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What’s the Difference Between Integrative and Functional Medicine?

stethoscope in hand

Most integrative doctors use the same types of tests as functional medicine doctors. In fact, a functional medicine doctor is really just utilizing a lot of testing and then treating what they find in the test results. Functional medicine is a style of medicine that looks at the underlying causes of disease by performing detailed and personalized testing. There are some differences though. One difference is that other providers such as chiropractors and acupuncturists may advertise themselves as functional medicine providers. In these cases, there can be a little less medical knowledge involved. Treatment would also focus mainly on supplements and herbs. In an integrative practice such as NatureMed, treatment can include clinical nutrition supplements and even prescriptions in some cases. The focus is on accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis Can Be Dependent on Experience

A functional medicine doctor is going to use their wealth of knowledge to make a Western clinical diagnosis if possible. Naturopathic doctors will do the same thing because we are very well trained in Western medicine. Of course, a lot depends on the amount of training and years of practice. It would be possible for a chiropractor who has been practicing for 20 years in functional medicine to make a much better determination in reading the lab tests and treating the patient than an MD who is just starting out.

Integrating Specialties for a Well-rounded Practice

By definition, naturopathic doctors practice both integrative and functional medicine. As a naturopathic doctor myself, I was trained to work with other medical professionals in the community and most of the courses for the first two years were taught by medical doctors. Integrating with the conventional system is considered completely normal. Additionally, integrative medicine as a term implies that there are a variety of practitioners in the office. The idea is that the naturopathic and medical doctor coordinate or at least refer to each other. Integrating with acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists counts as an integrative practice as well. If the practice is calling itself integrative there should be other practitioners present with different specialties.

Functional Medical Testing

It’s important to understand functional medicine testing. The companies that perform the classic testing are not the typical ones through which your doctor orders labs. The main labs in this country, for the majority of conventional medical testing, are Quest, LabCorp, and in-hospital labs. Functional medicine companies include but are not limited to: Genova Diagnostics, Doctor’s Data, Dunwoody Labs, SpectraCell Laboratories, Precision Analytical (DUTCH test), and ZRT. Three companies that were pioneers in the field of functional medicine years ago are Genova, Metametrix, and Doctor’s Data.

Examples of tests performed by a functional medicine practitioner:

  • Stool testing
  • Genetic testing
  • Nutritional testing
  • Toxic metal tests
  • Testing for mold and pesticides
  • Tests for amino acids and metabolic byproducts
  • Detailed cardiovascular risk testing
  • More detailed hormone panels then you receive through a typical lab. These types of tests are not typically covered by insurance.

Focus on the Individual Practitioner

In summary, the most important factor in the equation of integrative and functional medicine is the practitioner. There’s nothing particularly unique about functional medicine. Any good doctor can do personalized medicine and run detailed tests. You are going to get a functional medicine approach whenever you see a naturopathic doctor or holistic type medical doctor. However, please ask the practitioner you see how they received their training, and how many years they have been practicing this type of medicine. Just because someone has a good website doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.

The Institute for Functional Medicine is a great educational opportunity for understanding the complexities of detailed personalized testing. The American College for the Advancement of Medicine and The American Academy for Antiaging Medicine also have good educational programs.