Functional Medicine: What Is It? How Does It Work?

functional medicine

People all over the world are affected by a wide variety of medical conditions. From chronic diseases to common ailments, millions of people suffer from health issues every day.

Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are also on the rise in many parts of the world due to the stressors associated with modern life.

Finding out the root cause of diseases through a holistic approach is important for effective and long-term treatment. By taking into account the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person, it’s possible to provide comprehensive and individualized care. 

By understanding the root cause of diseases, doctors can prescribe more effective treatments, lifestyle changes, or preventive measures which can reduce the risk of future conditions. Additionally, focusing on the root cause instead of simply treating symptoms may reduce the need for medication or other medical interventions. This is where the idea of functional medicine comes in.

This article aims to explain the concept of functional medicine and its benefits. For additional information, here’s an article by to give you a better idea of how it works. 

What Is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is an integrative and personalized health approach that involves understanding the prevention, management, and primary cause of diseases. Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine is based on a holistic approach that aims to address the root cause of the disease by looking at the bigger picture of the individual’s overall health. 

According to this approach, a healthy life isn’t one without illnesses; however, it has a perfect balance of positivity, energy, gratitude, and joy.

Although it’s a new concept to most people, functional medicine has been in existence for years, and it has been proven to be effective. Additionally, it doesn’t reject conventional medicine; instead, it utilizes conventional medicine as its foundation, adding new methods of management and prevention of illnesses.

According to functional medicine, everybody is different in terms of biochemical and genetic makeup. Functional medicine utilizes a personalized approach to treat a patient holistically rather than the disease itself. It doesn’t address the disease directly; instead, the physicians look for how your body’s healing mechanism will resolve the issue.

As a science-based approach, functional medicine utilizes interconnected relationships in the body that are relatively complex. It is through these relationships that functional medicine physicians gain a better understanding of the body.

Your body has the ability to self-regulate. With various interconnected systems, your body features a delicate balance. And there are times when certain conditions will knock the body off balance. Fortunately, the body can heal on its own and prevent diseases associated with aging, which is functional medicine’s primary goal.

Unlike functional medicine, conventional medicine has achieved stunning breakthroughs in terms of technological advancements in surgery, emergency response, and other aspects of medical care. However, it tends to lack perspective on the overall wellness of a client. It’s due to this reason that functional medicine has become a necessity in modern society. And by understanding how it works, you’ll realize why functional medicine is growing in popularity globally.

How Does Functional Medicine Work?

For starters, functional medicine works by looking at the client’s full history and identifying the illness’s primary cause. Functional medicine doctors often spend a lot of time with the client as opposed to conventional medical doctors. During a session, a functional medicine physician will collect the following critical information about your lifestyle and the disease:

  • Sleeping patterns
  • Stressors
  • Exercise habits
  • Symptoms timeline
  • Personal relationships
  • Nutrition
  • Emotional well-being

After assessing these critical aspects, the functional medicine physician will design a treatment plan for managing various factors contributing to your chronic condition. This treatment plan will include supplements, medication, or other forms of therapy.

Alternative medicine

Afterwards, the physician will follow up on the treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments. Unlike conventional medicine, the functional medicine treatment approach is unique and differs from one person to another. Basically, this means functional medicine is tailored to suit the person’s needs.

When it comes to functional medicine, the care provided is determined by the system, not the diagnosed condition. Furthermore, functional medicine operates based on three pillars, and they’re as follows:

Patient-Centered Care

This is where the doctor takes down a patient’s history, listens to their story, and relates it to them in relation to their issue. The doctor will then take the patient into a discovery process and come up with a management plan that will address the patient’s individual needs.

Science-Based Methodology

In this pillar, the physician utilizes patient preferences, the latest medical research along with clinical expertise in assessing various interactions that can cause illnesses from the client’s history, genes, lifestyle, and physiology. 

This inside-out approach starts with the client’s genetic makeup and identifies various physiological imbalances expressed as symptoms, complaints, and diseases. Usually, these are the main overlooked aspects of the internal factors (spirit, body, and mind) along with the external factors (social and physical environment) that are responsible for evaluating a client’s optimal function.

Integrating Successful Medical Techniques From Various Disciplines

The motto for this pillar is: If it works, use it. Functional medicine utilizes various medical practices across the globe, including traditional Western medical practices. This pillar of functional medicine is used in disease prevention through exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle improvement. Additionally, it utilizes the latest diagnostic practices and laboratory testing. 

When it comes to prescription, functional medicine utilizes this pillar in prescribing various medications, supplements, botanicals, exercise plans, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, rehabilitation plans, and stress management.

Functional Medicine Therapy

Starting something new can be intimidating for most people, especially when you don’t know what to expect, and treatment is no different. Therefore, when going for functional medicine therapy, here are things you should expect:

Functional Lab Testing

test labs

During functional medicine therapy, a physician will request a laboratory test for the proper diagnosis of your condition. The lab test will examine various aspects to assess your well-being. Some of the aspects that will be tested include the following:

  • Hormonal levels
  • Toxin levels
  • Gut bacteria
  • Genetic test
  • Food sensitivity
  • Genetic test
  • Metabolic test

Not all of these aspects will be tested; however, some of them are used to give the physician a complete picture of your health status. Usually, conventional medical doctors will ask you about your family’s health history. On the other hand, in addition to family history, a functional medicine physician will also take into account things such as chronic pain history, infections, susceptibility, stress levels, and spiritual well-being.

A functional medicine physician is focused on getting a complete picture of a person’s health and will request lab tests when needed. The treatment encompasses the mental, physical, spiritual, and social aspects of a person’s life. The process can take time, as it takes a while for the ‘whole picture’ to emerge.

Nutrition And Dietetics

Your diet can alter your whole life. Diet is primarily considered the single most vital risk for premature death and disability. These are risks that functional medicine physicians understand better. Furthermore, functional medicine physicians believe that nutrition is vital to treating and preventing various illnesses.

Before an American medical student moves on to conventional medicine, they are required to have more or less 25 hours of nutrition education. Unfortunately, approximately 20% of medical schools don’t offer or require nutrition courses.

On the other hand, functional medicine doctors train in nutrition more than what’s offered in the college curriculum. Most Americans don’t adhere to the nutritional guidelines set by the US government. These guidelines focus primarily on maintaining a healthy diet and weight, not on prevention and detoxification. 

A functional medicine doctor will suggest you change your diet based on the risks you’re predisposed to. For instance, a physician can suggest you change your diet if you’re at risk of heart disease. You might also be prescribed dietary supplements depending on your risk factors and lab results. Some dietary supplements are considered ideal for reducing risks of developing certain diseases. 

However, consulting a professional healthcare practitioner is essential before taking any dietary supplement. Some supplements are known to react poorly with drugs. Functional medicine doctors have the expertise to identify health supplement brands that aren’t honest with their products.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Conventional doctors often suggest exercise to help lower hypertension, but a functional medicine doctor will suggest various lifestyle adjustments. For instance, they may advise you to cut down on stress in your daily life. 

Physical inflammation and stress are linked; however, the exact ways they are connected aren’t clear. Inflammation is usually the root cause of various medical conditions, and one of the most effective methods of reducing inflammation is relieving stress.

Stealth Pathogens

Mainstream medicine denies the existence of stealth pathogens. According to functional medicine, any microorganism that hides to remain in the body is considered a stealth pathogen. Stealth pathogens hide by suppressing or misdirecting the immune system. These pathogens are associated with various health conditions, such as:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Tumor growth
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Autoimmune diseases

Chronic Lyme disease

The individualized and holistic approach used by functional medicine doctors is ideal for treating stealth pathogens. And since stealth pathogens affect various systems, their primary symptoms ebb and flow. Fatigue is considered the dominant symptom; if it goes untreated, it’ll lead to depression. Functional medicine doctors use existing science and treat the condition accordingly.


Functional medicine is an integrated approach that aids in treating a person by taking into account different aspects of their life. While it might be unique and different from conventional medicine in various ways, functional medicine is undoubtedly effective. This approach targets the root cause of the disease instead of suppressing the symptoms, which is the approach that conventional medicine utilizes.

Additionally, functional medicine is preventative, protecting you against various illnesses, and the best part is that it’s not beholden to any pharmaceutical companies. And unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine supports patients through the whole process of making necessary adjustments in various aspects of their lives.