Functional medicine is an exciting evolution in medical practice. It uses a systems-based approach to identify and treat the root causes of disease rather than just treating the symptoms. Practitioners understand that one condition can have many causes, and one cause can be linked to many conditions. This means it’s an excellent approach when it comes to treating chronic illness and restoring health. If this sounds like something that may be applicable to you, keep reading, because we’re about to dive in much deeper.
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Let’s Start with the Similarities
Before we jump in, it’s important to note these two practices have many important similarities. Both are practiced by licensed doctors, use evidence-based techniques, order diagnostic tests such as bloodwork, and have the power to prescribe medication when needed. Conventional doctors and functional medicine doctors can also refer you to other specialists as required.
Both types of doctors will do their absolute best to help you find the answers you need; however, their philosophies and treatment methodologies differ widely. Here’s what you need to know.
Find out more about the conditions we treat.
Key Differences to Keep in Mind
Difference 1: Symptoms vs. Cause
The first difference you’ll notice between functional medicine and conventional medicine is the time doctors take during a consultation. Rather than rushing you in an out in 15 minutes (or less if the doctor is running late), functional medicine doctors take the time to get to know you. This includes discussing the cause of your concern, your health history, your family history, your lifestyle, and your health and wellness goals. Are you living with chronic pain? Are you struggling to sleep? Are you finding it impossible to lose stubborn weight? Are you constantly feeling weak?
Common conditions can have complex causes because there are many factors at play.
Here’s an example from The Institute for Functional Medicine:
- Condition: Depression. Causes can include pre-diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, low thyroid function, Omega-3 deficiency, antibiotic use, and much more.
- Cause: Inflammation. Conditions can include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and yes, even depression. Every part of the body is linked.
As this example shows, diagnosing chronic illnesses is a complicated process. There are many variables at play, including genetics, environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and more.
Traditional medicine, when treating depression, would usually focus on symptoms. As such, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants or refer you to a psychologist to try talk therapy to treat things like insomnia, lack of appetite, or low mood, instead of seeking out the root cause.
Functional medicine, when looking at the same condition, will take a holistic approach and consider a range of factors to find the cause – in this case, inflammation – and treat it instead.
Want to learn more? Watch one of our free educational webinars.
Difference 2: Medication vs. Lifestyle
The next difference we need to discuss in detail is treatment strategies. Generally speaking, traditional medicine relies heavily on chemistry, using medication to manage the symptoms of a large number of illnesses. Functional medicine, on the other hand, has a much stronger focus on biology. Treatments are tailored to the need of each individual and can include things such as lifestyle modifications, natural remedies such as supplements, and much more.
As we said at the start, functional medicine doctors are fully-licensed medical professionals. Here at Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, our medical director, Dr. Joseph Radawi, is a board-certified family physician with more than 10 years of experience in emergency medicine. However, he started looking for answers when he realized that although conventional medicine is excellent when it comes to treating acute conditions – we’ll explain that in a moment – it didn’t have answers to chronic conditions. That’s when he began advanced clinical training in functional medicine.
Functional medicine combines many different ideas to find the best solution for each person. This includes nutritional science, exercise science, genomics, and epigenetics. The aim of functional medicine is to restore health on a cellular level, using low-risk interventions, so that all of your body’s systems are functioning as they should. This is much more valuable than applying a band-aid solution, because the progress you make will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Want to see some proof? Read our success stories.
Difference 3: Acute vs. Chronic
Acute conditions include emergent situations like heart attacks, physical trauma, broken bones, and acute illnesses. This is where conventional medicine shines. If you’ve been in a car accident, for example, there’s no better place for you than a hospital emergency room. Or if you have a blockage in your heart, a surgeon may be able to remove it and get you back on your feet.
Chronic illness refers to long-term illnesses that affect your quality of life. At Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, we specialize in treating chronic conditions such as autoimmune diseases, chronic pain and inflammation, hormone imbalances, and thyroid and adrenal issues. These can present in a number of ways, with many different symptoms, but it’s amazing how often the root cause comes back to one of these items.
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive disorders such as IBD, IBS, GERD, and reflux
- Heart disease
- Mental health
- Multiple sclerosis,
- And much more.
If any of these apply to you, don’t give up hope. Our team is here to help. We uncover and treat the root cause of your chronic health concerns in order to prevent life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, stroke, or even cancer.
One of the strengths of functional medicine is that it’s not up to doctors alone. Once you’ve seen our functional medicine doctor and he has diagnosed your condition and created a treatment plan, you’ll work closely with a functional medicine health coach. Our team includes coaches who help people make sustained lifestyle changes to improve their well-being. This is a long-term strategy to ensure you enjoy optimal health for the long-term.
Close but not close enough? Here’s a full list of what we treat.
Difference 4: Single Visit vs. Program
This is the final difference we’re going to discuss in this piece, and that’s methodology. Traditional doctors usually see you for just long enough to treat your symptoms, whether that’s in a hospital or office setting. Appointments are usually short and sharp. Once your symptoms are under control, it’s very common not to see your doctor again until another complaint arises.
Our approach is very different, because our goal is designed to optimize long-term well-being. As such, once you become a member of our practice, we will enroll you in a program. Our programs are designed to give you the tools you need to take control of your health and start living the life you want. Think of it as the start of a life-changing journey that will see you restore function and get back to being the person you are underneath your health concerns. There are three phases:
- Initial phase: This includes a thorough physical exam and diagnostic labs. We also conduct a bioelectrical impedance analysis to determine your body composition, recommend supplements or nutraceuticals to start healing, and introduce you to your health coach.
- Diagnostic labs: The exact labs we order varies depending on the needs of each patient. However, this can include a detailed blood chemistry analysis, digestive stool analysis, expanded hormone panel, food allergy testing, heavy metal testing, and more.
- Other inclusions: Remember, we’re here to make long-lasting lifestyle changes. On top of follow-up appointments, we offer online classes, access to our teaching kitchen, full spectrum infrared sauna sessions, and a relaxation room containing biomats.
We also offer a VIP Membership to everyone who finishes our Optimal Health Program. This ensures you maintain access to all the services we offer and continue to prioritize your health.
Interested in learning more? Click to read about our programs.
How to Make an Appointment
If you’re interested in learning more, you can start by watching a free on-demand webinar. We currently have two available on our website, focusing on Inflammation/Chronic Pain/Stress Disorders, and Thyroid Disorders/Autoimmune Conditions. After that, we welcome you to arrange a free discovery call. This is when we’ll talk about your symptoms and health goals to see if we’re a good fit for each other. After that, you can schedule a consultation with Dr. Radawi.
Ready to take the first step? We can’t wait to meet you.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.