Two of the most rapidly growing medical practices are functional and integrative medicine. These practices have changed the way patients see their health and the way providers attempt to diagnose and treat their patients. If you’ve heard of these two terms before, you probably know they have a similar end goal, though a very different approach.
Both functional and integrative medicine aims to treat patients to encourage their overall physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Each form of treatment is dedicated to enhancing their patients’ lives, but there’s a clear difference
We’ll cover the difference between functional and integrative medicine so you can choose the right course of treatment that’s perfect for you.
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What Is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a very patient-centric approach to treatment. The idea with functional medicine is that every patient’s illness must have a root cause. Doctors of functional medicine will take a complete medical history of their patients and order testing or individualized therapies to determine the root cause of their illness(es).
Practitioners of this type of medicine believe that a patient’s illnesses all boil down to a root cause. This could be a chronic illness, genetic predisposition, an imbalance in your microbiome, or a vitamin D deficiency.
Patients undergoing treatment through a doctor of functional medicine will be asked for a complete medical history and an overview of their daily eating habits, exercise routine, and more to determine if there are any obvious issues that can aid in determining the root cause of their ailments.
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What Is Integrative Medicine?
Practitioners of integrative medicine take a different diagnostic approach than those who practice functional medicine. Functional medicine seeks to determine the root disease or issue behind a patient’s ailment, or in other words, to isolate a known cause.
With integrative medicine, practitioners are more focused on treating the patient as a whole. Rather than searching for one disease or imbalance causing a patient’s ailments, integrative medicine seeks to treat every aspect of a person’s problem, including their emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Patients treated by doctors of integrative medicine will receive many different types of treatments, including alternative therapies like acupuncture and standard treatments like antibiotics.
Integrative medicine seeks to integrate all forms of medicine and therapies to holistically treat a person’s issues.
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What Is the Main Difference Between Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine?
There is one significant difference between functional and integrative medicine, but let’s list a couple of their similarities first. Both practices follow a patient-centric approach where patients are actively involved in their healthcare decisions, and their preferences are considered during testing and treatment processes.
These practices are also relatively new in the United States. Functional medicine didn’t enter the scene here until the 1980s, while integrative medicine wasn’t practiced openly until the 1990s.
However, their similarities end there. Here are the key differences to understand between functional and integrative medicine.
Root Cause vs. Treating Various Issues
The name “functional medicine” came from healthcare professionals who felt that a root cause could explain most patients’ illnesses and ailments. They believed that a part of the body’s process (function) must be disrupted in order to cause illnesses/ailments.
Through this concept, functional medicine aims to get down to the core problem causing a patient’s issues. For example, a patient experiencing depression could have a vitamin D deficiency or low thyroid count as the root issue. Or, a patient with heart disease could be suffering from an underlying inflammation issue which, once corrected, could improve their heart disease.
Integrative medicine doesn’t look for the root cause of all of a person’s issues. This system of treatment focuses on bringing a person’s system back into synch through various treatments.
For example, a patient experiencing anxiety, chronic pain, and recurrent UTIs may undergo three separate forms of treatment. They may be recommended cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, acupuncture for chronic pain, and a course of antibiotics, plus some lifestyle changes for recurrent UTIs.
Integrative therapy aims to solve a patient’s problems through therapies and treatments that can directly address those problems. There’s no emphasis on finding an underlying diagnosis. Instead, the patient’s issues are taken as individual problems that need to be rectified in order to bring the patient’s mind, body, and spirit back into alignment.
While this is the main difference, there’s one other significant difference between these two practices that becomes obvious once you understand the basics of these practices. With functional medicine, there’s more of a focus on modern medicine.
Patients undergo testing and modern treatments to diagnose and treat the underlying illness. Integrative medicine combines modern treatments with alternative therapies to treat each issue a patient is experiencing.
Which Method Is Right For You?
There’s no right or wrong answer for which type of medical practice you should pursue. The right method for you depends on a combination of your personality and your illnesses.
It might surprise you to learn that many physicians actually practice a combination of functional and integrative medicine. Using each method allows physicians to keep an open mind while diagnosing and treating a patient, so for many people, using a combination of both methods is the right option.
However, if you prefer to stick with modern treatments and you want to find an underlying cause for your illnesses, then you’ll be happier with a practitioner who follows functional medicine.
Those who aren’t interested in undergoing testing to determine a root cause will probably prefer integrative medicine. You’ll have more say in your treatment and care with this issue, and you’ll be able to focus on treating symptoms of your illnesses individually rather than waiting on test results to treat an underlying cause.
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Find The Best Ways To Improve Your Health
Whether you choose functional medicine, integrative medicine, or a different type of treatment, it’s vital to ensure you keep up with your health. Functional and integrative medicine aren’t the only options, and it’s important to do your own research about alternative treatments so you can be your most powerful advocate when seeking medical treatment.