What Do Functional Medicine Doctors Do?
By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Thursday, June 1st, 2023
Functional medicine is a rapidly growing field within healthcare that aims to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal health and wellness. Unlike traditional medicine, which often focuses on treating symptoms, functional medicine doctors take a more holistic approach by considering the whole person and the complex web of factors that contribute to their well-being.
Understanding Functional Medicine
Functional medicine doctors are trained medical professionals who seek to understand each patient’s unique genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that may be influencing their health. They view the body as an interconnected system, where imbalances or dysfunctions in one area can impact other areas as well. Instead of relying solely on medication or invasive procedures, functional medicine doctors emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes, nutrition, stress management, and other non-pharmacological interventions.
Key Principles of Functional Medicine
Functional medicine is guided by several core principles that set it apart from traditional medicine:
- Patient-Centered Approach: Functional medicine doctors prioritize building a strong doctor-patient relationship and actively involve patients in their own healing process. They take the time to listen to patients’ concerns, thoroughly analyze their medical history, and explore the underlying factors that may be contributing to their health issues.
- Holistic Perspective: Instead of focusing solely on symptoms, functional medicine doctors assess the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being as a whole. They consider the interplay between genetics, lifestyle, environment, and other factors to understand the root causes of disease.
- Personalized Medicine: Functional medicine doctors recognize that each person is unique and therefore requires an individualized approach to their healthcare. They tailor treatments and interventions based on the patient’s specific needs, genetic makeup, and lifestyle choices.
- Prevention and Wellness: Functional medicine doctors place a strong emphasis on preventive care and optimizing overall wellness. By identifying and addressing potential health risks and imbalances early on, they strive to prevent the development of chronic diseases.
Tools and Techniques Used by Functional Medicine Doctors
Functional medicine doctors employ a wide range of tools and techniques to evaluate and support their patients’ health:
- Comprehensive Medical History: Functional medicine doctors spend considerable time gathering detailed information about the patient’s medical history, including previous diagnoses, medications, surgeries, and lifestyle factors.
- Advanced Laboratory Testing: To gain deeper insights into a patient’s health, functional medicine doctors may order specialized laboratory tests that go beyond standard blood work. These tests can assess hormone levels, nutrient deficiencies, gut health, genetic markers, and more.
- Nutritional Assessment: Recognizing the vital role of nutrition in overall health, functional medicine doctors often conduct thorough nutritional assessments. They may evaluate dietary habits, identify potential nutrient deficiencies, and develop personalized dietary plans.
- Lifestyle Recommendations: Functional medicine doctors recognize the impact of lifestyle factors, such as sleep, stress, physical activity, and environmental exposures, on health. They provide guidance on optimizing these areas to support overall well-being.
- Supplementation and Herbal Medicine: Functional medicine doctors may recommend specific supplements or herbal remedies to address nutrient deficiencies or support the body’s healing processes. These interventions are often used alongside other treatments and are tailored to the individual’s needs.
- Stress Management Techniques: Chronic stress can have a significant impact on health. Functional medicine doctors may employ stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to help patients manage stress and improve their overall well-being.
Conditions Treated by Functional Medicine Doctors
Functional medicine doctors can assist with a wide range of health conditions, including:
- Chronic diseases: Functional medicine can provide valuable support for chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Hormonal imbalances: Functional medicine doctors can help identify and address hormonal imbalances.
- Thyroid disorders: Functional medicine doctors take a comprehensive approach to evaluate thyroid function and address conditions like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Digestive issues: Functional medicine doctors are skilled at assessing and treating gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- Food sensitivities and allergies: Functional medicine doctors can identify food sensitivities and allergies through specialized testing and develop personalized dietary plans to alleviate symptoms.
- Mental health conditions: Functional medicine recognizes the intricate connection between the mind and body. Functional medicine doctors may support patients with conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and insomnia by addressing underlying factors such as nutrient imbalances, gut health, and chronic inflammation.
- Weight management: Functional medicine doctors take a holistic approach to weight management, considering factors such as metabolism, hormone imbalances, gut health, and lifestyle habits.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: Functional medicine doctors understand the complexities of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and work with patients to identify underlying causes, manage symptoms, and improve energy levels.
- Autoimmune disorders: Functional medicine doctors can assist individuals with autoimmune conditions by identifying triggers, addressing gut health, reducing inflammation, and supporting the immune system.
The Benefits of Functional Medicine
Functional medicine offers several benefits to patients seeking a more personalized and holistic approach to healthcare:
- Comprehensive Evaluation: Functional medicine doctors spend more time with patients, allowing for a thorough assessment of their health and a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of their symptoms.
- Individualized Treatment: By considering each person’s unique circumstances, functional medicine doctors create personalized treatment plans that address the root causes of their health issues.
- Preventive Care: Functional medicine emphasizes preventive measures and empowers individuals to make lifestyle changes that promote long-term health and well-being.
- Collaborative Approach: Functional medicine doctors often work closely with other healthcare professionals, including nutritionists, psychologists, and physical therapists, to provide comprehensive care and support.
- Focus on Well-being: Functional medicine doctors prioritize overall well-being and help patients improve their quality of life by addressing not only physical symptoms but also mental and emotional aspects of health.
Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor
If you’re interested in exploring functional medicine and its potential benefits, here are a few steps to help you find a suitable practitioner:
- Research: Look for functional medicine doctors in your area and gather information about their qualifications, experience, and approach to patient care.
- Referrals: Ask for recommendations from friends, family, or other healthcare professionals who may have experience with functional medicine.
- Interview: Schedule a consultation or interview with potential functional medicine doctors to discuss your health concerns, their treatment philosophy, and their proposed approach to your care.
- Compatibility: Consider the doctor-patient relationship and whether you feel comfortable and supported by the functional medicine doctor you are considering.
- Credentials: Verify the credentials and certifications of any functional medicine doctor you are considering to ensure they have the appropriate training and expertise.
Functional medicine doctors take a comprehensive and individualized approach to healthcare, focusing on addressing the underlying causes of disease and promoting optimal well-being. By considering the interconnectedness of the body’s systems and addressing lifestyle factors, nutrition, and other non-pharmacological interventions, functional medicine doctors offer patients a more holistic and personalized approach to health and wellness. If you’re seeking a more patient-centered and comprehensive approach to your healthcare, exploring functional medicine may be a valuable step towards achieving your health goals.