What Is Functional Medicine?

By Scott J. Banks, Joe Kraynak, J. J. Virgin

In functional medicine, knowing what kind of patient has the disease is more important than knowing what kind of disease the patient has. With conventional medicine, health is the absence of illness. Your doctor diagnoses what ails you and then prescribes a medication to treat it.

This approach is usually fine for acute illnesses, trauma, and infections, but it falls short in the treatment of chronic illnesses, including allergies, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, neurological conditions, and cancer. In these cases, conventional medicine usually provides only symptom relief.

In contrast, functional medicine views illness as a symptom of dysfunction. The goal is to restore function, not fight illness. Instead of following your doctor’s orders, you build a collaborative relationship with your doctor and take ownership of your own health and well‐being. You have a vested interest in your own health and are more motivated to make the sustained changes to diet and lifestyle required to achieve optimum health and vitality.

Following are the six principles of functional medicine:

  • Nature and nurture are different for every individual, so treatment plans must be individualized.

  • Evidence‐based medicine supports a patient‐centered rather than illness‐centered approach to medical treatment.

  • The treatment goal is to achieve a balance internally and externally with body, mind, and spirit.

  • Internal function relies on a complex web of relationships that must be understood and nurtured to achieve optimum health.

  • Health is vitality, not merely the absence of illness.

  • Promoting healthy organ function enhances health span instead of merely extending the lifespan of each patient.

To find a functional medicine practitioner, click Find a Practitioner, and use the resulting page to conduct your search. When consulting a functional medicine doctor for the first time, don’t expect a quick fix. The doctor will perform an examination and conduct an extensive interview first to get up to speed on your unique physiology and environment.