Functional Medicine vs Conventional Medicine: The Key Differences
Functional medicine is becoming increasingly mainstream as an effective approach to deliver personalized care to individuals. Its focus is on the process by which a particular condition develops rather than on the disease itself.
But how does this approach differ from traditional medicine?
- Conventional medicine tends to look at the endpoint where someone is diagnosed with an illness and, for example, a set treatment such as surgery is performed.
- Functional medicine takes an integrative and more investigative approach, looking at not just the biology of the individual but social and lifestyle factors which, when combined, can help return someone to optimal health.
What are the Differences Between Functional Medicine and Conventional Medicine?
While there are overlapping elements when considering functional medicine vs traditional medicine, the two come to a diagnosis and therapeutic intervention from different angles.
Conventional medicine approaches illness with specific diagnosed conditions based on past understanding and therapies. Drugs, surgery and other treatments are then used dependent on the diagnosis.
Traditional approaches to medicine will normally look at a fairly narrow range of factors including previous conditions, the symptoms an individual has and what is likely to make these symptoms better or worse.
Depending on the disease, it might also look at family history and treatment is governed by the types of medicines and therapies available.
One of the main principles of functional medicine is to assess the individual through a much wider range of parameters. It will look at diet and digestive health, for example. It will investigate environmental factors the individual is exposed to, their level of exercise, even what is happening in their personal life.
Functional medicine concentrates on finding the root cause of illness and offers a broader approach to wellness, particularly where chronic conditions are concerned.
What it delivers over and above traditional medicine is a highly personalized approach that helps solve the problem rather than simply dealing with the symptoms.
Finding the Source of the Problem
A problem such as depression, when treated by a traditional medicine approach can appear simple on the surface. Drugs can be used to lift the mood and alleviate symptoms.
A functional medicine approach, however, understands that a symptom can have many causes and understanding this is essential for effective therapy.
For example, depression can be caused by physical problems such as inflammation or chronic illness. It can also be caused by something in the personal history of the individual.
Uncovering the true cause of a symptom or illness allows the functional medicine practitioner to tailor their therapeutic response to a much higher degree.
With conventional medicine, the doctor looks at the symptoms and comes up with a diagnosis based on a set of rules.
With functional medicine, there is a much deeper collaboration between the patient and the doctor, working to ease symptoms and trying to prevent issues from occurring in the future.
Treating the Individual vs Treating the Symptoms
Symptoms can be misleading which is why understanding the history of the individual and deeper aspects such as their lifestyle is so important.
Functional medicine is particularly good at dealing with chronic conditions where there may be a range of underlying issues that need to be tackled to ensure better health and wellbeing. This can’t be done if the doctor is simply listing symptoms and applying solutions.
Time Spent with the Doctor
One of the big differences when considering functional medicine vs conventional medicine is the amount of time a doctor spends with their patient.
In functional medicine, a lot more investigation and collaboration is needed to develop the personalized healthcare approach that works for the individual.
Comprehensive Diagnostic Testing
Functional medicine takes a holistic approach and involves a more complete level of investigation. For example, testing might involve looking at 40 or more biomarkers such as blood count and insulin levels, it would involve scrutiny of lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet.
The Future of Healthcare
Functional medicine is increasingly seen as a mainstream approach to healthcare, one which is patient-orientated rather than disease-orientated.
This allows healthcare practitioners to build a fuller understanding of a particular patient’s condition and offer a tailored therapeutic approach. It relies on not only being aware of the individual’s physiological makeup but also their emotional and cognitive health as well as their physical functioning.
Genetics and environment have a significant impact on individual health and functional medicine is leading the way in creating solutions that have a real impact on long term health and wellness.