January 20

Pros and Cons of Functional Medicine

In our last article, The Benefits and Risks of Integrative Medicine, we talked about just a few of the benefits of integrative medicine while highlighting some of the concerns people have.  Because so many approaches to medicine are making their way into the mainstream, many people are curious about these alternative medical modalities and if they may be right for them. 

In our efforts here at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center to continue sharing valuable information, we’d like to dive deeper into functional medicine- specifically, the pros and cons of functional treatment.  By the end of this article, you will hopefully have a better understanding of what functional medicine is, who it is for, and the pros and cons of functional medicine. 

Protein powder, scoop, energetic musli bars, vitamin pills, gainer, shaker on pink background - concept of sport diet, healthcare, nutrition fit fitness food, copyspace
Protein powder, scoop, energetic musli bars, vitamin pills, gainer, shaker on pink background – concept of sport diet, healthcare, nutrition fit fitness food, copyspace

What is functional medicine?

Before we jump into the pros and cons, let’s start with a review of functional medicine.  If you recall from ourIs Functional Medicine the Way of the Future article, functional medicine takes a holistic approach to treatment and health. It considers the patient as a whole and, therefore, deals with physical issues and those of the mind and spirit, which means that functional medicine providers think about how emotions can create physical symptoms and vice versa. 

Furthermore, functional medicine also considers how the environment and genetics can affect health. Finally, functional medicine identifies root causes of illness and addresses them rather than simply treating disease symptoms and, ultimately, masking them, making functional medicine more of an upstream approach to health. 

Interventions, such as dietary changes for a poor diet, stress reduction, and exercise are at the heart of functional medicine.  However, functional medicine is not limited to just lifestyle-based treatments.  It incorporates treatments, such as acupuncture, infrared sauna therapy, and lymphatic enhancement technology (LET), to name a few, to ensure patients receive care that addresses all aspects of health care. 

Who can benefit from functional medicine?

The simple answer to this question is- anyone!  Functional medicine providers can help anyone that is interested in a holistic approach to medicine, and needs help; however, functional medicine may be of real benefit to those who have specific health issues. 

Some of these health issues include:

  • Autoimmune disorders (i.e., fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Cancers
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Extreme tiredness can benefit from a functional medicine approach to fatigue
  • Leaky gut

Because the above conditions often involve, functional medicine can identify the root cause to help improve symptoms and sometimes eliminate the disease or disorder.  And as we discussed in our What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome article, functional medicine can also help treat conditions that may include more vague symptoms, such as chronic fatigue functional medicine.

Four cereal granola bars
Healthy snack. Fitness. Dietary food. Four cereal granola bars with nuts and fruit berries, with ingredients on a white stone table. Top view copy space

What are the pros and cons of functional medicine?

Like every aspect of treatment, functional medicine has pros and cons.  So, as we review the list, it is essential to consider how these pros and cons weigh into your decision-making process.  Since everyone has different perspectives when seeking medical treatment, it is up to you to decide how vital these pros and cons are to your decision of whether or not to seek out functional medicine. 

The pros of functional medicine

Let’s start with the pros, or benefits, of functional medicine.

Functional medicine can save you money

While some insurances will cover functional medicine providers and treatments, most providers opt not to work with insurance companies as this often limits the time they can spend with patients, and the services they can provide.  However, contrary to popular belief, working with a functional medicine doctor can actually save money. 

Like Dr. Rao-Mahadevia, many available doctors offer their services through yearly subscription plans (in addition to a-la-carte options), which means you pay ahead for the whole year, and you will know how much you’re spending on your healthcare ahead of time. As a result, you can say goodbye to insurance premiums, expensive deductibles, and surprise co-pays. 

Functional medicine offers more comprehensive care that is less risky

Because functional medicine, in its approach, focuses on getting to the heart of  health concerns, providers take to explore their patient’s health needs, which means that initial visits with a functional medicine provider can take up to an hour and a half or two hours. 

Of course, subsequent visits will be shorter, but because insurance often is not a factor, providers can invest the necessary time to help you.  Moreover, functional medicine doctors usually prefer less invasive and gentler remedies for diseases, such as diet and lifestyle changes, making them less of a risk factor. 

Functional medicine is based on prevention rather than reaction

Where traditional Western medical doctors would see a set of symptoms that suggest a specific disease, then follow a set of interventions known to “address” that particular disease, a functional medicine doctor takes a step back to see why these symptoms are presenting and how the underlying cause can be addressed to ameliorate them.  Functional medicine’s approach is like fixing the leak in the dam rather than trying to save the people that have fallen into the river downstream, which quickly becomes overwhelming and is less effective.

Patient-doctor relationships are key in functional medicine

The last pro of functional medicine is the relationship between the patient and the doctor, which is born out of the collaboration required to discover the root causes of illness and address them.  Patients are encouraged to make lifestyle changes to impact their health, which is empowering and beneficial for our health in itself. Unfortunately, the traditional medical model usually leaves patients feeling powerless and at a loss on how to help themselves. 

A functional medicine doctor in his suit standing behind a healthcare testing graphic
modified fatigue impact scale

The cons of functional medicine

Just as with any form of medicine, there are also cons of functional medicine.  So, let’s take a look at what some of those are.

Functional medicine is not covered by insurance  (most of the time)

Under current insurance guides, many functional medicine practitioners are not recognized, and all too often, if recognized by insurance carriers, they are not able to bill for the amount of time spent with patients. 

For this reason, many functional medicine providers avoid insurance altogether and opt for a self-pay system.  This point can be a pro and a con.  In one aspect, if you opt for an annual subscription, you’ll know what you will pay for healthcare costs and not surprised by unexpected co-pays and deductibles from unforeseeable visits.  But, the downside is that not everyone has the money to pay out of pocket.

Functional medicine requires patient time and commitment.

As mentioned, functional medical appointments are longer than most traditional medical visits.  If you don’t want to spend that much time in your doctor’s office, the extra time you get with your doctor in the functional medicine model may not be good.  Also, functional medicine often involves lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, along with other alternative therapies, like yoga or Tai Chi, all of which require time and dedication to make the changes and do all the things.

Training for providers is not standardized

While there are requirements for becoming a functional medical provider, such as holding a professional license in the state you want to practice functional medicine, the training itself, while extensive, varies from program to program. Also, because only some practitioners are medical doctors, the expertise of functional medical providers can vary.  Despite this, there are many providers who complete their medical training and go on to complete additional training in functional medicine, making them knowledgeable in both traditional and functional medicine. 

Not all functional medicine providers can prescribe medications.

This last point could be a pro or con, depending on several factors.  If you’d like to receive traditional medications, you’ll have to be sure you’re seeing a provider with prescribing privileges, such as an MD, DO, NP, PA, or ND (in some states). Also, you’ll want to ensure your provider is a proponent of medications, as some functional medical providers do not prescribe based on their practice and preferences. 

How To Find a Functional medicine doctor near me

If you’d prefer to work with a functional medical doctor; start by searching for available medicine doctors near me. This search should produce results that include medically-trained providers.  From there, you can review the provider’s

  • Medical training
  • Time in practice
  • Experience caring for patients with health concerns similar to yours
  • Services offered
  • Reviews from previous patients

Doing your research on whom to see will help you find someone you feel comfortable with, and you know has the experience to help you. 

In closing, functional medicine is a holistic approach to medicine that focuses on the patient as a whole while getting to the root causes of illness.  Functional medicine is for everyone, but those with chronic and complex conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hormone imbalance, and autoimmune system diseases, may find a functional medicine chronic fatigue approach incredibly beneficial. 

Like every aspect of medicine, functional medicine has pros and cons.  Some pros and cons include comprehensive care, care based on prevention rather than reaction, and care that empowers patients, whereas conversely functional medicine also requires time and commitment, training is not standardized, and not all functional medicine providers can prescribe medications. 

If you are interested in working with a functional medicine doctor in Maryland, Dr. Rao-Mahadevia is a board certified medical doctor with over 20 years of experience.  Drawn to the complementary side of medicine, Dr. Rao-Mahadevia went on to complete a fellowship in Anti-Aging, Restorative, and Functional Medicine after completing medical school. 

While she has an appreciation for traditional Western, her interest lay in helping her patients restore their health through less invasive means, such as diet, exercise, and other lifestyle long term changes.  To learn more call (301) 703-5067.


What Is Functional Medicine | Shakthi Health & Wellness (raowellness.com)

Functional Medicine – Benefits, Health, Treatment – Heal. me

5 Pros and Cons of Functional Medicine | Vytal Health

6 Big Problems With Functional Medicine That You Should Know (restartmed.com)

Eligibility | Certification Program | The Institute for Functional Medicine (ifm.org)

What Are the Pros and Cons of Functional Medicine? | Kalish Institute


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