Functional vs Integrative Medicine

pills and herbs showing integrative medicine and functional medicine practice

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Functional Medicine, Integrative Medicine, and Conventional Medicine: What’s the difference? 


Functional and integrative medicine practices have grown significantly in recent years making phrases like holistic, complementary, and alternative therapies commonplace rather than only relegated to the fringes of societal health. Families and individuals are seeking a more comprehensive approach to their health care needs, and many traditional doctors, after seeing the benefits of alternative medicine, are no longer focused on just treating symptoms and diseases. Although conventional, functional, and integrative medicine all have something in common, they are distinct practices. And while functional medicine and Integrative medicine have more alike than conventional medicine, there are still particulars that make each unique. 


Conventional Medicine 

Conventional medicine treats symptoms or behaviors of a diagnosed disorder. Medical doctors may use the following to treat their patient:

  • Medication (synthetic, prescription)
  • Procedures (non-invasive or invasive) 
  • Surgeries
  • Therapies 

As a general rule, conventional medical practice leans towards the reactionary rather than preventative. They focus on treating existing conditions to manage pain and symptoms. Often times these management strategies do little to actually heal the body and rid it of the condition. In some cases, the treatment prescribed can even cause other side-effects. This can create a spiral of issues and concerns. 

To be clear, however, there are legitimate cases and reasons for conventional medication, procedures, and surgeries. Conventional medicine has done much to save lives in these necessary situations. Prevention and natural treatment methods, however, are an integral missing piece to the health of our society.


Integrative Medicine 

Integrative medicine
also strives for relief from symptoms, but rather than prescribing medication alone or advising surgical measures as necessary, integrative physicians utilize non-conventional treatments. These treatments may include but are not limited to: 

  • Chiropractic massage or adjustment
  • Acupuncture
  • Talk therapy
  • Naturopathy
  • Homeopathy
  • Fitness coaching
  • Nutritional coaching

The goal of
integrative medicine is to heal the patient as quickly and effectively as possible, focusing on the health of the entire person – mind, body, and spirit. Integrative medicine often combines a medical approach with a mental and psychological focus, looking to measures such as yoga, reiki, and sound healing. These interventions are always natural and used to help heal the whole person (mind and body) according to The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. 


Functional Medicine 

Functional medicine is similar to
integrative medicine in that licensed physicians begin with laboratory and diagnostic testing and may use additional unconventional approaches to heal the body, but the primary aim of functional medicine is to determine the root cause of the disorder or discomfort. The functional physician’s goal is to work alongside the patient to develop a customized treatment plan designed to achieve optimum health for the whole body. 

Functional medicine doctors employ a systems-oriented medical approach. Knowing that illnesses rarely affect just one system, a functional doctor may utilize: 

  • Functional lab and diagnostic testing
  • Thorough examinations & review of biochemistry
  • Extended consultations to discuss medical history 
  • Dietary supplements
  • Medication only as needed with the goal of elimination
  • Lifestyle changes with intentional support

Functional medicine always strives to catch problems in their earliest phases when early intervention is possible. True Life Medicine even offers a
preventative partnership for the whole family to help improve and maintain health on a regular basis. 


Which medicine is best? 

Functional and
Integrative medicine both acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer the most effective way of practicing medicine. Drugs and surgery do not solve everything. Instead, integrative and functional doctors look to provide beneficial solutions for their patients outside the traditional means, but neither practice rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies without critique.


Additional Terms: 

Alternative Medicine
– treatments (such as acupuncture and dietary supplements) which are outside of the medical mainstream and used instead of conventional medicine. 


Complementary Medicine the use of alternative medicine (non-mainstream practice) alongside conventional medicine. Integrative medicine and functional medicine both fall into this category.


Conventional Medicine – synonyms for this include traditional, mainstream, Western, and allopathic medicine. Although, as Winchester Hospital points out, it is “somewhat inaccurate, given that many alternative medical disciplines have been around for thousands of years, while many conventional practices have been around much less than a century.” Therefore, the relevance of most of these terms is limited to a Western cultural context. 


Holistic – seeking to heal the whole. This term has become a description rather than a unique medical approach.  “All good practitioners are holistic. You have to be able to see the big picture and connect the dots to get your patients better” says Nikogosain, MD


Naturopathy a medical system developed from popular 19th century European health practices combined with traditional medicine. The NCCIH says it resembles functional medicine. 


Functional Medicine Doctor near Colorado Springs

At True Life Medicine, we strive to look at all avenues of medicine available to us and our patients, whether they come from conventional, integrative, or functional practices. The body is a highly complex organism with emotional, psychological, and physical sensitivities that all play off of each other in fascinating ways. Our goal, in the end, is to uncover true healing by discovering the root cause of the issue and paving a path for our patients to live their True Life. 


Talk to us today to get started on your new health journey! Schedule a Discovery Call Now!

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