Functional Vs Conventional Medicine – What’s The Difference?

In modern times, it is certainly true that we are more aware regarding the ins and outs of health and wellbeing – thanks in part to the wealth of information and resources we have at our disposal. 

Functional Vs Conventional Medicine - What’s The Difference

Ideas surrounding ‘functional medicine’ are on everyone’s lips right now, and while conventional medicine has not yet reached that point yet, it still poses interesting questions surrounding the way we live our lives, our reliance on reactive, pharmaceutically driven medicine, and how realistic the notion of positive change really is in the future. 

But what exactly is functional medicine, and how does it differ from what would be considered modern, ‘conventional’ medicine? 

What Exactly Is ‘Functional’ Medicine?

When we talk about ‘functional’ medicine, what we really mean is the belief that most conditions in life can be corrected before they occur by means of making better lifestyle decisions, and incorporating various forms of wellness into our lives. 

Be it nutrition, gut health, immune system supportive practices, physical exercise, encouraging proper mental health and self care, as well as things like proper sleep, all of these things are considered to be pivotal and interlinked by proponents of functional medicine. 

It is thought that, while some serious conditions are unavoidable – such as various forms of genetic diseases – most of the common afflictions that many people suffer from, such as heart disease, cancers, and type 2 diabetes, can all have their potential seriously limited through the implementation of proper lifestyle choices. 

What Are The Benefits?

When it comes to functional medicine, there are obviously numerous benefits, both to our general health, and our day to day wellbeing. 

The obvious main benefit is the control and responsibility that functional medicine gives the patients – allowing them to take control over their own health, without the reliance on medicine and drugs. 

Another benefit is that many conditions can have their potential lessened thanks to good lifestyle choices.

Obviously, anomalies and genetic problems cannot be avoided entirely, but by making positive changes, and understanding the relationship between our bodies, and the way we treat them, we can avoid some of the lesser problems that afflict us. 

Lastly, the recommendations given under functional medicine are designed to help the patient lead a better life.

Of course, this comes from good health and personal autonomy, as mentioned above, but it also comes from eating better, sleeping well, exercising frequently, and donating time to working on mental health. 

What Is The Focus Of Functional Medicine?


Of course, functional medicine is a broad topic – as is conventional medicine – and we are not going to discuss every facet of it.

However, there are certain characteristics that stand at the forefront of the modern conversation. 

Recognition Of Individuality

Firstly, functional medicine recognizes the individuality of each person (and their bodies), and that they have systems that, while technically the same, work in very different ways.

This is a result of genetic and environmental influences. 

Addressing Interconnectivity

It is also focused on addressing the interconnectivity of the bodily systems, and how things can snowball and impact other things. 

Patient-Centred Approach

Functional medicine also takes a patient-centred approach to medicine, rather than focusing on the disease.

This takes into account personal factors, environmental factors, and changes they are capable of making. 

Positive Classifications

Most importantly, it also chooses to adopt a view of the healthy body as a vessel of potential, rather than merely a state where disease is absent.

This means that they care about you when you’re healthy, not just when you are sick. 

Emerging Research

It also tries to stay abreast with emerging research, focusing on what the science tells them, and taking note when understandings change.

This is often done at a slower pace in conventional medicine, which can often be a decade behind the latest developments. 

How Does This Differ From ‘Conventional’ Medicine?

Functional Vs Conventional Medicine - What’s The Difference

The modern medical system we currently live under tends to be reactive, as opposed to proactive.

This means that, as has become the norm, doctors treat the symptoms of conditions as they appear, rather than limiting the controllable factors that could cause the illness in the first place. 

There are many factors and theories behind why this system is in place – many of them pondering the motivations of medical institutions around the world, and whether their intentions are pure and unbiased – but most of them suggest an overreliance, and a form of institutionalised dependence on pharmaceutical drugs and medications. 

Are There Any Benefits?

Of course, it could be said that we have been seeing the benefits of conventional medicine for centuries, with patients visiting their doctors with an ailment, and receiving the best prescribed treatment available at the time. 

There are numerous serious conditions and disorders that cannot be corrected with lifestyle choices alone, which is where the need for conventional medicine becomes most apparent. 

For example, people with genetic disorders – such as Parkinson’s Disease and MS – require life-changing medication to function at their best. 

Why Has Functional Medicine Become Popular?

It is certainly not outlandish to say that people have become disillusioned with conventional medicine, and the practices involved. 

Patients can often feel like numbers rather than human beings, which has led to a greater disconnection between doctor and patient.

Likewise, lack of government funding across numerous countries has also led to a less personal experience, as money and time constraints raise their ugly heads and facilitate a more clinical approach. 

Conventional medicines perceived overreliance on medication and prescription drugs has also pushed people toward functional medicine.

This is also accompanied by the understanding we now have of big pharmaceutical companies, and the influence that they have. 

This has led countless people to question whether institutions are working for their patients, or are working to achieve targets and quotas for the ever powerful business interests – something that remains a potent, volatile issue for many people. 

Final Thoughts

It’s certainly true our understanding of health and wellbeing have changed in recent times, and while conventional medicine has yet to catch up with these modern understandings, we can at least rest assured in the fact that we have never had so many informational and lifestyle resources available to us. 

So if you are interested in taking charge of your health and wellbeing, then why not research functional medicine (see also: What’s The Difference Between Functional Medicine And Naturopathy?)further?

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we know about functional medicine, and how it differs from conventional medicine, it is now time for us to answer some frequently asked questions that you might be interested in.

Is Functional Medicine Official Protocol?

Unfortunately not. While lifestyle recommendations are commonly made by doctors following a diagnosis of a problem, it is still done passively – as opposed to proactively like functional medicine promotes.

Is Functional Medicine The Best Approach?

This is a good,  frank question, and the answer to this is yes – albeit in conjunction with other practices and lifestyle changes.

Prevention is certainly better than the cure, and by making the right choices, and learning to understand our bodies, we can certainly improve our way of life.

Clare McAfee
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