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Functional vs. Integrative Medicine: Expanding Your Practice

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Functional and integrative medicine both fall under the alternative healthcare umbrella. Functional medicine is an individualized care model that focuses on the interconnections of body and mind. Functional medicine practitioners seek to evaluate and address the root cause of illness instead of just the symptoms. 

Integrative medicine also considers health’s physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. It incorporates conventional and alternative therapies to provide personalized medical care for the whole individual.

Both provide care to the whole person, but it’s important to understand the critical differences between functional medicine vs. integrative medicine. When you know which approach serves which purpose, you can appropriately recommend a method of care.

Functional Medicine vs. Integrative Medicine: Understanding the Differences

As a conscientious provider, you know the importance of finding the right approach for each individual. The right care significantly affects a person’s overall well-being and quality of life. 

The same is true for providers. You provide better care when you practice in a way that aligns with your professional philosophy and personal values.

Functional and integrative medicine are two alternative approaches that appeal to many providers. Although they have many similarities, there are key differences that affect whether each one is a good match.

Understanding the differences between functional and integrative medicine can help you make informed decisions about your expertise and professional learning.

Definition of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is an individual-centered approach focused on identifying the root causes of health issues. It teaches that one symptom or diagnosis can stem from multiple contributing factors, just like one cause can lead to multiple conditions.

Functional medicine develops out of systems biology — the idea that you can best understand an organism by looking at its pieces as a whole. It pulls back from the concept of universal symptom and diagnosis pictures. Instead, it considers the individual’s unique genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that contribute to their illness.

Key Principles of Functional Medicine 

Functional medicine takes a personalized approach to healthcare. Its guiding principles are:

  • Collaboration between the functional medicine doctor and the person seeking care
  • A focus on finding the root cause, not just addressing symptoms
  • Integration of different medical practices and specialties

Functional medicine is often the best choice for complex conditions, including:

  • Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders
  • Hormonal imbalances, including adrenal fatigue and thyroid malfunction
  • Digestive problems, such as irritable bowel system (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

Functional medicine practitioners consider each person as a multi-dimensional individual, no matter the symptom presentation. They look for connections between symptoms and possible explanations, digging down to find the root cause that turns wellness into illness.

Definition of Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is an individual-centered methodology that considers the whole person. It considers the many physical, environmental, emotional, spiritual, and mental influences on a person’s health.

Like functional medicine, integrative medicine addresses the root cause of health issues. Instead of considering what “fixes” a particular symptom set, the provider focuses on what would make that person well and whole. 

Integrative medicine practitioners consider the entire illness picture and incorporate multiple healing modalities. They define wellness as a whole, connected body, mind, and spirit linked to the broader universe through consciousness.

Key Principles of Integrative Medicine 

Integrative medicine is a holistic medicine approach to care. It considers the many aspects of health, including physical, emotional, and spiritual. For the integrative medicine doctor, each factor contributes to a person’s ill or good health.

Another driving principle of integrative medicine is the use of multiple modalities. Practitioners draw on conventional and alternative methods based on the needs of the person they are caring for, not a personal preference for one or the other.

Integrative medicine can address a variety of mental and physical conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Infertility
  • Stress-related conditions, including anxiety and depression

Integrative medicine is an “and” approach, not an “or” approach. For example, a person with cancer may receive chemotherapy alongside acupuncture, aromatherapy, and biofeedback.

The universal goal is a healthy system with optimal functioning on every level.

Benefits of Functional Medicine

Functional medicine offers advantages that are unavailable through conventional therapy alone. The most significant benefits are:

  • Personalized healthcare: Because functional medicine providers develop a unique care plan for each person under their care, these individuals don’t have to worry about receiving “standardized” care.
  • Focus on the root cause: Conventional medicine may address the symptom but miss the illness. Functional medicine better supports long-term wellness by addressing the cause of ill health.
  • Integrated medical practices: Functional medicine links multiple specialties and types of healing in a unified care plan, providing better and more connected care.
  • Emphasis on recipient-provider collaboration: Unlike conventional medicine, where the provider is the sole authority, functional medicine acknowledges the wisdom of the person being cared for.

Providers who believe strongly in these benefits should consider further training in functional medicine.

Benefits of Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine cares for the person as a whole, not as a set of functions and symptoms. The advantages of this approach include:

  • A holistic approach to care: Conventional medicine routinely separates different types of health. Integrative medicine recognizes that human systems affect each other in multiple ways. 
  • Attention to the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health: Integrative medicine considers all aspects of wellness, from diagnosis to recovery, to promote optimal health.
  • Use of conventional and alternative therapies: People can access more potentially beneficial therapies via a provider who understands their needs.
  • Improved quality of life for clients: More therapy options mean more pathways to health.

Integrative medicine may be your best next step if you believe strongly in a connected approach and have experience in clinical care.

Integration of Functional and Integrative Medicine With Other Medical Practices

Functional and integrative medicine work in conjunction with conventional medicine to provide the best, most complete care. Nutrition, mindfulness, and physical therapy are important examples. All three play critical roles in both approaches.

This integration allows for a comprehensive approach to care, including rather than excluding options that can facilitate healing. When implemented thoughtfully, the results are improved outcomes and better quality of life for everyone who seeks your care.

Get Your Degree in Integrative Medicine and Expand Your Practice

Quantum University offers online, self-paced degree programs in integrative and functional medicine. Request further information today and take your first steps toward a healthcare career that aligns with your values.

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Quantum University is the world’s largest institution of higher learning to provide online degrees and certification programs in holistic, alternative, natural, and integrative medicine based on the science of quantum physics. Students can earn bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate and PhD degrees leading to professional board certifications.


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