Integrative vs Functional Medicine

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Table of Contents

What is conventional medicine?

Let’s start with conventional or modern or western medicine first. Integrative and functional medicine differ from conventional medicine in the philosophy that guides our approach to chronic symptoms. When a patient has undergone long-lasting or recurring symptoms, conventional medicine doesn’t tend to deal with the underlying cause. The focus is rather on the symptoms, and therapy is often targeted toward turning off those symptoms. Traditional medicine will often treat symptoms like indigestion & bloating with anti inflammatory drugs, or antacids.

It is a model of medicine where a strong emphasis is placed on characterizing ailments by diagnosis which normally reflects a group of symptoms or behaviors rather than the cause of the disease. Treatment relies heavily on the use of artificial drugs, invasive procedures and surgery.

The body is seen as a series of organ systems that are usually segregated from one another. This version of medicine has made dramatic advances over the last century in certain areas such as: emergency medicine, infectious disease, diagnostic radiology and surgical interventions. For varied reasons, it had been determined that this version should be applied to the entire spectrum of health care, such as chronic disease management, diet and preventative treatments for health with results that indicate the opposite to be the case. The projected number and percent of adults with diagnosed diabetes would increase from 22.3 million (9.1%) in 2014 to 39.7 million (13.9%) in 2030, and to 60.6 million (17.9%) in 2060. [1]

What is integrative medicine?

Integrative medicine is a  version of healthcare in which traditional medicine is integrated with non-conventional or alternative formulations (such as herbs, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture etc.).
The approach and thought process of this integrative practitioner might continue to be reductionistic and a strong emphasis may nevertheless be placed on characterizing ailments by diagnosis as in the traditional medicine model, albeit with a greatly enlarged toolbox for tests and treatments.

See: Functional Medicine Treatments For Skin Diseases

In fact, The
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is the US
Government’s leading agency that is in charge of the scientific research on
complementary and integrative medicine approach to health.[2]

Integrative medicine takes account of the whole person or the body, mind & soul, including each and every aspect of their lifestyle. It emphasizes the healing & therapeutic relationship and takes advantage of all appropriate therapies, including conventional, complementary and alternative therapies.

See: Common Functional Medicine Tests

So, integrative medicine is holistic medicine; it uses a traditional medicine toolbox; it utilizes a non-conventional medicine toolbox. But this enlarged integrative toolbox may or might not be implemented at identifying the source of the illness. All integrative practitioners view the individual and the best ones will be looking for the origin of this disease, but root cause resolution isn’t a prerequisite to practicing this form of health care.
Many professional integrative mdeicine universities, physicans, hospitals, & associations are now advocating integrative health and embracing complementary modalities that best serve the needs of the patients. [3, 4, 5, 6]

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine is a personalized and Integrative approach to health care which involves understanding the avoidance, management and root causes of complex chronic disease. Functional medicine has incorporated the learning from other models with a systems biology approach, and provides an efficient and scientific approach to resolving health issues at the root cause.

See: Functional medicine lab tests

Conventional medical Practices are incorporated with non-conventional practices — the main criteria being efficacy & safety. It’s practiced by licensed medical professionals initially trained in the reductionistic, diagnosis-based model of traditional medication and who apply that thought process to appropriate acute medical problems. But when dealing with chronic complex health issues it employs a systems biology approach that views the individual within a holistic framework and their difficulties within a biological network.

See: Functional foods benefits for optimal health

Functional Medicine utilizes the latest scientific knowledge regarding our genetics, lifestyle and environment interact as an entire system to diagnose and cure ailments based on patterns of imbalance and dysfunction – without necessarily treating the particular disease. Functional medicine treats the person, not the disease.

Determining the root cause of the illness is a vital element of the functional medicine system. Functional medicine is built on the foundation of traditional medicine. Functional medicine adopts much of the doctrine of Integrative medicine but also employs a systems-biology based medical approach that works to identify and understand the underlying or root causes of a disorder. This discipline takes into consideration the personalization factor, as every patient is unique. The association between practitioner and patient effectively becomes a close alliance. Much like integrative medicine, functional medicine treats the person as opposed to the disease.

See: Functional Medicine For Anxiety

Often, individual genetic and ecological research is conducted to get a deeper knowledge of the patient’s health condition. Understanding the biochemical identification of a patient may result in the underlying causes of illness and moreover, the prevention of further health risks later on. Functional Medicine is being taught at Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), and a growing number of institutions in the US.[7]  Personalized medicine is the future version of health care that continues to evolve with new scientific studies, discovery and knowledge.

Although Integrative medicine and functional medication have similarities, there’s one important distinction. Both practices concentrate on supporting the individual as a whole person nevertheless, functional medicine strives to ascertain the root cause of each and every disease, such as heart disease, and diabetes. As opposed to simply making a diagnosis and then determining which medication will best treat the condition, Functional Medicine practitioners dive deep into the patient’s history and biochemistry to find the root cause of sickness. Functional medicine typically includes a comprehensive analysis of a person’s genetic makeup.


The growing knowledge base in understanding the root cause of any person’s ailment is providing practitioners with unlimited options. The approach using the best possible options for the person – combining conventional and complementary therapies – is known as Integrative Medicine. Going a step further, Functional Medicine takes a look at the root cause and addresses the problem head on.