One question that I am often asked is, “what is the difference between Integrative and Functional Medicine?” The truth is, there is a lot of overlap between the two. Both are patient-centered approaches that underscore the importance of nutrition and lifestyle. Let me describe them.
Integrative Medicine is a holistic approach that emphasizes:
- The whole person: mind, body, and spirit
- Wellness instead of illness
- Food as medicine
- All healing modalities: herbs, supplements, manual therapies, mind-body practices, aromatherapy, functional medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and more
- Research to support safety and efficacy
- Use of the gentlest, least invasive therapies first
Integrative Medicine is a board-certified specialty overseen by the American Board of Physician Specialties. Certification can be achieved after completing a two-year fellowship and passing a rigorous board exam. The most valuable component of my fellowship was the extensive training that I got in nutrition and herbs. Countries all around the world use herbs and plants medicinally. There are many studies that prove they work. Though the American medical tradition doesn’t typically include herbal medicine, it is now a cornerstone of my practice.
How about Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is a specific modality that exists under the larger umbrella of Integrative Medicine. The functional approach incorporates many of the principles I listed above, but has the additional core tenets:
- Identify the root cause of disease instead of treating symptoms
- Recognize the complexity of disease — one problem may have several causes and one root cause may result in several problems
- Recognize that our genetics interact with our environment to determine our current state of health
Functional Medicine practitioners dig deeper than many Western practitioners. Instead of focusing on just finding a diagnosis, we move a step further and ask, “why is this happening?” We look at inflammation, digestion, elimination, metabolism, toxin exposures, infections, energy production, stress response, and immune response. Like Integrative Medicine, Functional Medicine focuses on nutrition, supplements, herbs, and mind/body work as core treatments.
Common ground: patient-centered care
Both Integrative and Functional Medicine emphasize that it takes more than 10-15 minutes to get to know a patient. In order to dig deep and truly get to the root of what is going on, we spend time with patients. We listen to their story. This is the heart of patient-centered medicine. No two patients are the same. Ultimately, the benefit of taking such a holistic view is that we understand our patient’s current problem in the larger context of their life, and when viewed from that perspective, the pieces of the puzzle often come together. Integrative and Functional medicine allows both doctor and patient to have a richer, more rewarding healthcare experience.