Functional Medicine vs Integrative Medicine (Which One Is Best for You?)

You have probably heard the words integrative and functional medicine more often in recent years. These approaches to medicine are becoming more and more popular. But what do these words mean, and which one is the best approach for you? The meanings of these words are continually evolving, but let’s take a look at what they mean now. Then, we’ll compare and contrast functional medicine vs integrative medicine.

A key labeled with a tag that say "health"

What Is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine focuses on treating the root cause of illness in each individual patient to reach the optimal function of the whole body. Functional medicine recognizes that each person has a unique biochemical and genetic makeup. This makeup responds uniquely to their environment and lifestyle. 

Functional medicine looks for the root cause of illness instead of only treating the symptoms of a disease. Some say functional medicine treats “upstream” root problems to relieve the “downstream” symptoms of those problems.

What is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine includes mainstream treatments combined with complementary (non-mainstream) treatments. It integrates the two approaches together in a unified way. It is a holistic approach that emphasizes treating the whole person rather than individual organs or systems. 

Integrative practitioners consider the mind, body, and spirit of the patient. So, they are more likely to use a wide variety of practices, such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and other complementary approaches. Integrative medicine helps people restore, maintain, and improve their overall health instead of just treating symptoms and diseases as they arise.

Integrative and functional medicine tools - stethoscope, thermometer, healthy foods

Functional Medicine vs Integrative Medicine

Similarities:

As you can see from the descriptions above, there is a lot of overlap between integrative and functional medicine. 

  • Both take a more holistic approach to health. They use the whole-body approach instead of focusing on specific symptoms and organs.
  • Both types of medicine use conventional treatments and complementary treatments as needed.
  • Both approaches see the relationship between the patient and the healthcare provider as a partnership.

Differences:

There are also a few subtle differences between the two approaches. 

  • Functional medicine goes more in-depth to the patient’s individual genetic, biochemical, and environmental background to understand the root cause of the patient’s problems.
  • Integrative medicine doesn’t focus on just one health problem. It works to heal the mind, body, and spirit as a whole so that individual symptoms can heal. 
  • Functional medicine tries to determine the root cause of each problem and looks at the whole person.
A patient and healthcare provider working as partners to discuss the patient's health

Which Approach Will Work Best for You?

Integrative and functional medicine are alike in many ways, but their approach is slightly different. Functional medicine focuses on addressing the root cause of a problem while integrative medicine focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit. 

Fortunately, many healthcare providers use integrative and functional medicine together. They focus on addressing the root cause of illness while being open to treatments that heal all aspects of the patient. 

The only way to know if a healthcare provider is perfect for you is to meet them at an appointment. You will be able to tell if the provider is a fit for you and if he/she views you as a partner in meeting your wellness goals.

Be sure to check the credentials of the provider. Look for a provider with one of the following credentials:

  • Doctor of medicine (MD) – a fully trained and licensed physician who attended medical school
  • Doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) – a fully trained and licensed physician who attended medical school
  • Doctor of chiropractic (DC) – a licensed healthcare provider who can’t prescribe medication but can practice some forms of integrative and functional medicine
  • Nurse practitioner (NP) – a registered nurse who completed advanced education and training and provides some of the same care as physicians
  • Physician assistant (PA) – a licensed healthcare provider who completed advanced education and training and provides some of the same care as physicians
A registered dietitian nutritionist with a clipboard and fruit. Nutrition is a big part of integrative and functional medicine

The Role of Nutrition in Functional and Integrative Medicine

Nutrition is used extensively in both integrative and functional medicine. Research shows that improving your diet is one way to restore, maintain, and improve your overall health. Poor nutrition is often a root cause of illnesses and symptoms. 

Nutritional approaches may include dietary changes, nutritional supplements, herbs, and changing the gut microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics. For in-depth nutrition care, look for a provider with the following credential:

  • Registered dietitian nutritionist (RD/RDN) – a registered and licensed healthcare provider who completed advanced education and training in nutrition and dietetics

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