Functional medicine is most often used to describe a science-based, holistic approach promoting optimal personalized wellness through identifying and addressing actual and potential health triggers, (“root causes”). Functional medicine providers rely upon detailed patient health histories, personal experiences and specialty laboratory tests to seek imbalances in the body’s organs and systems. Functional medicine providers employ a wide range of methods to treat patients, including supplements, mindfulness and complementary therapies. (Each of the Functional Medicine Organizations listed in the footer provide their own definition of functional medicine.)

In reality, the breadth and scope of “functional” providers varies significantly. Some providers regard any analysis of root causes as qualifying them as functional providers. Other providers may consider themselves functional providers because they embrace similar treatment methods, (e.g. supplements, mindfulness and/or complementary therapies). And because functional medicine is often described as “personalized” due to the time involved in understanding the patient’s unique health, providers may call themselves “functional” because their patient visits are longer than traditional patient visits.

With the term “functional medicine” having different standards, the definition of functional medicine can vary wildly between the functional medicine community and the traditional medical community. While most of the functional medicine community sees functional medicine as a science-based approach to augment traditional care, some of the traditional medical community has regarded functional medicine as an alternative medical approach that is not science-based. (Some of the traditional medicine community has also embraced and implemented functional medicine.)

The specialty laboratory tests utilized by many functional medicine providers epitomizes this disagreement. Functional medicine providers believe these tests employ advanced knowledge and technology that is ahead of traditional medicine. Traditional providers believe these tests are unnecessary and of dubious value.

Patients interested in functional medicine should understand what potential functional medicine providers are offering, how it differs from traditional medicine and the risks and costs involved. 

Next: The Functional Medicine Patient (Click Here).