What is Functional/Integrative Nutrition (Medicine)?

Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, integrative medicine uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimal health.
— Bravewell Collaborative

This may seem confusing so let me explain the difference between Functional/Integrative Medicine and Conventional Medicine through my story.

When I was trying to get pregnant, I went to a Conventional Fertility Doctor who gave me some grave news: Unless I adopt, I wouldn't have children. He fed these words to me like a waiter serving lunch. It was fast, he shrugged his shoulders and just kind of looked through me. I began to tear up.  Appointment over.

I was already in my late 30's but I just couldn't accept this answer. So I went to a fertility doctor who was more holistic and blended other options to help her clients conceive.  She actually sat down and connected with me while we went over my tests so I understood what they meant. Then she gave me hope. She told me there was still a good chance I could conceive, but that I needed to make some changes. These changes were nutrition and stress management. 

So I talked to a Nutritionist that helped me change my diet to one that would support my goal. I also began a series of Acupuncture treatments to help me relax.  Both of these women were trained in Functional Medicine. They not only connected with me but also supported and empowered me. 

Within four months, I was pregnant (and had a very healthy boy).

Functional and Integrated Nutrition is a powerful approach to optimal health that is based on your unique and individual needs. It's not something you buy in a pill or program you found during a google search. Because it is specific to YOU.  I had very specific changes I needed to make in order to get pregnant that were unique to me.  At the same time, another woman with the same diagnosis may have totally different changes she has to make specific to her.

What is Functional Nutrition?

Functional and Integrated Nutrition/Medicine is a practice that takes a systems-based approach (whole body) where a trusting relationship is built between you and your practitioner (see figure). Unlike a purely conventional doctor zipping from patient to patient, giving them a few minutes of attention. You actually sit down and spend time talking to Functional Medicine Practitioner so they can really dig deeper to see the whole picture. 

But don't worry, it marries both conventional medicine and alternative medicine to reach the best outcome.  So a conventional Doctor can practice functional medicine.  Here are a list of practitioners who can become a Functional Medicine Practitioner according to FunctionalMedicine.org: Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy, Doctor of Chiropractic, Naturopathic Doctor, Dentist, Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant, Registered Nurse, Registered Dietician, Acupuncturist, Pharmacist or equivalent degrees from countries outside of the USA.  

Dr. Matthews, Professor at the University of Oxford and a NIHR Senior Researcher, describes it best by calling it "Wisdom-Based and Evidence-Based Medicine" (Matthews, 2012) which builds a knowledge-base from research, experts, clinicians and the patients themselves.  Meaning, it just doesn't look at one source for information. It combines several sources to make informed decisions rather than follow mechanical rules. 

Although "Nutritionist" is not listed on there, Nutritionist have their own certification through IFNA, a sister organization to Functional Medicine.  And some are taught these priciples through certain accredited Universities like Bastyr, University of Bridgeport and NUNM.  

A Functional Nutritionist takes into account your individual biochemical variability vs the generality of the population. So your nutrition plan is developed from evaluating: your diet and supplements, your lifestyle, your lab-work and your system imbalances (signs and symptoms).

Pretty genius isn't it?

If you're a visual/audio person, listen to Dr Mark Hyman (a true pioneer) speak about Functional Medicine in under 20 minutes.

Did you get something out of this post? Please share it with a friend. Let's make the world a nicer place through a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Click here to find your own Functional Medicine Practitioner or Nutritionist. Or contact me if you like to schedule a consult over Skype, phone or in-person. 

Janine Henkel