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How Long Has Functional Medicine Been Around?

How Long Has Functional Medicine Been Around?

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Thursday, August 17th, 2023
How Long Has Functional Medicine Been Around?

Functional medicine is a method of healthcare that targets the underlying causes of disease and promotes optimal health and well-being. It recognizes each individual’s unique genetic makeup and environmental influences, emphasizing a personalized and patient-centered approach to care. Functional medicine aims to restore balance and functionality in the body by considering the interconnectedness of various biological systems.

Understanding the history of functional medicine provides valuable insights into its development, principles, and application. It allows us to appreciate the roots of this approach in ancient healing traditions and the Influence of holistic philosophies. Exploring its evolution helps us recognize the pioneers who have contributed to its advancement and highlights the integration of scientific advancements. This historical perspective helps us grasp the recognition and acceptance that functional medicine has gained and its current impact, and potential future developments.

Origins of functional medicine

Rooted in ancient healing traditions

Functional medicine draws inspiration from ancient healing traditions such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Indigenous practices. These traditional systems of medicine recognized the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit and emphasized the importance of individualized treatments.

Influence of holistic approaches

The rise of holistic approaches in the 20th century, such as naturopathy and chiropractic medicine, greatly influenced the development of functional medicine. These disciplines focused on treating the whole person rather than just symptoms, considering factors such as lifestyle, diet, and emotional well-being.

Emergence of integrative medicine

The emergence of integrative medicine in the 1990s further propelled the development of functional medicine. Integrative medicine sought to combine conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary and alternative therapies, promoting a more comprehensive and patient-centered approach to healthcare.

Development and Evolution

Pioneers in functional medicine

The contributions of various pioneers have shaped functional medicine. Dr. Jeffrey Bland is widely recognized as a key figure in the field, having coined the term “functional medicine” and established the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) in 1991. Other notable figures include Dr. Sidney Baker, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. David Jones, who have significantly contributed to functional medicine’s practice and education.

Foundational concepts and principles

A set of foundational concepts and principles guides functional medicine. It views the body as a complex network of interconnected systems, focusing on identifying and addressing the root causes of dysfunction. Functional medicine practitioners prioritize an individualized approach, considering genetics, environment, lifestyle, and psychosocial influences.

Integration with scientific advancements

Functional medicine integrates scientific advancements and research to inform its approach. It draws on fields such as genomics, epigenetics, systems biology, and nutrigenomics to better understand the intricate workings of the body and to tailor personalized treatment strategies.

Recognition and Acceptance

Growing interest among healthcare professionals

Functional medicine has gained significant interest and recognition among healthcare professionals globally. Many practitioners from various medical disciplines, including physicians, naturopaths, and chiropractors, have embraced functional medicine principles and incorporated them into their practices. The growing interest reflects a shift towards a more patient-centered and comprehensive approach to care.

Support from academic institutions and organizations

Academic institutions and organizations have been crucial in supporting and promoting functional medicine. The IFM, for instance, provides educational programs and certifications for healthcare professionals, fostering the growth and standardization of functional medicine. Numerous research institutions have also dedicated resources to studying the efficacy and mechanisms of functional medicine interventions.

Increased popularity among patients

Patients are increasingly seeking out functional medicine practitioners due to their patient-centered approach and focus on addressing the underlying causes of health issues. The desire for a more holistic and personalized healthcare experience, combined with the success stories shared by patients, has contributed to the rising popularity of functional medicine.

Current State and Impact

Expansion of research and evidence base

Functional medicine continues expanding its research efforts, supporting the evidence base supporting its principles and practices. Studies exploring the effectiveness of personalized nutrition, lifestyle interventions, and the role of the microbiome have gained attention. The growing body of research further strengthens the credibility and impact of functional medicine.

Integration into mainstream healthcare

Functional medicine is gradually integrating into mainstream healthcare. More conventional medical practices incorporate functional medicine principles and collaborate with functional medicine practitioners to provide comprehensive care. This integration recognizes the value of addressing root causes and personalizing treatments, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

Global reach and practice

Functional medicine has gained traction worldwide, with practitioners and organizations promoting its principles and practices across different countries. It has become an international movement, fostering collaborations, conferences, and educational initiatives. Functional medicine’s global reach highlights its potential to impact healthcare on a broader scale.


Functional medicine has its roots in ancient healing traditions. Holistic approaches and the emergence of integrative medicine have influenced it. Pioneers in the field, foundational concepts, and integration with scientific advancements have shaped its development and evolution. Functional medicine has gained recognition and acceptance among healthcare professionals, academic institutions, and patients, leading to its current impact and widespread practice.

The future of functional medicine holds promising possibilities. As scientific knowledge advances, functional medicine will continue integrating new findings and technologies to refine its approach. The field may see further collaborations between conventional and functional medicine practitioners, leading to more comprehensive healthcare models. Additionally, advancements in digital health and personalized medicine may enhance the delivery and accessibility of functional medicine interventions.

Continued research and understanding are crucial to realize functional medicine’s potential fully. Further studies are needed to establish functional medicine interventions’ efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and long-term outcomes. Continued education and training for healthcare professionals will ensure the integration of functional medicine into mainstream healthcare. By deepening our understanding of functional medicine, we can optimize its application and contribute to the ongoing transformation of healthcare.

About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove