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What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine is a personalized form of medicine dealing with primary prevention and underlying causes rather than symptoms of serious, chronic disease. It is a science-based field of health care that is grounded in the following principles:

  • Biochemical individuality relates to the individual variations in metabolic function derived from genetic and environmental differences between individuals.

  • Patient-centered medicine emphasizes "patient care" rather than "disease care," following Sir William Osler’s admonition that "It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has."

  • Dynamic balance between internal and external factors.

  • Web-like interconnections of physiological factors – an abundance of research now supports the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other. For example, we now know that immunological dysfunctions can promote cardiovascular disease; that dietary imbalances can cause hormonal disturbances; and that environmental exposures can precipitate neurological syndromes such as Parkinson’s disease.

  • Health is a positive vitality, not merely the absence of disease.

  • Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance health span.


Functional medicine is anchored in the examination of core clinical imbalances underlying various disease conditions. These imbalances arise as inputs from the environment such as diet; nutrients (including air and water), exercise, and trauma which are processed by the body, mind, and spirit through a unique set of genetic predispositions, attitudes, and beliefs. The fundamental physiological processes include communication, both outside and inside the cell; bioenergetics, or the transformation of food into energy; replication, repair, and maintenance of structural integrity, from the cellular to the whole body level; elimination of waste; protection and defense; and transport and circulation. The core clinical imbalances that arise from malfunctions within this complex system include:

  • Hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances

  • Oxidation-reduction imbalances and pathology of the mitochondia (energy centers of the cells)

  • Detoxification and biotransformational imbalances

  • Immune imbalances

  • Inflammatory imbalances

  • Digestive, absorptive, and microbiological imbalances

  • Structural imbalances from cellular membrane function to the musculoskeletal system


Imbalances such as these are the precursors to the signs and symptoms by which we detect and label (diagnose) organ system disease. Improving balance – in the patient’s environmental inputs and in the body’s fundamental physiological processes – is the precursor to restoring health. This involves much more than just treating the symptoms. Functional medicine is dedicated to improving the management of complex, chronic disease by intervening at multiple levels to address these core clinical imbalances and to restore functionality and health. Functional medicine is not a unique and separate body of knowledge but is grounded in scientific principles and information widely available in medicine today. It combines research from various disciplines with highly detailed yet clinically relevant disease models and effective clinical management.


Functional medicine emphasizes integrating different treatments for different levels of conditions in the body, rather than a single treatment for a single diagnosis. Functional medicine uses the patient’s story as a key tool for integrating diagnosis, signs and symptoms, and evidence of clinical imbalances into a comprehensive approach to improve both the patient’s environmental inputs and his or her physiological function. It is a clinician’s discipline, and it directly addresses the need to transform the practice of primary care.

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