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What is Functional Medicine?

“Functional medicine is about causes, not symptoms. It is getting to the root of the problem.” —Mark Hyman, MD

Functional Medicine approaches Health in a Different Way.

Functional medicine is an approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying the root cause of disease rather than just treating symptoms. Our genes and environment interact to create health or disease. Functional medicine uses advanced laboratory testing in addition to implementing diet and lifestyle changes as well as nutrients and supplements to optimize your health.

Traditional medicine focuses on one specific diagnosis at a time, a reductionist approach, while functional medicine looks at your symptoms as part of a larger picture. For example: if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you might be prescribed medication for those conditions without taking into account any other health issues you may be experiencing (such as anxiety, depression, or chronic fatigue). In contrast, functional medicine practitioners look at how these conditions affect each other before prescribing a treatment plan. Functional medicine can help to optimize your health by improving overall wellness and identifying problems in the early stages to avoid progression to more serious health problems.

The Benefits of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a holistic approach to healthcare focusing on the whole person rather than just the disease. Practitioners take a personalized approach to care, looking at your unique genetic makeup and lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and sleep habits when determining what might be causing your symptoms or conditions. Benefits include:

1. A focus on prevention rather than treatment - By addressing the root causes of disease rather than just treating symptoms, functional medicine can help you avoid future issues with your health by improving overall wellness.

2. Personalized care based on genetic makeup and lifestyle factors - Because every person has different needs based on his or her genetics and other factors such as diet or environment (such as air pollution or toxin exposure), having an individualized plan for improving overall wellness is key for success in this field

3. Long-term treatment using lifestyle changes and limiting medication use. Treatments might include changes to diet to reduce inflammation, supplements to support the body's natural healing processes, and other lifestyle changes to improve overall health and wellness.

4. Improved quality of life. By addressing the root cause of the pain, functional medicine can provide longer-term relief and improve the patient's overall quality of life.

A holistic patient-centered approach

Embracing a holistic and patient-centered approach, functional medicine practitioners aim to identify the root causes of their patient’s health issues rather than just treating symptoms and create personalized treatment plans based on their unique needs. Functional medicine doctors commonly approach patients using:

1. Comprehensive Health Assessment: Functional medicine doctors take a comprehensive health assessment that includes a detailed medical history, lifestyle factors, and any genetic predispositions to certain health conditions. This information helps them identify the underlying causes of their patient’s health issues.

2. Personalized Treatment Plans: Based on the comprehensive health assessment, functional medicine doctors create personalized treatment plans that address the root causes of their patient’s health issues. These plans may include dietary changes, supplements, lifestyle modifications, and other therapies.

3. Collaborative Approach: Functional medicine doctors collaborate with their patients to implement treatment plans. This means that patients are empowered to take an active role in their healthcare and are encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the process.

4. Focus on Prevention: Functional medicine doctors focus on prevention by identifying and addressing health issues before they become serious. This means that patients receive ongoing support to maintain optimal health and wellness.

5. Emphasis on Lifestyle Factors: Functional medicine doctors prioritize lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and stress management as critical components of their patient’s health. They may recommend changes to these factors as part of their treatment plans.

Some of the recommendations that functional medicine doctors might give to their patients include:

1. Dietary Changes: Functional medicine doctors may recommend dietary changes based on their patient’s individual needs. This could include eliminating processed foods, increasing the intake of whole foods, or addressing food sensitivities.

2. Supplements: Functional medicine doctors may recommend supplements to address nutrient deficiencies or support the body's natural healing processes.

3. Lifestyle Modifications: Functional medicine doctors may recommend lifestyle modifications such as exercise, stress management, and sleep hygiene to improve overall health and wellness.

4. Alternative Therapies: Functional medicine doctors may recommend alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic care to address specific health issues.

5. Prescription Medications: Functional medicine doctors may prescribe medications when necessary, but they aim to minimize their use and focus on addressing the underlying causes of their patient’s health issues.

An Example of How Functional Medicine Works:

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that can be challenging to treat. It is characterized by widespread body pain and can be accompanied by fatigue and mental fog. Functional medicine offers a holistic approach that can help manage symptoms and improve overall health and wellness. Here are some of the treatments that might help a patient with fibromyalgia:

As a part of a treatment plan for fibromyalgia functional medicine would address:

1. Nutritional Deficiencies and Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Many people with fibromyalgia have nutrient deficiencies, including magnesium and vitamin D. Advanced lab testing can test for these deficiencies and recommend dietary changes or supplements to correct them. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and provide us with energy. Lab tests can help assess mitochondrial dysfunction. Supplements may help to improve their function and improve fatigue.

2. Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Inflammation is a major contributor to fibromyalgia pain. An anti-inflammatory diet that includes foods like leafy greens, berries, and fatty fish can improve levels of inflammation.

3. Supplements: Supplements like coenzyme Q10, omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may show some benefits to help reduce inflammation and pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

4. Stress Reduction Techniques: Stress can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners can recommend relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga to help manage stress.

5. Sleep Hygiene: Getting enough restful sleep is crucial for managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners can recommend sleep hygiene techniques like establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bedtime, and creating a relaxing sleep environment. Laboratory testing can evaluate sleep and melatonin.

6. Exercise: Exercise has been shown to help reduce pain and improve overall function in patients with fibromyalgia. A functional medicine practitioner might recommend low-impact exercises like yoga, Pilates, or swimming.

7. Mind-Body Therapies: Mind-body therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and biofeedback have been shown to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms.


Functional medicine is a personalized approach to healthcare, and the treatments recommended will depend on the individual patient's needs and symptoms. By addressing the underlying causes of fibromyalgia use of functional medicine can provide effective relief for this challenging condition. Functional medicine doctors approach patients with a personalized, patient-centered, and holistic approach that aims to identify and address the root causes of their health issues.

Lowry, E., Marley, J., McVeigh, J. G., McSorley, E., Allsopp, P., & Kerr, D. (2020). Dietary Interventions in the Management of Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Best-Evidence Synthesis. Nutrients, 12(9).

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