and surgeries if needed, but always look to the underlying cause and balancing of the body’s systems naturally as a first line of defense. Often times someone will undergo a surgery or face cancer only to be told to conflicting information, if any, on how food or environmental factors may impact their outcome. These modalities are often overlooked or not seen as important although many have been proven to improve numerous conditions.

Functional Medicine is also by its very nature open to everyone at every time of their life. Ideally it is a path pursued prior to the onset of disease as a method to evert disease before it is able to even manifest.

A Functional Medicine Practitioner Explains the Difference

“While mainstream medicine is structured to manage symptoms, often with drugs that mask or cover up discomfort while doing nothing to resolve the cause of the discomfort, functional medicine is primarily concerned with addressing the underlying dysfunctions of the body that give rise to symptoms. For example, if someone has high blood sugar, he or she is typically given medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, which brings blood sugar down.

Instead of just altering blood sugar with medication (a condition that would recur if the medication were stopped), functional medicine asks why a patient has high blood sugar in the first place. Maybe they have cellular insulin resistance, brain-adrenal axis dysfunctions causing high cortisol and a chronic gut infection, a poor diet, pancreatic or liver dysfunction, or some other problem. All these things can contribute to high blood sugar, and many of them can be resolved without medication, or in conjunction with medication that can be tapered off.

If that patient with high blood sugar had cellular insulin resistance caused by brain-adrenal axis dysfunction, the problem would not be in the pancreas, and medication would not solve it. While the medication will make their blood sugar numbers look nicer on a lab, it doesn’t address the reasons they’re high in the first place. So (in conjunction with your primary care physician when necessary), functional medicine can be the missing link to getting off medications and getting healthy by treating the root cause to resolve the symptoms for good.” - Dr. Will Cole

This extended quote was exerted from his article Why Functional Medicine Is Healthcare of the Future.

Functional Medicine and Every Day Life

Numerous studies show simple nutrient deficiencies can cause a whole host of physical and mental symptoms and diseases. These symptoms however are often treated with drugs which cause additional problems when perhaps a simple supplement and change in diet and simple movement based exercise may have balanced the system without drugs.

The process in Functional Medicine care continually comes back to testing of the blood, stool, microbiome, and genetics to ensure the body is performing at optimal levels. Adjustments are then made as needed. If further treatment with a specialized drug or a surgery should be needed those avenues are explored as well.

A growing number of Functional Medicine doctors are entering this field from an initial training in traditional or conventional medicine. Many have practiced in the traditional sense for numerous years and seen the disconnect in their ability to treat the person as a whole. With the combining of these modalities they bring a synergy to the practice of health and are ushering in a new era of well-being for the entire body.

You can find a Functional Medicine Practitioner in your area here.



How to Eat Healthy & Stop Dieting

Yoga: 18 Health Benefits + How, What, & Why

Why Movement and Not Exercise is Best for Health and Longevity

10 Ways to Boost immunity Naturally

Monica Edwards Living Best Life

hello there!

I'm Monica Edwards 

I'm a serial entrepreneur, healthy living & life systems expert showing a determined you how to master your time & well-being to thrive and live your best life now. Life is too short to settle. You can have it all. Let me show you how.


keep reading