What Is Meant by Functional Medicine?

September 1, 2020

Over 86% of all healthcare costs in the United States go towards treating and managing chronic conditions. In 2015 alone, we spent around $3.2 trillion on healthcare, accounting for 17.8% of our GDP. This is more than we spent on education, national defense, homeland security, and welfare combined. While we spend twice the median per-capita costs of other developed countries, we have little to show for it. Healthcare providers, such as Medwin Family Medicine in Brownsville and Sugar Land, TX, are turning towards functional medicine to change this.

What Is Functional Medicine?

Our current healthcare system’s returns do not match the investment because the model fails to address the causes of and the solutions for chronic conditions. Functional medicine (FM) is an innovative and comprehensive approach to healthcare seeking to prevent and treat chronic diseases effectively. It aims to introduce a new way of approaching healthcare by:

  • Introducing more appropriate and successful clinical models
  • Impacting new skills among health professional to help them prevent, diagnose and treat chronic conditions
  • Shifting the focus to lifestyle medicine and preventive strategies 

While the current healthcare model has fantastic tools for managing acute signs and symptoms, it is economically unstainable. Additionally, since some chronic conditions are accompanied by symptoms present in other conditions, misdiagnosis is a common feature of the current model. Health reports show that inaccurate prescriptions are the fourth leading cause of hospital deaths. FM seeks to create a healthcare model that focuses on addressing the underlying causes of signs and symptoms instead of just suppressing and managing them.


To address the underlying causes of chronic conditions, FM uses a systems-oriented approach that combines original tools, innovative concepts, a transformative care process, and a strong patient-practitioner therapeutic relationship. This model identifies several major contributors to chronic conditions, including:

  • Environmental toxicity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Fragmented social networks
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Chronic infections
  • Chronic stress
  • Aging population
  • Poverty

Core Foundations of Functional Medicine

Gene-Environment Interaction

FM seeks to understand the metabolic processes of each patient at the cellular level. Gathering information about how each individual’s genes and environment combine to form to their unique biochemical phenotype helps us design personalized treatment plans that address the patient’s health concerns. This can help treat destructive processes, such as oxidation and inflammation, which are major causes of many diseases.

Upstream Signal Modulation

While current medical strategies focus on blocking the effects of upstream signaling molecules’ damaging end products, FM works toward influencing biochemical pathways and preventing the excess production of such end products. For example, it is common for doctors to prescribe Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation. On the other hand, in FM, doctors give treatments that prevent an increase in pain or inflammation mediators.

Multimodal Treatment Plans

In FM, healthcare providers use various interventions to help their patients achieve optimal health results. These strategies revolve around diet, nutrition, exercise, rest, sleep, stress management, reparative, and restorative therapies, phytonutrient, and pharmaceutical and nutritional supplements. A doctor reviews your medical history and assesses your physical and emotional condition before designing a treatment plan that addresses triggers, antecedents, or mediators of disease to keep you healthy.

Understanding the Patient

Using a structured process to uncover important events that shaped your life and attitude, we can paint a clear picture of who you are and how those events influence your health and overall wellbeing. The timeline and matrix models play a crucial role in understanding each patient by providing critical clinical data and reconciling clinical insights. These strategies allow the patient to be heard, strengthen the therapeutic relationship, offer more treatment options, and improve the partnership between patients and practitioners.

Systems Biology-Based Approach

Instead of the organ systems-based approach used in conventional medicine, FM uses a systems biology-based approach. This approach enables healthcare providers to understand how crucial imbalances in certain biological systems can appear as symptoms in other parts of the body. This information helps doctors address physiological processes that affect multiple organs. Such processes include:

  • Cellular defense and repair
  • Cellular communication and transport systems
  • Assimilation of nutrients
  • Biotransformation
  • Energy production
  • Structural integrity

Using the FM matrix model, the doctor understands how these processes influence the patient’s health and wellbeing. Additionally, understanding these processes helps healthcare providers design a personalized multimodal treatment plan.

Patient-Centered and Directed

Functional medicine does not use a top-down approach where the doctor instructs the patient what to do and what not to do. Instead, doctors engage the patients in developing the most appropriate intervention strategy to balance, correct, and optimize the crucial underlying issues encompassing your emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

To ease the patient into the treatment process, the doctor asks the patient to give a detailed and personalized history. This helps both the doctor and the patient explore the latter’s story and identify potential causes of their health problems.

A patient-centered and directed model also helps both parties choose the most acceptable diagnostic process, set SMART health goals, and design the best therapeutic approach.

Try Us

Are you tired of countless hospital visits that burn a hole in your pocket without offering long-term health solutions? Since we are all different in many ways, what works for others may not work for you. Maybe all you need to achieve optimal health is a personalized care plan that addresses your unique health needs. To enjoy the benefits of functional medicine, contact Medwin Family Medicine in Brownsville and Sugar Land, TX!

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