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Everything You Should Know About Functional Medicine

Everything You Should Know About Functional Medicine

Doctors explain what sets functional medicine apart from conventional medicine, plus who can benefit most from the functional approach.

Natural remedies and alternative medicine are nothing new, but they're definitely becoming more popular. A couple decades ago, people might have thought acupuncture, cupping, and aromatherapy were a little kooky, but increasingly, people are trying them—and seeing results. Now, there's a surge in interest in functional medicine, a way of thinking about health that's pretty different from what your current doctor may practice. (BTW, here are seven essential oils with serious health benefits.)

What is functional medicine?
Functional medicine is exactly what it sounds like: It focuses on how your body functions and is practiced by all kinds of doctors, from M.D.s and D.O.s to chiropractors and naturopaths. "It views us all as being different; genetically and biochemically unique," says Polina Karmazin, M.D., an integrative physician in Vorhees, NJ, who specializes in acupuncture and holistic pain management.

There's no one-size-fits-all treatment in functional medicine, so instead of immediately going for the most common treatments for a particular set of symptoms, practitioners will always take an in-depth look at the bigger picture of your health before recommending a treatment. "Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease," says Dr. Karmazin.

How does functional medicine treat disease?
Functional medicine doctors use a wide variety of testing to decide which kinds of treatments they might use, from traditional blood, urine, and stool tests to saliva DNA tests. When you visit one, they'll spend time with you deciding which tests are appropriate (if any), and they'll ask you plenty of detailed questions about your health and medical history.

Once your doctor decides on a treatment protocol, it's not very likely that it will involve filling a prescription—even if you see a doctor who can prescribe medicine, like an M.D. or a D.O. who specializes in functional medicine. "Nutrient therapy, hormone replacement, IV vitamins, and personalized lifestyle modifications are areas that may be targeted to improve patient outcomes," notes Taz Bhatia, M.D., or "Dr. Taz", author of Super Woman Rx, a functional medicine physician based in Atlanta.