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functional medicine healthcare provider consulting with a client

What Is Functional Medicine?

  blog post author icon   blog post published date icon   01/20/21


The human body is an incredibly complex system and we have come so far in how we understand what it does. There are numerous ways of thinking, ideologies, and theories that have merged from the medical field. Just as different as those theories, what is even more different is each person's need when it comes to health and wellness. There is no one size fits all approach. That's where functional medicine comes into play. Read on to learn everything you need to know about functional medicine so you can make the best decision for your health!

functional medicine healthcare provider consulting with a client

What Is Functional Medicine?

  blog post author icon   blog post published date icon   01/20/21


The human body is an incredibly complex system and we have come so far in how we understand what it does. There are numerous ways of thinking, ideologies, and theories that have merged from the medical field. Just as different as those theories, what is even more different is each person's need when it comes to health and wellness. There is no one size fits all approach. That's where functional medicine comes into play. Read on to learn everything you need to know about functional medicine so you can make the best decision for your health!

Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine that considers multiple approaches. Functional means practical and useful. It may look different to one person than it does another because it is a complex and variable method in the medical world.

Key Points in Functional Medicine

Although extremely variable in the types of approaches, there are key points that are followed in functional medicine. Understanding these important principles are the basis of this approach.

The end goal of functional medicine is to optimize health and wellness. The pillars of this type of medicine can be described as holistic, patient-centered, evidence-based, root cause-focused, proactive, and balancing.


First, let's be clear by stating that functional medicine is not the same as what people consider holistic medicine. Rather, functional medicine is holistic in its approach.

This is true because these experts consider the whole body. That includes mind, body, spirit, and emotions. It is the belief that these systems do not rely solely on themselves but instead work in harmony.


Each individual is different in their genetic, biochemical, and microbiome makeup. These unique combinations create needs that differ from others. Functional medicine considers that individuals require tailored plans that meet the needs of their one-of-a-kind system. A treatment plan is designed from gathering old and new background information.


These experts use the most up-to-date research available. Science backs the practices and approaches that are used in this type of medical treatment.

Root Cause

Information is gathered to identify the root cause of the condition or problem. A great visualization for this would be a glacier. 90% of the glacier is underwater, something that you can not see from the surface.

Similarly, a medical problem can appear like one thing from the surface but until you get into the underlying issue it is hard to address. Functional medicine works to identify the real problem that lurks beneath the surface so that it may attack the problem there before it continues to manifest issues.

Proactive Approach

This type of medicine works to establish a constant line of health. Meaning that it works to ensure that the patient continues to be healthy. As we age, there are steps that we need to take to look out for our bodies. This will identify problems before they appear and work to prevent them from becoming larger.

Balance Systems

Human bodies have the ability to create a natural balance. This self-regulation of systems can sometimes get thrown out of wack. Restoring balance to the systems through functional medicine can help the body get back to its natural ability to do its job.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

Before you meet with your healthcare provider or when you arrive you may be given an extensive questionnaire. You will need to answer these questions to the best of your ability. This may include a lot of personal information.

After you answer your questions, you may see a specialist who may discuss your answers even further. There may be a physical exam and additional tests as needed. If you are experiencing any symptoms, they will also be discussed in length.

Your healthcare provider will assess you and this information to tailor a plan to your individual factors. You will have the ability to talk through your treatment plan and options.

He or she will continue to check in with you over the course of your plan to ensure that things are going well. Your treatment plan may be revised or changed if things don't seem to be going as expected.

What Information Is Gathered?

As mentioned, you will need to answer an extensive amount of questions. These questions may vary from practitioner to practitioner. Generally, they will want to know the background of your lifestyle, genetics, and environment. In addition, your medical history will need to be discussed.


Lifestyle factors include diet, smoking, exercise, hobbies, stress, alcohol consumption, body mass index, sleep, and so on. These are generally things that you are in control of. Our choices can be detrimental to our health if they are not made well.

Certain things can cause obesity, diabetes, injury, heart disease, lung disease, and more. We must take care of our bodies so that they may take care of us. Your practitioner will want to know what choices you are making so that they have a better idea of what changes you need to make and what treatments you need.


Some people have what is called a genetic predisposition. In short, this means that if someone in your family has suffered from a condition it may be possible that you are at a higher risk for that same condition.

Genes are passed down through generations, so if you know of a family member with a chronic illness it will be important to divulge that info to your specialist. 


Environmental factors are sometimes out of our control. These include air quality, water quality, occupational hazards, exposure to chemicals, lack of health care, exposure to bacteria, natural disasters, infrastructure issues, and more.

There may even be some of these issues that you are unaware of.

Mental Health

There is a huge emphasis placed on mental health as well as physical health. This approach makes it clear that our mental wellbeing plays a significant role in our overall health.

Many of these questions fall under the lifestyle category. However, you must be honest about how you are feeling emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

For example, those who suffer from schizophrenia double their risk of heart disease. Much more simple mental health issues can also greatly affect your physical wellness.

What Types of Conditions Are Treated?

Anyone can benefit from seeing a functional medicine practitioner. You do not need to be suffering from an illness or condition to be treated. This is because the goal of functional medicine is to keep you healthy.

Therefore, it also operates as preventative medicine. The ideal would be for you to obtain a constant state of wellness.

However, people who suffer from chronic conditions are ideal candidates for functional medicine as well. Some of the common conditions are:

  • Alzheimer's or dementia
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Digestive conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menopause
  • Prediabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Thyroid conditions

What Types of Treatment Are Used?

With functional medicine, there are very few limitations on what treatments are possible. The great part of functional medicine is that they are open to combining different approaches to healing and treatment.

Lifestyle Changes

One of the biggest pillars of functional medicine is taking lifestyle into the equation. The basis of our health relies on what we put into our bodies. The first step to overall health is to implement a system that is good for you.

They may ask you to follow certain nutritional diets, healthy detoxes, adopt a sleep schedule, limit or eliminate substance use, or exercise regularly.

Traditional Medicine

Functional medicine does not reject traditional western medicine methods. These methods are actually used as the foundation of their practice. They may integrate them into your treatment plan along with other alternatives. This includes prescription medication, surgery, and more.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are practices that are not considered to be a part of the conventional treatment plans. Examples of CAM are acupuncture, homeopathy, massage therapy, chiropractics, herbal remedies, natural supplements, healthy vitamins, and so on.

Functional vs. Traditional Medicine

Many of us are used to the system of traditional medicine and are well-versed in the procedures. To better understand the functional medicine theory, there are several key differences to be aware of. Identifying these risks will give you a better idea about what you are getting yourself into.

Sustainable Health

The traditional medical system waits until you get ill to take action. Most people don't even think about the practitioner unless something is very wrong already. The idea behind functional medicine is that you should follow a set plan all the time.

This is preventative to attain a balance throughout your systems. The end result should be that you get sick less often or not at all. One of the biggest functions of the functional approach is to reach sustained overall health. In short, conventional is reactionary while functional is precautionary.

Patient vs. Symptom Focused

Traditional medicine focuses on the symptoms that a patient has rather than the patient as a whole. They work to treat the symptoms and identify the condition. This does nothing to stop the problem but instead manages it.

In contrast, the functional approach looks at the patient holistically. The groundwork is to identify the root cause of the problem. When the root cause is taken care of, you are no longer managing the problem but fixing it.

practitioner Collaboration

Most traditional practitioners make you wait around for hours only to see you for ten minutes. Their goal is to find out what is bothering you and then give you the one size fits all treatment.

A practitioner who practices functional medicine works with you collaboratively. They work to understand every aspect of you and your body. With this information, they can better assess you and tailor your treatment plan to your specifications.

Treatment Options

Conventional medicine is limited in what treatment options they will consider. Well-established and outdated systems can cause them to be quite stuck in one way of thinking.

Functional medicine is more open-minded about what options there are. This means you'll have the ability to maximize potential.

Functional Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

As mentioned, functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine. It differs from what people consider the alternative approach. Alternative medicine focuses on what can be done to replace traditional methods.

Those who practice alternative medicine often reject many of the conventional approaches altogether rather than integrating the two. This is not true for functional medicine as it is more of a combination of the two.

Alternative medicine is a bit limited in the sense that they believe their ways are superior. This is not necessarily accurate as many of the methods used in traditional medicine have been extremely successful.

It's important to be aware that some alternative medicine approaches are unorthodox. That's actually the whole idea. Be sure to talk to your practitioner about what research has been done when looking into alternative treatments.

What Is the Patient's Role?

The patient plays a critical role in the success of functional medicine. That is due to the responsibility placed to carry out the treatment plan. There are things such as lifestyle changes that may be difficult to make.

The better that the patient is able to make changes and follow this plan, the better the outcome will likely be.

Before the treatment plan is even established, there is the responsibility of the patient to release accurate and important information. Establishing a thorough background is essential to creating a well thought out treatment to begin with.

Reasons to Choose Functional Medicine

Now you may be wondering, why should I choose functional medicine? If you still aren't sure about it, there are several advantages that you will surely want to consider.

Longer Appointments

It takes a while to process and gather all of the information needed for these healthcare professionals to make the appropriate assessment. You will spend a considerable amount of time with a functional medicine practitioner compared to traditional practitioners.

This is so that you may form a relationship with someone who you feel is actually concerned about your wellbeing.


Functional medicine practitioners need and value are your input. If you have a problem with a certain aspect of your treatment plan, they want to hear it. When you raise concerns about something, they will likely have numerous other options for you to think about.


With all that information, you know that you are getting the most personalized experience possible. Functional medicine practitioners are not simply ticking away at a checklist to get you in and out.

You will be happy to know that your plan was created specifically with you in mind.

Chronic Illness

While anyone can see a functional medicine practitioner, those with chronic illness have the potential to benefit even greater. This is because most traditional practitioners will seek to simply manage the illness.

A functional practitioner seeks to cut the problem at the root so that you don't have to worry about the issue forever.

Open to Alternatives

Functional medicine offers you the most options. That means that there are very few treatment methods that a functional medicine practitioner will not be willing to let you try.

Conventional medicine practitioners will usually steer you away from things that they do not feel have any substance.

Quicker Access to Information

Did you know that it takes 17 years for evidence and research to reach traditional clinical practice? That is time that some people do not have. Functional medicine has access to the newest research and tries to get things in motion as quickly as possible.

What Is a Functional Medicine practitioner?

A functional medicine practitioner will work to consider your body as a whole, offering a tailored plan to your needs. They are experts at gathering information to treat the system instead of the condition.


These individuals have been through traditional medical school just as every other practitioner has. They may choose to get additional certification in functional medicine. The Institute for Functional Medicine has a popular certification that has set the standard for such practices.

They may have also chosen to complete their residency within a functional medicine environment. This will help them further understand how to approach medicine in this way.

What to Look for in a Functional Medicine practitioner

It isn't difficult to find a functional medicine practitioner. You may even have multiple to choose from in your area. There are a few things you should keep in mind when looking for your practitioner.


Some functional medicine practitioners have certifications that signify they have specialized knowledge in this approach to medicine. Of course, this certification doesn't mean everything but it does help.

Check out the educational background of the practitioner to find out how well versed they are in functional medicine. Usually, this information will be available online but don't be afraid to call their office to find out more.


Personality is key to finding a functional medicine practitioner. This is because you will need to spend more time with them than your average practitioner. In addition, you'll need to feel comfortable telling them all this personal information.

Remember that you will need to work collaboratively with this person. It may be possible to schedule a meet-up with them before you commit to their services. Be sure to ask about their values.


Pay attention to how they treat their own body. Self-care can give away a lot about how well they are following their own advice. Practice what you preach is an important aspect of functional medicine.

Lifestyle factors are a major pillar in the world of functional medicine.


Communication is another essential when it comes to this approach. You'll need to find out how well your practitioner is at communicating with you. However, it's also important to discover how they work with other specialists if that comes into play.


Insurance can be confusing. Sometimes you may feel afraid that you aren't covered. Be sure to ask what insurance is accepted and what your copay looks like. You may be visiting this practitioner more frequently.

You may even be able to find a practitioner that is in your insurance's network. This may save you a considerable amount of money. Your insurance will like this too. Also, be aware that you may not be covered.

Why Is Functional Medicine Needed?

Complex and chronic diseases are on the rise. Our world spends a lot of time focusing on treating the patient rather than healing them.

This puts the diagnosis on the patient for the remainder of their life most of the time. That means managing the condition with an ever-increasing amount of drugs or surgeries.

Instead of trying to shove the illness under the rug, we must expose the underlying cause to ultimately heal that person. This is the goal of functional medicine and exactly why it is so important.

Understanding that you do not have to constantly deal with a problem is such a freeing thought. From this approach, that just might be a possibility.

Improve Your Overall Health and Wellness

As you've read, functional medicine is about the whole body. It takes you, the patient, into consideration and forms a tailored approach to your specifications. In addition, it focuses on healing instead of treating.

Functional medicine will welcome you with open arms. There is nothing to be afraid of. This approach has nothing but your best interest in mind.

Interested in furthering your wellness? Check out our resources for healthy living!

headshot of Jay Todtenbier 2018

Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune disorders, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.

Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.

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