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Understanding the Distinctions Between Integrative and Functional Medicine

Traditional forms of medicine were inherently holistic. However, in recent times, conventional medicine has mainly focused on the physical aspects of illness, treating the body as separate parts to be handled by specialists who focus on specific diseases and dysfunctions. This disease-focused approach has shaped the practice of medicine and how patients are treated. Integrative and functional medicine aim to shift the focus back to the patients and their overall health and healing. The growing popularity of these modalities suggests that patients are attracted to this approach. But what exactly are integrative medicine and functional medicine, and how do they differ?

Integrative medicine is an evidence-based approach that addresses the whole person, including their body, mind, and spirit. It recognizes that a patient’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are all essential to their overall well-being. Integrative medicine combines various approaches from different disciplines to provide personalized healing for each patient. Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in integrative medicine, describes it as the intelligent combination of conventional and alternative medicine, with a focus on health and healing rather than disease symptom management. It emphasizes the importance of the practitioner-patient relationship, considers all aspects of lifestyle, and is open to valuable methods from different traditions.

Integrative medicine utilizes different therapies and disciplines to treat each aspect of the patient, choosing the most effective approach for their specific health needs. The relationships between patients and practitioners are crucial, as they work together as equal partners in the healing process. Coordinated care ensures that all practitioners involved understand and support each other’s treatments, providing the best possible care for the patient. Integrative medicine involves a range of practitioners, including physicians, physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists, Chinese herbalists, psychiatrists, yoga instructors, massage therapists, and holistic psychotherapists.

Functional medicine, on the other hand, focuses on identifying and treating the root cause of an illness. It places more emphasis on dietary and lifestyle interventions rather than relying solely on medications or surgery. Like integrative medicine, functional medicine takes a holistic approach to patient care, considering physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors that impact health. Treatments in functional medicine are tailored to each patient’s unique circumstances and may involve lifestyle changes, natural supplements, and complementary therapies. Functional medicine works in collaboration with conventional medicine, specializing in complex or chronic conditions that may not have been effectively diagnosed or treated by traditional methods.

Functional medicine practitioners conduct thorough medical histories and request specific lab testing to assess the functioning of the patient’s body. In-depth lab testing is a key aspect of functional medicine, helping practitioners uncover the root causes of health issues. Common lab tests include stool tests, saliva and urine tests, breath tests, and blood tests.

Integrative and functional medicine share similarities in their approach, such as focusing on root causes, providing individualized treatments, and emphasizing lifestyle and behavioral changes. Both modalities prioritize a patient-centered approach, nurturing the practitioner-patient relationship. Furthermore, they prioritize natural approaches over medications and procedures, appealing to those seeking a more holistic approach to healthcare.

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