What is Functional Medicine?

How and Why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.

Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.

The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.

By addressing the root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of the disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, Functional Medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual.


The scope and cost of chronic disease continue to rise. Functional Medicine has proven to reverse this trend by providing better outcomes and cost savings for both patients and the healthcare system in the long term.

Functional Medicine is a crucial antidote to the dual problem of health care cost inflation and chronic dependency on the healthcare system.

As healthcare costs become increasingly unsustainable, it is apparent the heart of the problem faced by patients and payers is the frequency with which costly disease management strategies are applied before exploring the potential of disease reversal. Rather than looking beneath the assortment of diagnoses to find the underlying causes of their health problems, patients with chronic conditions are encouraged to follow costly, often lifelong medication regimens and hope for occasional days of freedom from symptoms.

Functional Medicine offers the potential for achieving unprecedented levels of health restoration and financial savings uncovering and addressing the underlying causes of the common conditions that afflict a growing number of people—autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and digestive issues, to name a few—Functional Medicine brings the potential to liberate patients from their dependence on costly medications that are not designed to address the root causes of their disease.

Functional Medicine Accelerates the Clinical Adoption of Scientific Discovery

Typically, a 15- to 17-year gap lies between scientific discovery and its implementation in the practice of medicine. Functional Medicine practitioners dramatically reduce that gap by using solid scientific foundations to translate breakthroughs in scientific understanding into clinical practice in real-time. As a result, Functional Medicine practitioners are early adopters of innovative knowledge and practices. The combination of scientific rigor with patient-centered pragmatism achieves superior results in many cases. A number of Functional Medicine patients have experienced resolution of illnesses that were thought to be untreatable in conventional practice.

Functional Medicine Improves Patient Engagement

Critically, Functional Medicine patients are assumed to be co-creators of health along with their clinicians. This is a mutually empowering relationship between patient and provider where both share responsibility for creating and implementing the health care plan to achieve desired well-being. As insurance deductibles increase, patients pay more out of pocket, but this also tends to increase patient commitment and promote a higher return on investment. A greater level of engagement can lead to more years of health, not just more years of life.

The Functional Medicine Approach

Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.

As the graphic illustrates, a diagnosis can be the result of more than one cause. For example, depression can be caused by many different factors, including inflammation. Likewise, a cause such as inflammation may lead to a number of different diagnoses, including depression. The precise manifestation of each cause depends on the individual’s genes, environment, and lifestyle, and only treatments that address the right cause will have the lasting benefit beyond symptom suppression.

The Functional Medicine Model

The Functional Medicine model evolved from the insights and perspectives of a small group of influential thought leaders who realized the importance of an individualized approach to disease causes based on the evolving research in nutritional science, genomics, and epigenetics. These thought leaders found ways to apply for these new advances in the clinic to address root causes using low-risk interventions that modify molecular and cellular systems to reverse these drivers of disease.

These Functional Medicine thought leaders were able to apply new research in a way that often brought dramatic results to patients who had previously received unsuccessful treatments. Part of this advance was a return to scientific principles of finding new ways to look for unifying factors at the cellular and systems levels that underlie organism-wide problems.

More information is available at  https://www.ifm.org