What is Functional Medicine?

, holistic medicine blog healing naturally integrated medicine Mar 13, 2019

Fairly early in my healing journey and in my research I kept hearing the term ‘functional medicine’, and I wondered: What is functional medicine and can it help me? If you are wondering too, then this article is for you. 

I mentioned in this article that working with a functional medicine practitioner and health coach were two of the 12 things I did to heal from rheumatoid arthritis and were key factors in my healing journey.

The term functional medicine is becoming more mainstream lately as a different approach to health care compared to conventional medicine. Conventional medicine does an excellent job of treating trauma, surgeries and specializations.  

For chronic illness though, the conventional medical approach is not as successful. Current statistics indicate that 44% of Canadian adults have a chronic illness!  Managing chronic illness comes at a tremendous financial cost to our healthcare system, not to mention the negative impact on peoples’ lives. 

44% of adult Canadians have a chronic illness.

Functional medicine takes a different approach to chronic disease by determining underlying root causes of illness and fixing those rather than treating symptoms. Functional medicine is a completely different medical model and is particularly effective for chronic illnesses like autoimmune disease, diabetes, and heart disease.  

Consider autoimmune disease.  Conventional medicine evaluates symptoms, matches those symptoms to a disease, and uses immunosuppressant drugs to tame the immune system.  Often the drugs have harmful side effects, and usually must be taken for the rest of the person’s life. 

In contrast, the focus of functional medicine is to treat the root cause of the autoimmune disease, meanwhile supporting the immune system to keep it strong. The patient is part of the solution by making lifestyle changes to reduce stress on the immune system and create a healing environment.

Here’s a simple analogy. Your heel hurts so you take off your shoe and notice there is a small pebble in there.  You could add some padding in your shoe or put on some extra socks to cushion your heal against the pebble.  Your shoe is now tight on your foot which is a bit annoying but at least your heel doesn’t hurt anymore.  Yes, the immediate problem is solved, but wouldn’t it make more sense to just remove the pebble?

Functional medicine practitioners generally spend more time with patients than do their conventional counterparts.  The functional medicine practitioner gathers a life history, creating a timeline for the patient, beginning with how they were born and even any circumstances before birth which may have affected the developing baby.  As well as physical conditions, mental and emotional factors are recorded on the timeline as well. 

Functional medicine practitioners may or may not be medical doctors. Some practitioners may be MD’s and others may be doctors of naturopathic medicine, chiropractors or other medical certification.  It is more about the approach to health care, rather than the certification.  The difference is that medical doctors have the option to prescribe pharmaceutical medications if needed. 

Functional medicine is growing, but it may not be easy to find a practitioner near you depending on where you live.  The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) provides training for practitioners and also can help you find a practitioner.  Click here to access the IFM Find a Practitioner portal.

Fundamental to the functional medicine approach is the involvement of the patient in their healthcare solution.  Very often, lifestyle changes are necessary in the treatment plan.  This is where a health coach certified in functional medicine can assist.  The health coach helps patients stay motivated and stay on track with lifestyle changes, providing guidance and support along the way.  


The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA) is affiliated with the Institute for Functional Medicine.  Health coaches graduating from the FMCA program are trained in the functional medicine model to support clients in lifestyle changes along their journey to wellness.  With a health coach, the person is more likely to meet their health goals and will do so more quickly.  


I hope this article has helped answer the question, what is functional medicine. 

Even if you don’t have a functional medicine practitioner, you can still work with a functional medicine health coach. If you would like to talk to me about functional medicine, I would be happy to get on a call with you. 

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  2. All information in this post is based on my personal experiences. Please discuss any changes to your diet with your healthcare team. No information in this article is meant to replace medical advice. Please read my Terms and Conditions.