What is Functional Medicine?

Some people have the mistaken idea that functional medicine is merely lifestyle-based medicine. However, it is a systems-oriented, science-based approach. It often involves taking into account a patient’s genetics, physiology, biochemistry, and environmental exposures while aiming to identify the underlying cause of a specific medical issue or syndrome (a set of symptoms). Functional medicine practitioners adopt a broader perspective, digging deep and investigating root causes and underlying conditions. Conventional medicine is a process of treating symptoms, often with potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs. Functional medicine considers the symptoms or diagnosis, but it also strives to answer the question: why?

The Epidemic of Chronic Illness

A large part of a medical doctor’s job is to match a drug with a disease. It works like this: You get sick. You visit a doctor who runs diagnostic tests or recognizes your symptoms. You’re usually given a prescription to take to the pharmacy. Sometimes the drug works great. Or, it doesn’t help long-term for a chronic disease or condition. And more often than not, the drug has side effects. The medical industry and medication-centered mindset have saved millions of lives—people who would have died from infectious diseases such as malaria and polio. Conventional medicine is also quite helpful in handling acute trauma. However, traditional medicine can fall short in the early detection and long-term management of chronic conditions. 

The Functional Medicine Difference

Functional-medicine practitioners delve deeply into your lifestyle and wellness choices. Employing extensive intake questions and listening to patients’ stories can provide important clues. A functional medicine professional researches the possible triggers of your symptoms, including:

  • Diet
  • Digestion
  • Elimination patterns
  • Sleep quality and quantity
  • Stress levels
  • Exercise and movement activities
  • Lifestyle choices (such as alcohol use and smoking) 

Then, functional medicine doctors may order a variety of tests to explore any concerns the health history turned up. A functional-medicine workup will often include the fundamental tests, such as a lipid panel, cholesterol screening, or blood cell count, plus several more tests. Many functional medicine practitioners use labs and lab tests that may be considered out-of-network by health insurance companies. Patients may have to pay up-front and in total. However, patients can submit their claims to their insurance companies to request full or partial coverage. Health savings accounts (HSAs) may be used to cover lab fees if they are considered part of medical treatment. If your functional medicine provider is a licensed physician, you might have success with this route.

The Foundations of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine providers strive to catch the early warning signs of chronic illness—which can be optimal for both patients and the healthcare system. They decided that employing extensive intake questionnaires and listening to patients’ stories could provide valuable clues. Functional medicine is science-based, and doctors write prescriptions when necessary. However, they also advise patients about diet, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, clearing toxins, and much more. Modifying these kinds of factors can lead to significant turnarounds in health problems. Therefore, the functional medicine approach is gaining more and more popularity. Patients enjoy feeling heard and having their health concerns addressed individually. Functional medicine turns the symptom/disease/drug way of thinking on its head. Today, an impressive number of healthcare practitioners have embraced the principles and practices of functional medicine. Functional medicine courses are being incorporated into medical school curriculums, as well.