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Address the cause, not the symptom

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What is Functional Medicine (FxM)?

The best definition for what is functional medicine comes from a leading educational institution for certifying practitioners in the field:

Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. 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. In this way, Functional Medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.” (1)

(1) Institute for Functional Medicine, “What is Functional Medicine?”

FxM changes the way doctors deliver healthcare

The Institute for Functional Medicine goes on to explain:

  • Functional Medicine offers a powerful new operating system and clinical model for assessment, treatment, and prevention of chronic disease to replace the outdated and ineffective acute-care models carried forward from the 20th century.
  • Functional Medicine incorporates the latest in genetic science, systems biology, and understanding of how environmental and lifestyle factors influence the emergence and progression of disease.
  • Functional Medicine enables physicians and other health professionals to practice proactive, predictive, personalized medicine and empowers patients to take an active role in their own health.(1)
(1) Institute for Functional Medicine, “What is Functional Medicine?

What’s the difference between Functional Medicine (FxM) and Conventional Rx (CRx)?

The conventional approach to treating autoimmunity primarily relies upon pharmaceuticals alone (CRx), stepping up in increasing intensity of broad categories of drugs as earlier interventions are often either ineffective or fail over time. In contrast, the functional medicine (FxM) approach, while deploying pharmaceuticals if necessary, seeks first to find the root causes of disease in each individual. Key differences between these two approaches to healthcare include:

  • CRx focuses on minimizing the EFFECT, while FxM focuses on treating the CAUSE.
  • CRx uses pharmaceutical drugs to calm the symptoms of illness after it’s in motion; FxM uses therapies focused on healing causes of illness to prevent symptoms. In a word, CRx is about AFTER, and FxM is about BEFORE.
  • CRx is focused on a PART of the body’s system (i.e., the organ that’s ill), while FxM focuses on the system as an interconnected WHOLE (with a range of contributing factors).
  • CRx inquiry focuses on WHAT’s happening, while FxM focuses on WHY.
  • CRx applies clinical data from BROAD studies; FxM seeks deep inquiry into each INDIVIDUAL.

While these approaches to healthcare differ, they are not always mutually exclusive. An advantage that the causal- and systems-based approach of functional medicine has is that it can calm autoimmune response even when illness has already been “turned on,” helping to reduce reliance on pharmaceutical medications and improving overall quality of life. In contrast, some traditional conventionalists dispute that there are known causes for autoimmunity, despite the fact that this has been proven to be no longer consistent with progressive scientific inquiry.**

**For more information see Introduction to Functional Medicine: A Systems Approach to Reversing the Epidemic of Chronic Disease, a free eCourse by the Institute for Functional Medicine, and One Condition, Many Causes; One Cause, Many Conditions with Dr. Mark Hyman by The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Learn more about the difference between FxM and other disciplines, such as holistic, natural, and integrative medicine.

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How FxM and CRx intersect

There can be a rub where the two disciplines of FxM and CRx meet: chances are, you or your loved one is already in the disease process, which is how you’ve come to know the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. So the outcome of active disease is already on board, in order to have been detected by conventional methods. And so, with it, are the pharmaceuticals used to intervene and shut it down using a traditional approach. So, two points come to light here:

  1. Some form of pharmaceutical intervention can oftentimes be necessary for an active flare — especially for people with moderate to severe illness, and
  2. Pharmaceutical intervention can drive other outcomes and side effects that can then need to be recovered from themselves.

So again, if drugs are on board or have been, or you’ve already been through a few different medications or drug categories (a, b, and/or c) to try to get the disease under control, don’t beat yourself up about it: it’s what was necessary, and sometimes it still is — don’t forget that functional medicine itself is not pure naturopathy: it recognizes a time and a place for pharmaceutical intervention as well, when necessary. Functional medicine just looks to minimize pharmaceutical intervention and, again, focus on healing and prevention, versus relying upon it. We always recommend that you keep your conventional specialist as part of your overall healthcare team. Learn more in The Basics and Key Conversations.

So what does that mean for you?

Remember that this is a journey.

As you step up into the elements of functional medicine and find what works for you, you may be able to step back from a sole reliance on pharmaceutical interventions, and begin to heal the body, address the causes, and recover from past flares and treatments.


Like all things autoimmunity, there’s a continuum of progress or regression, not a fixed or static point. In treatment approaches, it’s about where you put your focus: is it on cause, or effect? Are you looking to intervene before the disease flares, working to prevent inflammation, or taking the traditional approach of trying to arrest inflammation once it’s in motion? That’s the primary difference between functional medicine and a traditional specialist’s approach, in our point of view.

We also believe that community plays an important role. When you feel alone in your journey, and unsupported — or worse: lost, and unclear about what to do next — everything is harder. Autoimmunity is hard enough on its own. Become a member today, where you can join the conversation with others who are on a similar journey as you, seeking answers. Here you can learn more about our approach through articles, resources, our social network, and more, and together we can give, and gain, strength.

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The Autoimmune Families Community and the whole you

We at Autoimmune Families are here for you. We’re here because we’re in this journey, too. We’ve learned some important lessons, and we want to spare you — and most importantly, spare you who have active disease — any pain we can, by helping to accelerate your inquiry into what’s causing your illness, and to support each other along the way.

This way, we can heal together, and gain a higher quality of life. And then each of our own struggles will not have been in vain.

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