In today’s fast-paced world, chronic health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart disease, and diabetes (to name a few) are on the rise. As a result, more people are looking for more natural, alternative approaches to conventional medicine. Functional and integrative medicine are two holistic healthcare models gaining popularity due to their patient-centric and comprehensive approaches.
You may often hear the words “functional” and “integrative” used interchangeably, alongside “holistic”. I get it.. it’s confusing! Let’s shed some light on the key similarities and differences between functional medicine versus integrative medicine, so you can make more informed choices.
In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the logistics of functional and integrative medicine, exploring what they entail, their key principles, the benefits of going this route, and how these approaches differ from traditional medicine.
Table of Contents
Functional medicine: A holistic approach
Functional medicine is a holistic, patient-centered approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of health issues rather than merely treating symptoms.
This approach considers the interconnectedness of various bodily systems and emphasizes personalized care tailored to your unique genetic and biochemical make-up, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
Key principles of functional medicine
Personalized “food as medicine” (the opposite of conventional medicine)
Functional medicine practitioners conduct thorough assessments, cutting-edge functional medicine lab testing, and holistic lifestyle evaluations, to create personalized treatment plans and very unique, bio-individualized protocols for each patient.
In conventional medicine, on the other hand, there are only a few very specific cookie-cutter protocols for treating each medical condition.
If the doctor doesn’t stick to “the protocol”, they can get in a lot of trouble – regardless of what is best for the patient.
- This is NOT okay! (Bio-individuality, ya’ll! One size never fits all.)
Identifying root causes
Instead of just alleviating symptoms, functional medicine seeks to uncover and address the underlying causes of health problems, such as nutritional deficiencies, microbiome imbalances, and chronic inflammation to name a few.
This is usually done via functional nutrition lab tests like the GI MAP test, micronutrient panels, food sensitivity testing, DUTCH hormone testing, genetic testing, and more tests which you wouldn’t be able to access through a conventional doctor’s office.
A functional medicine approach (like integrative medicine) is holistic in that it considers the personal as a whole.
In functional medicine, practitioners recognize and acknowledge that all bodily systems are interconnected and that imbalances in one area can affect others.
Since this approach is all about “food as medicine” with an emphasis on herbs and nutraceuticals, 90% of functional medicine is actually within my scope of practice as a functional registered dietitian nutritionist.
Functional medicine incorporates a wide range of nutrition-based therapies, including herbal and nutraceutical supplements, diet/lifestyle modifications, and mind-body techniques, to support your body’s natural healing processes.
Integrative medicine: Bridging the gaps between conventional and holistic
Integrative medicine combines conventional medical treatments with evidence-based complementary therapies.
It aims to provide the best of both worlds, leveraging the strengths of modern medicine while incorporating holistic approaches to achieve optimal health outcomes.
- For example, integrative medicine doctors are more likely to prescribe “normal” pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics versus herbal antimicrobials (which are popular in functional medicine) when somebody has an infection.
- But integrative medicine doctors would also be more likely than conventional medicine doctors to encourage a patient on antibiotics to take probiotic supplements (or eat probiotic foods) while on a course of antibiotics.
Key principles of integrative medicine
Integrative medicine practitioners work in collaboration with patients and a team of healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans that address both the physical and emotional aspects of health.
Integrative medicine relies on scientific evidence to support the use of complementary therapies, ensuring that treatments are safe and effective.
Like functional medicine, patients receiving integrative medicine treatment are actively involved in their healthcare decisions and are encouraged to make lifestyle changes that promote overall well-being.
A wide range of modalities
Integrative medicine encompasses a wide range of therapies, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbal medicine, mindfulness, and nutritional counseling/coaching, to promote healing and balance.
- For example, when I lived in the Boston area, I was a patient at an integrative medicine clinic which had an integrative medicine doctor (MD) as well as an in-house acupuncturist, a holistic nutritionist, and a massage therapist.
- My integrative primary care doctor took insurance, and she would often prescribe pharmaceuticals for some of our mutual patients, but she would also recommend adaptogens and nervine herbs like ashwagandha and lemon balm for stress and anxiety.
Functional medicine versus integrative medicine: key differences
While functional and integrative medicine share lots of common ground and overlapping principles, they have a few distinct differences.
Functional medicine primarily aims to identify and address the root causes of health issues with a “food as medicine” focus, whereas integrative medicine combines or “integrates” conventional treatments with complementary therapies.
It’s more common to see integrative medical doctors (MD’s), while functional medicine practitioners tend to be chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and functional medicine dietitians.
Functional medicine places a strong emphasis on personalized nutrition and supplement plans based on individualized assessments, whereas integrative medicine may sometimes involve a more standardized approach with pharmaceuticals alongside nutraceuticals and functional foods.
Therapies and modalities
Functional medicine often relies on dietary changes, targeted supplementation, and lifestyle modifications, while integrative medicine incorporates a broader range of therapies, including acupuncture and chiropractic care alongside allopathic medicine.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)
Are they covered by insurance?
Integrative medicine is more conventional compared to functional medicine, so integrative medicine is more likely to be covered by insurance.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t ever get functional medicine services covered by insurance.
- Read more about the details of functional medicine insurance coverage here!
- Does Insurance Cover Functional Medicine Services?
- What is a Functional Dietitian Nutritionist?
- What is a Holistic Dietitian Nutritionist?
- Why Work With an Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist?
- What is Functional Nutrition?
- What is Holistic Nutrition?
- Holistic Living / Living Holistically – What It Means and What It Entails
Functional and integrative medicine: resources for practitioners
- The Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy (IFNA)
- The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)
- The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN)
- Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM)
In an era where patients seek more comprehensive and personalized healthcare options, call me biased, but I believe functional and integrative medicine offer promising approaches to address a wide range of health issues.
While they have distinct principles and practices, both functional and integrative medicine emphasize patient-centric care and the importance of treating the whole person rather than isolated symptoms.
If you’re looking for healthcare that goes beyond symptom management and conventional treatments, focusing more on uncovering and addressing the root causes of your health concerns, I highly recommend exploring functional and/or integrative medicine!
Pick my brain!
If you’re a healthcare provider who is interested in pursuing the path of functional and integrative medicine, this is my jam!
Whether it’s getting the right education, reviewing case studies, or setting up an integrative and functional outpatient practice, I’d love to help you find clarity on your next steps.
Feel free to book a 1-1 “Pick My Brain” strategy call with me here, and we can dive deeper into all of these things! 😎
Join the community
If you’re on a healing journey, and you happen to be holistic-minded, we’d love to have you in my private Facebook community!
In this group there are lots of conversations happening about all things integrative & functional medicine, and holistic health.
XO – Jenna