What’s The Difference Between Functional Medicine And Naturopathy?

Short Answer: While functional medicine and naturopathic medicine are considered lifestyle medicine, they differ in that naturopathy centres around cures for bodily conditions, functional medicine takes the entire body into consideration and how it can be influenced.

What's The Difference Between Functional Medicine And Naturopathy (1)

When making the decision to turn to alternatives to Western medicine, it’s just good sense to look into what’s out there before committing to any treatment or practitioner. 

Which is why I decided to put this article together for you, so you can do a deep dive into both functional medicine and naturopathy, with a view to showing you how they can be similar and how they can be different.

By the end of this article, you will have a good understanding of both, and may even be in a position to decide which you’d prefer to use.

And without further ado, let’s get straight to it!

What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is basically a system of using naturally occurring remedies to assist in the body’s healing, so that it’s better able to heal itself.

In practice, this can take the form of several different therapeutic practices. For instance, this may include the use of herbs, homeopathy, exercise, nutrition plans, massage, and even acupuncture.

The idea behind it is to heal the root cause of the illness, rather than merely the symptoms that the cause incurs.

Naturopathy is frequently used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including both long term and short term conditions. It has been used to treat everything from arthritis and asthma through to heart failure and HIV.

A naturopath will work with you, over a couple of hours, to develop a personal health plan, which may include anything from an exercise regime, a diet plan, stress management, and complementary medicine.

The examination typically entails lots of questions about your health history, lifestyle habits, and stress levels, and they may also order lab tests in order to get a better picture of your overall health.

If you feel that naturopathy may be suitable for you, please bear in mind that naturopaths can have different backgrounds and training in health matters, so when choosing a practitioner, I recommend finding out about your state’s licensing requirements, so you can be better assured of their expertise.


What Is Functional Medicine?

In many ways, functional medicine is an extension of traditional Western medicine, since in order to qualify as a functional medicine doctor, a practitioner must first complete conventional (traditional) medical training.

So you can be assured that they are fully qualified doctors, who have simply chosen to specialize in functional medicine on completion of their main studies.

Like naturopathic medicine, functional medicine is also concerned with getting the root of the problem. It is a holistic form of medicine incorporating physical, emotional, mental, and occasionally also spiritual health as well. 

Healing under functional medicine is considered a collaborative relationship between the patient and the doctor, where your input is given due consideration.

A functional medicine practitioner will ask for a timeline of your symptoms, your diet, exercise habits, sleep pattern, stressors, and even your personal relationships. This way they can get a full picture of your health and predicament.

In making their assessment of your overall health, they will consider everything from not only lifestyle components, but also genetics, hormonal changes, and any prescription or other-the-counter medications you are taking.

You will receive a treatment plan, and your treatments may include prescribed meds, supplements, or other therapies besides.

This treatment plan is subject to change, but this is a good thing, because it comes about from the practitioner reviewing your health periodically in order to assess the treatment, and make any changes that may be required for optimum health.

If you wish to see a functional medicine practitioner, please bear in mind that it is only functional medicine doctors that are qualified in traditional Western medicine, whereas other health professionals, such as nurses, dentists, and acupuncturists can train for functional medication certification.

Similarities Between Naturopathic Medicine And Functional Medicine

If you’ve been paying close attention, you will have already picked up on some of the differences between functional and naturopathic medicine.

But in case you missed it, both functional and naturopathic medicine involve an assessment of the person as a whole, or in other words, holistically.

Patients are assessed not just in terms of the main physical symptoms of their condition, but also on their general health as determined by factors such as sleep, diet, exercise and stressors.

What’s more, both functional and naturopathic medicine are concerned with getting to the root cause of the problem (see also: Can Constipation Cause Urinary Problems?)and working from there.

Thus, they are very much based on the same guiding principles.

Key Differences Between Naturopathic Medicine And Functional Medicine

What's The Difference Between Functional Medicine And Naturopathy?

So as you can see, these forms of medicine have a lot in common, which can lead one to ask what exactly is the difference between the two options…

Well the key difference is in the practitioner’s background, education and training…

This was mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating here, a functional medicine doctor is a qualified medical doctor who has undergone traditional medical training, whereas a naturopath does not have to have the same training.

That doesn’t mean to say that a naturopath is not suitably qualified for their work. In order to become a licensed naturopath, you must first graduate from a four-year program at a federally accredited naturopathic medical school.

But it’s also important to note at this point that health professional certification can sometimes differ from state to state.

Which Is Better, Naturopathic Medicine Or Functional Medicine?

The fact that functional and naturopathic medicine has slightly different educational and training requirements means that functional medicine doctors are not limited to alternative and complementary therapies, (see also: Is Mindfulness Considered A Complementary Therapy?)but they can also give you an official diagnosis of your condition, and prescribe pharmaceutical drugs if deemed necessary.

In my view, this makes an excellent argument that functional medicine is considerably more beneficial for patients than naturopathic medicine, because the patient can access the full gamut of treatment options available to them.

In my view, it’s always best to look at the patient as a whole rather than looking at one or two symptoms alone, and similarly getting down to the root of any problem is always the most effective way to solve it.

But while these principles lay an excellent foundation for a great treatment plan, you have to agree that functional medicine has a distinct edge over naturopathic medicine due to the sheer range of treatment options available, and the greater insight the practitioner has into medical conditions that can only be gained through traditional, intensive, Western medical training.

Wrap Up

To conclude, while naturopathic medicine operates through the same outstanding guiding principles of treating the person as a whole, functional medicine is notably better because it can incorporate both complementary and traditional treatment (prescription drugs), rather than only complementary treatments alone.

What’s more, a functional medical doctor is a qualified medical doctor, which means that they have a more comprehensive medical background knowledge than a naturopath may have.

Therefore, if you don’t know whether to see a naturopath or a functional (see also: What Is Functional Nutrition? – What You Need To Know)medicine doctor, then the latter is undoubtedly the best option.

Clare McAfee
Latest posts by Clare McAfee (see all)
Scroll to Top