If you’re confused, you’re not alone! These concepts are all relatively new and overlap a lot, so sometimes the lines blur, but here are the differences:
Let’s start with integrative medicine because it’s more of an umbrella term. In short, it’s a complementary treatment that works alongside conventional treatment. An older name for integrative medicine is Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM for short. Integrative medicine is based on high-quality evidence of its safety and effectiveness. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the world’s preeminent medical research organizations, in 1992 formed what’s now known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). This was in response to the increased interest in complementary and alternative treatments, and therefore the need for scientific evidence supporting these therapies. Integrative medicine therapies consider the whole person, not only medical symptoms but also all aspects of the person’s lifestyle. Integrative therapies might include acupuncture, Reiki, massage, counseling, diet change, or exercise, to name a few.
Functional Medicine is a form of integrative medicine that provides a method of evaluating the root cause of dysfunction as well as a system for creating health. It takes into account contributors to health that go all the way back to the stage that was set by your parents while you were in the womb, also your family history, and your genetics. Major stressful life events like car accidents, divorce, loss of a loved one, or a stressful job can impact health and are also evaluated. Sleep, the foods you eat and how well you tolerate those foods, toxins you’re exposed to, stress management, and your level of activity all play a role. Lab work that is considered in a Functional Medicine assessment includes traditional basic labs as well as cutting-edge labs that consider your genes, toxic exposures, immune responses, and more. Scientific evidence of its efficacy focuses on health outcomes because Functional Medicine therapies are highly individualized, so traditional trials of one treatment versus a control are not practical. For example, one landmark study at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine demonstrated significant improvements in health-related quality of life measures among Functional Medicine patients as compared with matched patients in a primary care setting at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center.
Lifestyle medicine focuses on using lifestyle interventions to lower the risk for chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure. This includes lifestyle interventions such as nutrition counseling, physical activity, stress reduction, and rest. Do you see a pattern yet? The truth is there is a lot of overlap and the factors that distinguish these different areas of medicine are hardly distinguishable. The common thread among them all is accounting for a patient’s whole being in consideration of their health—mind, body, and spirit.
References Beidelschies M, Alejandro-Rodriguez M, Ji X, Lapin B, Hanaway P, Rothberg MB. Association of the Functional Medicine Model of Care With Patient-Reported Health-Related Quality-of-Life Outcomes. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(10):e1914017. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14017.  Information and educational seminars and conferences on functional medicine. (2019). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.ifm.org/  “NCCIH.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nccih.nih.gov/.
About the Author
Miiko Rowley, MD, is a functional medicine doctor and board-certified family medicine physician in Houston, Texas. She has a passion for helping patients of all ages find integrative, holistic care that heals the body from the inside out.