Functional Vs. Integrative Medicine: What’s the Difference?

Functional Vs. Integrative Medicine: What’s the Difference?


Have you ever walked out of your doctor’s office feeling like you have been left with more questions than answers? If so, you’re not alone. The conventional medicine model is great at treating common illnesses with medication and general health advice. However, conventional medicine is often focused on symptom management and doesn’t always pinpoint the root causes of chronic illness. This leads to years of pain and discomfort if medications and surgeries don’t work. 


At Five Journeys, we know that true healing comes from identifying what is causing those symptoms to appear in the first place. That’s where functional medicine differs from conventional medicine – functional medicine works to treat the underlying causes of illnesses.


Functional and integrative medicine are becoming increasingly popular as more patients strive to learn more about how their bodies work and what they can do to feel their best. The terms integrative and functional medicine are often used interchangeably, so let’s dive into the key differences between the two healthcare models.


What Is Functional Medicine?

When you think of functional medicine, imagine a big oak tree with long, tangled roots. This tree represents our health. While you see a healthy tree on the surface, the roots are hidden within the soil run deep, and may be tangled, bruised, or broken. This model of healthcare is designed to find and treat the root (get it – root?) causes of a patient’s symptoms, rather than just managing or concealing them. A functional medicine doctor will use their understanding of genetics, biology, and environmental factors to identify and treat the underlying causes of the symptoms. 


Let’s use a hypothetical situation to clarify the difference between how a conventional medicine model might approach treatment, versus a functional medicine model.


Let’s say a patient visits their doctor to seek help for depression. A conventional physician will most likely write up a prescription for an antidepressant and may refer the patient to a therapist or other mental health specialist. On the other hand, a functional medicine physician would begin peeling back the layers to uncover and treat the underlying cause of the depression, rather than just suppressing the symptoms using medication. They will order lab tests to assess the patient for signs of:


  •     Hormonal imbalances
  •     Vitamin deficiencies
  •     Mold toxicity
  •     Heavy metal toxicity
  •     Chronic inflammation
  •     Imbalanced gut microbiome


Doctors who practice functional medicine understand how human biology, genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors influence one another and contribute to the onset of many common chronic illnesses.


Once the underlying causes have been identified through lab testing, a physical examination, and an evaluation of the patient’s health and family history, a functional medicine physician will develop a customized treatment plan that features a combination of:


  •     Medication
  •     Supplements
  •     Detoxification 
  •     Lifestyle improvements (nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleeping habits)


The goal of functional medicine is to use the least invasive and most natural treatment options as often as possible to support each individual system in the body, addressing or eliminating the root, or source, of a patient’s symptoms.


What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine, as its name suggests, is a health system that integrates different components of health to help the body function more efficiently. Since health is so complex, integrative medicine takes a multifaceted approach to disease management and healing.


Integrative medicine physicians take a holistic approach to treatment to heal the whole person, including their mind, body, and spirit. Let’s revisit our previous example to understand how an integrative medicine physician might treat a patient suffering from depression.

The physician may consider using conventional methods of treatment such as medication and therapy, but they will also take a more comprehensive approach to understand the underlying cause of the depression. Their diagnostic strategy will include:


  •     Evaluating lifestyle habits (diet, exercise, sleeping habits)
  •     Lab tests
  •     Discussing emotional health and stress levels
  •     Reviewing work life, home life, current coping skills, and spiritual beliefs


By taking each facet of a patient’s life into account, a physician is able to suggest tailored treatment options that lead to deeper healing. They believe that a patient is more than just a diagnosis, and should be treated as such to achieve optimal health. Integrative medicine incorporates treatment methods for the mind, body, and spirit, including:


  •     Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, sleep)
  •     Meditation
  •     Behavioral therapy
  •     Chiropractic care
  •     Massage
  •     Acupuncture


It is believed that utilizing a variety of modalities to treat the whole person, rather than just a symptom, is the key to meaningful and lasting change. Much like functional medicine, integrative medicine is used to identify the underlying causes of a patient’s symptoms, and takes a patient-centered approach to treatment. They both believe that lifestyle habits are the driving forces behind avoiding chronic diseases and achieving true physical and emotional wellness.


Which Style of Medicine Is Right For Me?

Integrative and functional medicine are very similar approaches to healthcare. Both approaches seek to make up for blindsides in conventional medicine and have been highly effective in treating patients just like you. These similarities mean you really don’t have to choose between them! Many doctors incorporate modalities from each model depending on each patient’s individual needs and health goals. 


Since each treatment plan is unique and personalized for each patient, you have the option to cherry pick treatments to create your own custom healthcare framework. 


At Five Journeys, we understand that treating mysterious symptoms or stubborn, chronic conditions can be overwhelming and confusing. Our team is here to support you on your health journey by listening to your story, understanding your goals, and developing a treatment plan that is fully customized to help you live your most happy, vibrant, and healthy life!


Want to learn more about how functional medicine can change your life? Book a free consultation with us today!