Understanding Functional, Integrative and Naturopathic Medicine

At SyncH, we are very much interested in understanding the nuances within holistic and complementary medicine. Let’s dive deeper into the details of what our three initial fields of holistic treatments — Functional Medicine, Integrative Medicine, Naturopathy — has to offer.

Functional Medicine

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. It is a biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of diseases.

California Center for Functional Medicine (CCFM) is cofounded by Sunjya Schweig, MD, who is one of our 20+ practitioners. Dr. Schweig and the team uses cutting-edge diagnostic tools to find the problem, and nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, supplements, stress management, detoxification, lifestyle changes, and — only in some cases when necessary — prescription medications to eliminate triggers and restore proper function and balance.

Obtained by Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)

As one of the most reputable organization in this field, Institute for Functional Medicine, illustrates graphically, a diagnosis can be the result of more than one cause. For example, depression can be caused by many different factors, including inflammation. Likewise, a cause such as inflammation may lead to a number of different diagnoses, including depression. The precise manifestation of each cause depends on the individual’s genes, environment, and lifestyle, and only treatments that address the right cause will have lasting benefit beyond symptom suppression.

Integrative Medicine

There are many definitions of “integrative” health care, but all involve bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. According to National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health the use of integrative approaches to health and wellness has grown within care settings across the United States. Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of integrative health in a variety of situations, including pain management for military personnel and veterans, relief of symptoms in cancer patients and survivors, and programs to promote healthy behaviors.

Healthy behaviors, such as eating right, getting enough physical activity, and not smoking, can reduce people’s risks of developing serious diseases. Can integrative approaches promote these types of behaviors? Researchers are working to answer this question. Preliminary research suggests that yoga and meditation-based therapies may help smokers quit, and NCCIH-funded studies are testing whether adding mindfulness-based approaches to weight control programs will help people lose weight more successfully.

Most integrative medicine approaches fall into one of two subgroups — natural products or mind and body practices. According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health approaches by Americans, 17.7 percent of American adults had used a dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals in the past year. These products were the most popular integrative health approach in the survey. (See chart.) The most commonly used natural product was fish oil.

10 most common integrative health approaches by NHIS (2012)


American Association of Naturopathic Physicians describe naturopathic medicine as a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods. It includes the following diagnostic and therapeutic modalities: clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy), public health measures, hygiene, counseling, minor surgery, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medication, intravenous and injection therapy, and natural childbirth.

The following principles are the foundation of naturopathic medical practice:

  • The Healing Power of Nature: Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in people that is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.
  • Identify and Treat the Causes: The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.
  • First Do No Harm: Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:

→ Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat;

→ Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms; and

→ Acknowledge, respect, and work with individuals’ self-healing process.

  • Doctor as Teacher: Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.
  • Treat the Whole Person: Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.
  • Prevention: Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to disease, and by making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.

As you can see all three fields of treatment are similar in their holistic approach of taking care of the patients with little nuances that differentiate themselves from one another. Hope this article helps you identify the details of your needs and help you make a more educated choice on your holistic journey.