Difference Between Integrative And Functional Medicine?

When it comes to medicine, there are lots of different categories, types and schools of thought. Conventional medicine is the medicine that is practised in hospitals.

It is based on the most tried and tested methods which are gradually updated with newer research.

Difference Between Integrative And Functional Medicine

Experimental medicine is the cutting edge of medical development which is still in the testing phase and not ready to be made standard practice. 

But what about other, less conventional types of medicine?

Two terms that are being used more and more in medical discussions are ‘functional medicine’ and ‘integrative medicine’, but what do they mean?

What is the difference between functional medicine and integrative medicine?

Should you be considering these medical approaches when it comes to your own health problems and treatments? 

I have put together this guide to explain the differences between integrative and functional medicine.

Keep reading to understand the terms whether either of these practices is right for you. 

What Is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a model of care for patients that focuses on finding the root cause of the issue.

Instead of trying to treat individual symptoms one at a time, functional medicine will assess the patient as a whole to look for the wider issue so that it can be treated. It tends to be used to treat chronic diseases. 

The goal of Functional medicine is to improve the quality of life of the patient. This could include curing the disease, but also includes an overall healthy lifestyle which will promote health and wellbeing.

It is considered to be a more proactive form of medicine than conventional medicine, as tackling the root cause rather than the arising symptoms will prevent further issues and complications.

It also helps patients to manage symptoms of ongoing chronic diseases that are not able to be entirely eradicated. 


How Does Functional Medicine Work?

The first step is to gather as much information about the patient as possible – this includes medical history, diet and nutritional habits, genetic information, microbiome samples, stress levels, exposure to toxins and an allergen test.

This information will help the medical practitioners to identify any factors that could be triggering ill health in the patient. 

This holistic approach looks at the entire body of the patient – all of their systems and how they interact with each other.

It involves an in depth understanding of biology and the human body, which can be used to come up with a treatment plan.

This treatment plan will be a collaboration between various things that target different areas of the body and its functions. The result will be a healthier lifestyle and a healthier patient. 

For example, conventional medicine would treat the symptoms of a skin condition with some form of dermatologist approach.

Functional medicine will assess all the systems of the body to find the root cause of the skin (see also: Menopause Cause Itchy Skin?)condition. Many skin conditions are actually linked to issues in the gut, or to mental health conditions.

The patient-centred, holistic approach that assesses the patient as the whole will find the cause of the skin condition and recommend lifestyle changes that will solve the problem. 

What System Imbalances Are Assessed?

Functional medicine will assess as many different systems as possible to see what is going wrong in your body. For example: 

  • Digestive issues 
  • Imbalanced microbiome 
  • Immune dysfunction 
  • Metabolism issues 
  • Hormonal dysfunction 
  • Inefficient Detoxification 
  • Psycho Spiritual issues 
  • Mitochondrial function 
  • Structural integrity of skin, muscles and connective tissue 
  • Nutritional deficiencies 
  • Environmental issues 
  • Inherited Genetics 

Any imbalances that are discovered will be considered in conjunction with each other and in relation to any ongoing medical conditions that you have.

This will help to create an overall picture of your health and any changes that need to be made. 

What Is Integrative Medicine?

Difference Between Integrative And Functional Medicine?

Integrative medicine is similar to functional medicine in that it considers the patient as a whole rather than focusing on the symptoms of the disease or condition.

The difference is that it brings together conventional medical practices with complementary treatments and therapies (previously referred to as ‘alternative’ treatments) to create an integrated approach to your health. 

Integrative medicine is evidence based and the treatments used have been thoroughly researched and have proven results.

The idea is to use complementary therapies alongside traditional healthcare to expedite recovery and treat the patient as a whole rather than just treating their illness. 

What Are Complementary Treatments?

Complementary treatments are therapies that don’t fit into conventional medical practice but still have a good track record of improving overall health and wellbeing.

They can be used to help patients with chronic illnesses, cancer, mental health conditions and fibromyalgia and other health issues. 

Complementary treatments include yoga, massage, meditation, aromatherapy, acupuncture, music therapy, dietary treatments, herbal supplements, music therapy and animal assisted therapy. There are also many other examples. 

Not all complementary treatments are suitable for all patients. This is why a full assessment should be carried out which takes into account the patient’s medical history, current symptoms and issues, and their overall health and lifestyle. 

A treatment plan will then be created which recommends complementary therapies that will work (see also: Complementary Medicine – What Is It, And How Does It Work?)well with the conventional treatment plan and will not jeopardise the patients health or cause further complications. 

Why Is Integrative Medicine Important?

With modern developments in technology, a lot of conventional medicine now relies on expensive or complicated technological methods.

The complementary treatments tend to be a lot more simple and accessible, but still very effective.

They can also improve the overall quality of the life of the patient by looking at their health and wellbeing rather than focusing on just one medical problem at a time. 

Should You Choose Functional Medicine Or Integrative Medicine?

It is not as simple as choosing between functional medicine and integrative medicine, as the line between the two practices is becoming less and less defined.

Both types of medicine offer a holistic (see also: What Is The Oldest Holistic Medicine?)approach and put the patient at the centre of the process, giving them more control over their own treatment. 

Many patients find that having some input in their treatment gives them a more hopeful and positive outlook on their recovery.

The in-depth information gathering that considers all aspects of the patient’s life also makes many people feel listened to, which gives them more faith in the practitioner and more confidence in their treatment plan. 

Integrative medicine practitioners are generally able to offer a wider range of treatments to their patients, so you could argue that the integrative approach is more thorough.

However, functional medicine is akin to lifestyle coaching and gives patients long-term changes that they can make and maintain to live a healthy lifestyle going forward. 

One way to decide which approach is best is to consider your current situation.

If you have some niggling symptoms that you need help managing or you have a recurring issue that conventional medicine has not been able to solve, you should consider a functional medicine approach.

If you have a chronic illness that you are currently being treated for and you want to expedite your recovery or help to alleviate symptoms, integrative medicine will help you to broaden the scope of your treatment to make more progress. 


Functional medicine and integrative medicine are both holistic medical approaches that consider the patient as a whole.

Functional medicine will aim to improve the health (see also: Best Chinese Medicine For Stomach Health And Digestion)and quality of life of the patient by dealing with the root cause of the issues, whereas integrative medicine will work alongside conventional medicine to improve recovery and wellness.

Clare McAfee
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