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What is Functional Medicine?


The Functional Medicine Approach

Functional medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual. (1)

The functional medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes. (1)

By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, functional medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual. (1)

The Functional Medicine Model

Courtesy of the Institute for Functional Medicine: https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/what-is-functional-medicine/

The History of Functional Medicine

The Institute for Functional Medicine grew out of the energy and dedication of Susan and Dr. Jeffrey Bland. They had the vision of bringing to clinical medicine the emerging evidence and insights that would enable it to move from the drug-based model of fighting infectious diseases that worked so well in the 20th century to a systems-oriented, patient-focused clinical model designed to reverse the growing chronic disease epidemic. The Blands recognized that today’s most prevalent health issues are mostly caused by the interactions between genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental exposures and that treating them requires understanding these interactions and subsequently using that understanding to design appropriate treatments that are personalized to each individual. (2)


Over the past 25 years, the prescience of this vision has become increasingly apparent. The emerging science about the origins of disease has validated the broad principles of functional medicine by convincingly demonstrating the critical influence of epigenetic factors—including diet and nutrition, environmental toxins, and lifestyle choices—on the development of chronic diseases. IFM honours these reputed scientists and clinicians by presenting the annual Linus Pauling Award in Functional Medicine. (2)

While many of today’s tools were not yet available in 1991, IFM was already focused on using this emerging knowledge to adapt therapies to the patient (rather than the reverse) by training clinicians to examine the genetic and epigenetic factors for each patient and to develop an individualized therapeutic approach that addresses these underlying factors. (2)

The result is an ever-evolving, cutting-edge, systems-biology approach to health that treats each patient as a whole person. No longer is the patient seen purely through the lens of a dysfunctional organ system, a disease, or a syndrome, but instead as a person who can be helped on the path to optimal wellness. By evaluating a matrix of fundamental causes in the diagnostic and therapeutic process, we can more accurately understand the roots of pathophysiology, leading to earlier and more effective interventions that not only extend lives but also give patients back years of good living. (2)

IFM is more determined than ever to help clinicians and patients alike develop the nutritional, environmental, social, and lifestyle strategies that, over time, will move us away from reacting to the chronic disease epidemic and toward a preventive, patient-empowered healthcare system focused on optimum wellness, not just freedom from symptoms. As long as the world pours most of its resources into post-diagnosis, pharmaceutical-based care, we shall not fully succeed in this great task. IFM seeks your help in our mission of ensuring the widespread adoption of functional medicine. (2)

The Founders of Functional Medicine

In 1990, Dr. Jeffrey Bland created the concept of functional medicine as a discipline that married progress in basic medical sciences with expertise in clinical medicine to address the growing problems associated with chronic disease. In 1991, Jeffrey and Susan Bland founded and funded The Institute for functional medicine with the mission to both educate and provide clinical support for the implementation of functional medicine across disciplines within the healthcare sector. Functional medicine was conceived by its founders as a systems-biology approach to the prevention and management of chronic disease utilizing appropriate tools, including nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, environment, structural, cognitive, emotional, and pharmaceutical therapies to meet the individual needs of the patient. (3)

In 2011, Jeffrey Bland received the Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions. (3)

Serving as president of The Institute for Functional Medicine from 1999 to 2013, David Scott Jones, MD, guided IFM in the clinical development of functional medicine. Under Dr. Jones’ leadership and guidance, IFM became a freestanding, independent, non-profit, ACCME-accredited educational institute—a change that allowed IFM to focus entirely on its educational mission, free of any commercial connections. (3)

During this era, the Functional Medicine Matrix Model was born, including the core concepts of antecedents, triggers, and mediators; the integration of lifestyle into evaluation and treatment; and the central concept of an interconnected web, binding all elements of body (physiology and biochemistry), mind, and spirit. (3)

As president, Dr. Jones facilitated the development of Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) and the Functional Medicine Matrix Model. (3)

The functional medicine model evolved from the insights and perspectives of a small group of influential thought leaders who realized the importance of an individualized approach to disease causes based on the evolving research in nutritional science, genomics, and epigenetics. These thought leaders found ways to apply these new advances in the clinic to address root causes using low-risk interventions that modify molecular and cellular systems to reverse these drivers of disease. (3)

Practitioners who have completed the AFMCP training in London or the USA may display the logo and date of training on their website.

How could functional medicine help you?

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