What is Functional Medicine, Anyway?

Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the pioneers of the Functional Medicine movement, said it best: “Functional Medicine is the opposite of dysfunctional medicine.” What a concept, right? In all seriousness, and also quoted from Dr. Hyman, “Functional Medicine is the science of creating health and when you create health, disease goes away as a side-effect.” Functional Medicine uses “systems thinking” to rethink disease based on root causes and seeks to understand how the body functions as a whole, not just its individual organs.

Bodies function as whole organisms. No one part operates in isolation of any other part. Since every body system can affect every other body system, it's imperative that we take the whole person into consideration when assessing their health. In Functional Medicine, this means taking a detailed health history, never assuming that two people are alike, and seeking answers to a lot of questions, such as:

  • How are you digesting your food?
  • Do you have gastrointestinal pathogens?
  • How is your detoxification system functioning?
  • How well is your body communicating via hormones and neurotransmitters?
  • What is your toxic load?
  • How much stress are you under?
  • What is your emotional state?

The answers to these questions (and more) help guide the practitioner to underlying dysfunctions and triggering events that can then be addressed. The ultimate end result of addressing root causes is that symptoms resolve and you don't need to rely on symptom management.

What really distinguishes Functional Medicine from conventional medicine is that instead of prescribing a drug for a symptom, it seeks to discover why someone has a symptom in the first place so that it can be corrected at the causal level. Where conventional medicine primarily focuses on the leaves and branches of the tree (disease manifestations), Functional Medicine emphasizes the roots (underlying factors that lead to disease manifestation).

Functional Medicine Is:

  • A framework: Simply put, Functional Medicine is the medicine of asking, “why?” It provides a framework that practitioners can use to understand the person in front of them more fully. If practitioners know why their patients/clients aren’t well, then they can help elicit true healing and recovery so that people don’t have to rely on medication forever. Asking why involves a thorough intake process; evaluation of body systems through lab work to get insight into how your body is functioning; and putting the pieces together instead of taking them apart—you are a whole person after all.

  • Prevention: The lab work used in Functional Medicine can detect dysfunction in the body before it turns into disease. This makes it truly preventative medicine not limited to those with diagnosed diseases. It is proactive rather than reactive.

  • The future of medicine: The traditional medical model is ill-equipped to handle the growing burden (both personal and societal) of chronic disease. We need Functional Medicine to become the norm to help save us from untold pain, suffering, heartache, and dollars lost to a broken system.

What I love about Functional Medicine is that it has created a framework for practitioners of all different backgrounds to come together and understand why dysfunction arises in the body and how to correct it. Functional Medicine brings all the pieces of the body together at the same time it brings practitioners of varying specialties together, with the goal to promote wholeness - in body and in medicine.

How does Functional Diagnostic Nutrition®  (FDN) relate to Functional Medicine?

FDN follows the principles of Functional Medicine within the context of health coaching. FDN does not treat specific diseases, but instead works on the whole body non-specifically. FDN practitioners help their clients uncover hidden causes of their health complaints using specialized lab testing and provide coaching on diet and lifestyle to help build a healthy foundation upon which health can flourish.