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What is Functional Medicine + How Can It Improve Your Health?


When functional medicine entered the scene decades ago, some skeptics dismissed it as quackery. But as frustration with mainstream medicine has grown, it has gained major steam. So much so, that it’s been dubbed ‘the future of healthcare.’

In a study conducted by Cleveland Clinic researchers, functional medicine was shown to improve patient health and well-being.

But what exactly is functional medicine? And how does it differ from mainstream medicine? In this article, we’ll answer these questions. We’ll also cover how functional medicine works and how to tell if it’s right for you.

The Current State of Health Care in America

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” Well, modern medicine has wandered far from this creed. And it’s doing a number on our health.

According to the CDC, 6 in 10 US adults suffer from a chronic illness. And 4 in 10 US adults have two or more chronic diseases. To make matters worse, in 2021 the United States spent over $4.3 trillion on health care. Other industrialized countries spend roughly half of that. In fact,

Clearly, our healthcare system in America is missing the mark. And that’s where functional medicine comes in.

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a holistic, patient-centered, science-based approach to health care. And it’s vastly different than conventional medicine. Conventional medicine takes a one-size-fits-all approach, with treatment centered on prescription drugs. These medications may offer symptom relief. But they don’t address underlying imbalances. Instead, they act as band-aids to manage symptoms – and often come with nasty side effects.

Functional medicine views health through a wider lens. Instead of focusing on symptoms, it looks to address the root cause of imbalances. It takes into account all systems in the body and how they interact. Nutrition, exercise, environment, lifestyle, and emotional health are all taken into account.

Who is the “Father of Functional Medicine?”

Dr. Jeffrey Bland is hailed as “the father of functional medicine.” In 1991 Dr. Bland founded the Institute for Functional Medicine with his wife Susan. It was created as a care model aimed at preventing and managing chronic illness.

Functional medicine has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years, thanks to thought leaders like Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Frank Lipman.

How Does Functional Medicine Work?

Conventional medicine views health as the absence of disease. But in functional medicine, health is viewed as a state of vitality. Functional medicine treats patients holistically. It considers all facets of health, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Functional medicine doctors dig deep to get to the root causes of disease. For this reason, most initial visits last at least 60-90 minutes. This allows a deep dive into a patient’s health history, including family, social, and lifestyle factors. Lab testing may also be recommended to identify triggers depending on a patient’s symptoms. This may uncover hormonal imbalances, toxin exposure, infections, or food sensitivities.

Functional Medicine Info-graph

Once a thorough assessment is complete, a customized treatment plan is created to address imbalances. This may involve dietary changes, lifestyle recommendations, or nutritional supplements.

How Do I Know if Functional Medicine Is Right For Me?

Functional medicine works well for patients who have complex illnesses.

It can help with health issues such as:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Digestive disorders
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Weight loss
  • Environmental & food allergies
  • Adrenal disorders
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Migraine

Many people turn to functional medicine after being let down by mainstream medicine. So, if you’re struggling with symptoms and have been told “It’s all in your head” – you may want to consider working with a functional medicine doctor. That said, functional medicine takes commitment on your part. You’ll likely be asked to make some dietary, exercise, sleep, and lifestyle adjustments. If you’re used to traditional healthcare models based on pill-popping, this can be a huge shift.

Can Functional Medicine Help with Migraine?

Yes! Functional medicine takes a preventative approach to treating migraine. It focuses on shifting a patient’s diet and lifestyle to prevent migraine triggers. Nutritional support is often included to reduce the frequency and severity of future migraine attacks.

Are Functional Medicine Doctors ‘Real’ Doctors?

Many functional medicine doctors have conventional medicine training and choose to specialize in functional medicine. Naturopaths, chiropractors, nutritionists, and health coaches may also receive functional medicine training.

Is Functional Medicine Covered by Insurance?

Often, but not always. Roughly 47% of functional medicine practitioners take insurance. The remaining 53% of practitioners are private pay.

How Do I Find a Functional Medicine Doctor?

More and more doctors are integrating functional medicine into their practice. So finding a practitioner is easier than ever. And with remote care on the rise, there’s a wider net of options out there. To find a functional medicine practitioner near you, check out the Institute for Functional Medicine’s search tool.


Functional medicine is a holistic, individualized approach to healthcare. It empowers patients to take charge of their health. Instead of chasing symptoms, it aims to find the root cause of imbalances. Treatment focuses on making healthy dietary and lifestyle shifts to restore harmony to the body.