Functional Medicine vs Conventional Medicine

Aaron McDonough, PharmD Candidate 2021
University of Iowa

January 19, 2021

Functional Medicine

We’ve all been there. You’re catching up with a close friend over a cup of coffee and the topic of personal health and wellness gets brought up. Your friend explains to you that they use natural remedies and lifestyle changes to manage their health conditions. As they’re talking, you can’t help but think, “there’s no way that works”….Or does it?

What is Functional Medicine?

The concept your friend is summarizing is a term coined functional medicine. The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) describes Functional Medicine as a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease.1 IFM says each symptom or diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness. In layman’s terms, a diagnosis can be the result of more than one cause and a cause may lead to a number of different diagnoses. Functional Medicine identifies the root cause of conditions by understanding the biochemical imbalance of a patient… Perhaps your friend has more merit than you gave her credit for.

How Do Functional and Conventional Medicine Differ?

Conventional Medicine is based on a science that evaluates the human body, its disorders, and applies proven medical treatments to combat patient ailments.2

Ultimately, both are treating patients, so why does it matter which one is used? Well, first it is important to understand how Conventional Medicine treatments work in regard to prescriptions drugs. These medications go through a long process to become available to the public. They first are proven safe in healthy people and then are studied in a larger population with a certain disease or condition. Once proven safe and effective in a large enough population, the drug can go to market. Although, drug discovery is great and brings new medicine to patient populations with serious conditions, it does not mean that, it will work for every patient. One size does not fit all.

Functional Medicine on the other hand, empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the root causes of disease to promote wellness. 3 This practice takes a deeper dive investigating the cause of illnesses, specific to each patient. Treatments are more personalized as opposed to the population approach in Conventional Medicine. Functional Medicine sees that every patient is unique and needs a treatment plan tailored to them.

When to Use Functional and Conventional Medicine?

How does knowing the differences help when choosing which is appropriate? Conventional Medicine offers new treatments that will be work for the majority of users. However, if you are not getting desired results, it is likely time to take a functional approach. It is acceptable to choose Functional Medicine as a first line option for health and wellness. Although, if Functional Medicine alone does not yield results, Conventional Medicine should be started. Remember specialized healthcare professionals exist in both fields. You should ask them for recommendations before making any changes to treatment. In the meantime, be open to new health and wellness management ideas you hear from friends and family. You never know what you may be missing out on.

References:

  1. The Institute for Functional Medicine. What Is Functional Medicine? | IFM, 2020. https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/what-is-functional-medicine/.
  2. Wang, Chuanxin. “Conventional Vs Holistic Medicine.” edu. 07 January 2020, https://www.amcollege.edu/blog/conventional-vs-holistic-medicine
  3. Palikuca, Seka. “Just What Is Functional Medicine And Why Do Some Dos Gravitate To It? - The DO.” The DO. 28 November 2018, https://thedo.osteopathic.org/2018/11/just-what-is-functional-medicine-and-why-do-some-dos-gravitate-to-it/.
  4. S. Food and Drug Administration. “The Drug Development Process.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration 04 January 2018, https://www.fda.gov/patients/learn-about-drug-and-device-approvals/drug-development-process.

 

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