Integrative and Functional Medicine: What’s the Difference?

Healthcare is a large and varied field. In addition to conventional care, there are alternative care philosophies that are becoming more mainstream as they garner more attention from doctors and patients alike. Two of the most common are integrative and functional medicine. Unlike conventional care, which utilizes physicians, drugs and surgeries to treat the symptoms of disease, both integrative and functional medicine focus on preventing disease, considering all aspects of a patient’s life and anatomy in order to foster good health and heal the body. But while both are similar in intent, their approaches are somewhat different. Let’s take a look at what each one entails:

Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with alternative therapies to create a more comprehensive approach to healthcare. With it, physicians and other healthcare practitioners consider a patient’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual conditions as interconnected aspects of his or her overall health. Thus, instead of focusing on a single disease or issue and its physical effects, integrative medicine concentrates on multiple areas of the patient’s life to determine how issues might have developed and could potentially be relieved. Emphasis is placed on collaboration between the patient and healthcare provider, recognizing that lifestyle choices greatly influence the health of the entire individual (mind, body and soul). In this way, holistic therapies are preferred over conventional ones when possible, with changes to exercise regimens, nutrition or other behaviors often used as the first line of defense against poor health. If or when natural therapies don’t fully alleviate a patient’s issues, however, integrative medicine providers will still utilize conventional care treatments.

Functional Medicine

Similar to integrative medicine, functional medicine focuses on the root cause of disease (not just the symptoms) and believes that better health results from an individualized approach to care. But unlike integrative medicine, functional medicine really stresses personalized care, believing that because every person is different, every patient should be treated in a different way. To wit, functional medicine anchors itself in each patient’s unique characteristics — his or her genetics, genomics, biochemical makeup, microbiome, environmental exposures, behavior and more — in order to pinpoint how his or her health is impacted; and more so than integrative medicine, it seeks to answer “why,” using the “GOTOIT” acronym (Gather, Organize, Tell, Order, Initiate and Track) to diagnose and treat patients. In this way, functional medicine relies heavily on science-based research and testing to uncover the cause (or causes) for disease and then strives to implement natural therapies that restore balance (i.e., good health) to all areas of the body. Some common functional medicine therapies include chiropractic care; massage and cupping; vitamin, mineral and antioxidant infusions and injections; and various types of counseling (nutrition, behavioral, etc.).

Do You Have More Questions?

There’s little doubt that conventional medicine can be strengthened by both integrative and functional medicine approaches. If you have questions about your own health or would like to learn more about some of the alternative therapies that could supplement your own care and benefit your overall health, please contact our medical professionals at The Institute of Natural Health. For over 10 years we have used functional medicine therapies to help hundreds of patients; we know we can help you, too.


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