Understanding the Basics of Functional Medicine – A Comprehensive Guide


Achieving proper health requires looking beyond just symptoms. This is why functional medicine is an excellent option for those with chronic conditions.

A complete patient workup allows functional medicine practitioners to see the bigger picture. This includes stool analysis, metabolite testing, and saliva hormone assessment.

They also understand the influence of diet, genetics, and environmental factors. This allows them to make connections between seemingly unrelated symptoms.

What Is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine practitioners use a patient-centered approach to explore all the factors influencing your health. They comprehensively view your health by looking at sleep, stress, nutrition, exercise, and genetics. They also take the time to dig into your history – unlike the 15 minutes per patient, many primary care doctors are limited to – and can help you make connections between seemingly unrelated symptoms or illnesses.

Despite being somewhat of a buzzword right now, the roots of functional medicine go back decades. The definition and founding principles of functional medicine – first articulated in 1991 – include the transformative impact of genome/epigenetic understanding, the development of diagnostic tools to assess function/dysfunction, and the evolution of science-based healthcare practices.

While functional medicine practitioners come from various backgrounds, they all go through a specific, advanced training program called the Institute for Functional Medicine to become certified.

How Does Functional Medicine Work?

As its name suggests, functional medicine is a systems-oriented model that focuses on identifying and correcting root causes of imbalance rather than masking symptoms. Practitioners spend more time with patients — often up to two hours per appointment — observing their diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors to understand the impact of these factors on long-term health and complex chronic disease.

A typical patient visit at a functional medicine clinic starts with a comprehensive lab workup. Doctors that practice functional medicine use tests to examine a patient’s metabolism, digestion, and gut microbiome, as well as markers for hormones like cortisol, inflammatory mediators, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Unlike conventional doctors that typically prescribe drugs to address symptoms, functional physicians discover why the problem exists in the first place and then treat it from its root using natural supplements and dietary modifications. This is why they are often able to provide effective solutions for chronic diseases that have not responded to traditional treatments.

What Can Functional Medicine Help Me With?

Many people with chronic illnesses, who haven’t found relief through traditional medicine, will benefit from functional medicine. This applies to patients with any condition, at any age, and regardless of medical history.

Denver Functional Medicine practitioner will take the time to listen to your story. This allows them to uncover what factors are leading up to your symptoms; what causes them to happen, along with their duration; and what happens after they’ve ended. These are called antecedents, triggers, and mediators in functional medicine.

They’ll also ask about your choices and life context, including sleeping habits, exercise, relationships, routine hobbies, stress levels, diet, previous medications, nutrient deficiencies, or environmental toxicities (such as heavy metals).

These details will help you address the root causes through lifestyle changes, which are usually pretty straightforward—the things most of us learned in kindergarten: Eat your vegetables, get enough sleep, exercise, and be nice to others.

How Can Functional Medicine Help You?

Many patients find Functional Medicine to be a refreshing approach to their health. It empowers clients to make choices in diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification. Ultimately, this translates into a healthier life with less dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.

The initial workup of a patient seeking a Functional Medicine doctor is extensive and considers the entire picture: eating habits, relationship stresses, prevailing environmental factors (including chemicals, stressors, and toxins), and genetic predisposition. This enables practitioners to uncover the condition’s root causes and craft an effective treatment plan.

Functional Medicine practitioners are MDs, DOs, NDs, LAc, and NPs, including those who practice traditional healthcare and functional medicine exclusively. The Institute for Functional Medicine provides the best academic/research-based training program for physicians in this discipline.