Functional Medicine asks how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.
It is an approach to health care that conceptualizes health and illness as part of a continuum in which all components of the human biological system interact dynamically with the environment, producing patterns and effects that change over time.
Functional Medicine helps clinicians identify and ameliorate dysfunctions in the physiology and biochemistry of the human body as a primary method of improving patient health. Chronic disease is almost always preceded by a period of declining function in one or more of the body’s systems.
Functional Medicine is often described as the clinical application of systems biology. Restoring health requires reversing (or substantially improving) the specific dysfunctions that have contributed to the disease state. Each patient represents a unique, complex, and interwoven set of environmental and lifestyle influences on intrinsic functionality (their genetic vulnerabilities) that have set the stage for the development of disease or the maintenance of health.
To manage the complexity inherent in this approach, IFM has created practical models for obtaining and evaluating clinical information that lead to individualized, patient-centered, science-based therapies.
Functional Medicine concepts, practices, and tools have evolved considerably over a 30-year period, reflecting the dramatic growth in the evidence base concerning the key common pathways to disease (e.g., inflammation, oxidative stress); the role of diet, stress, and physical activity; the emerging sciences of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics; and the effects of environmental toxins (in the air, water, soil, etc.) on health.
The knowledge base—or “footprint”—of Functional Medicine is shaped by six core foundations:
- Gene-Environment Interaction: Functional Medicine is based on understanding the metabolic processes of each individual at the cellular level. By knowing how each person’s genes and environment interact to create their unique biochemical phenotype, it is possible to design targeted interventions that correct the specific issues that lead to destructive processes such as inflammation and oxidation, which are at the root of many diseases.
- Upstream Signal Modulation: Functional Medicine interventions seek to influence biochemical pathways “upstream” and prevent the overproduction of damaging end products, rather than blocking the effects of those end products. For example, instead of using drugs that block the last step in the production of inflammatory mediators (NSAIDs, etc.), Functional Medicine treatments seek to prevent the upregulation of those mediators in the first place.
- Multimodal Treatment Plans: The Functional Medicine approach uses a broad range of interventions to achieve optimal health including diet, nutrition, exercise and movement; stress management; sleep and rest, phytonutrient, nutritional and pharmaceutical supplementation; and various other restorative and reparative therapies. These interventions are all tailored to address the antecedents, triggers, and mediators of disease or dysfunction in each individual patient.
- Understanding the Patient in Context: Functional Medicine uses a structured process to uncover the significant life events of each patient’s history to gain a better understanding of who they are as an individual. IFM tools (the “Timeline” and the “Matrix” model) are integral to this process for the role they play in organizing clinical data and mediating clinical insights. This approach to the clinical encounter ensures that the patient is heard, engenders the therapeutic relationship, expands therapeutic options, and improves the collaboration between patient and clinician.
- Systems Biology-Based Approach: Functional Medicine uses systems biology to understand and identify how core imbalances in specific biological systems can manifest in other parts of the body. Rather than an organ systems-based approach, Functional Medicine addresses core physiological processes that cross anatomical boundaries including: assimilation of nutrients, cellular defense and repair, structural integrity, cellular communication and transport mechanisms, energy production, and biotransformation. The “Functional Medicine Matrix” is the clinician’s key tool for understanding these network effects and provides the basis for the design of effective multimodal treatment strategies
- Patient-Centered and Directed: Functional Medicine practitioners work with the patient to find the most appropriate and acceptable treatment plan to correct, balance, and optimize the fundamental underlying issues in the realms of mind, body, and spirit. Beginning with a detailed and personalized history, the patient is welcomed into the process of exploring their story and the potential causes of their health issues. Patients and providers work together to determine the diagnostic process, set achievable health goals, and design an appropriate therapeutic approach