What’s The Difference Between Functional & Integrative Medicine?

Picture of a doctor holding a stethoscope with an animated image of a heart beat in front of him.

Two of the most rapidly growing forms of medical attention include functional and integrative medicine, which aim to address your physical, emotional and mental needs. While functional medicine focuses on creating individualized therapies tailored to treat underlying causes of illness, integrative medicine seeks to understand the individual as a whole and applies many forms of therapy to improve wellness. While both functional and integrative medicine are similar in nature, they have unique differences that can help you on your journey towards healthier living. Learn the difference between these two forms of medicine with this guide!


The Functional Medicine Approach

When it comes to your health, you want to make sure that you’re approaching it at the right angle to ensure that all of your needs are met. As medical technology and knowledge gathering have improved over the years, different forms of medicine that cater to patients’ specific needs and wants have been developed. One of the more popular approaches to improving health involves functional medicine, which focuses on underlying causes of illness that are influenced by genetic predispositions and the environment in which one lives in. Functional medicine typically utilizes individualized therapies to identify what exactly is causing your problem and implements special testing to assess whether imbalances developed prior to the disease or were a result of treating chronic illness. The functional medicine approach centers around the idea that one condition can have many causes or conversely, that one cause can have many conditions. For example, you could be suffering from one condition, like depression, that is caused by Vitamin D deficiency, low thyroid and antibiotic use, or you could be experiencing depression, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes that all stem from inflammation. Many functional medicine providers use the GOTOIT framework to get to the root cause of a patient’s issues. “GOTOIT” stands for Gather, Organize, Order, Initiate and Track, and each of these steps is followed by the physician to develop rapport with their patients, determine unhealthy patterns, find the root cause of their problem and create personalized treatments and lifestyle modifications to treat their illness. This strategy is essential in finding imbalances prior to the onset of disease and restore maximum function between all physiologic functions in the body.


How Integrative Medicine DiffersFemale patient sitting with male doctor and looking at a computer.

On the same hand as functional medicine, integrative medicine functions in a similar, albeit different, way as it seeks to evaluate the patient as a whole and not just as a disease. Integrative medicine views the patient as a combination of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs that are interdependent on each other and affect the entire well-being of the person. Since there are so many different parts to address, integrative medicine physicians often use a combination of multiple therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, behavioral therapy, homeopathy and energy work to provide thorough treatment in all areas. Some of the principles of integrative medicine include:


  • The patient and practitioner are equal partners in the healing process
  • Natural and less invasive interventions are preferred
  • All factors that affect one’s health are considered, including mind, body, spirit and community
  • Treatment is tailored to the individual’s unique needs, condition and circumstances
  • All healing sciences are implemented to encourage the body’s natural, innate healing responses


A good way to describe integrative medicine is taking the traditional approach to health and combining it with less conventional therapies. Natural therapies are preferred over traditional methods, but traditional treatments are still implemented when natural options have been exhausted/aren’t working. Integrative medicine also encourages healthy behaviors and skills that will be necessary for the patient as they follow through with the self-care techniques needed to remain disease-free for the rest of their lives.


Choosing Which Approach Works Best For You

Now that we understand what how functional and integrative medicine differ, how do you determine which method is best for you? In all honesty, many physicians use a combination of the two when evaluating a patient, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both are needed for optimal care, treatment and recovery. Both forms seek to provide the patient with less conventional options for treatment that avoid surgery and medication overload, and each can benefit your life in a different way. Physicians who take an integrative approach typically can offer more services than functional medicine can, but functional medicine doctors focus primarily on one subject or form of treatment, like lifestyle coaching and functional testing, which can be more beneficial if you’re looking to make significant life and habit changes. Both options are great for most health-related problems, but most patient’s decision between the two typically falls on their relationship with their doctor and the services that that specific physician provides. If you’re looking for someone who focuses just on lifestyle coaching, functional medicine is for you. If you prefer to use as many services in your healing process as you can, then integrative medicine will be your best option. Do your research on integrative and functional medicine and who provides those services in your area before scheduling an appointment. Educating yourself on the benefits of both services will help you make a better-informed decision and will prepare you for the recommendations and requirements that that specific physician will expect of you.


Improve Your Health With Our Help!

At Balanced Well-Being Healthcare, our office provides both functional and integrative medicine methods to effectively diagnose and treat your illness. Whether you’ve been dealing with a physical, mental or emotional problem, we can provide you with multiple services that will not only address your needs but satisfy them. Call our office at (970) 631-8286 to schedule a consultation and get your health back!