• Gavin Guard, Medical Director

New Evidence to Support a Functional Medicine Approach

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

A common argument that I hear is that there’s no evidence to support functional medicine. Indeed, functional medicine is a new and emerging field but this statement is simply not true. If you go on to PubMed.gov (a source of peer-reviewed literature) and type in “functional medicine”, not much shows up. However, if you type in “conventional medicine”, not much shows up either.

Much of the research performed looks at how to best manage symptoms. For example, researchers may examine what is the best medication to treat constipation. This question misses the point and does not look at fixing why someone might have constipation in the first place.

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Certainly, there is a plethora of both old and new research that shows what we are doing in functional medicine is evidence-based. Take for example the connection between a patient’s gut health and neurological or autoimmune disease. There is quite a bit of peer-reviewed literature to support treating the gut as a therapeutic tool.

With this in mind, we still have not seen a large study that shows functional medicine being a better model to treat chronic diseases.

That is until now. Just recently (at the time of writing this), there was a publication in the prestigious Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). This study looked at over 7,500 patients who were either cared for by the conventional model or the functional medicine model.

The results were promising for the field of functional medicine. At the end of 6 and 12 months, those who were treated by a functional medicine model exhibited significantly improved quality of life scores than those treated by a conventional model.

Here were some other interesting parts of the study. Part of the success owed to the functional medicine model has part to do with a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to patient care. Functional medicine patients in this study were given support by a health coach and registered dietician in addition to a clinician. In the words of the authors of this study, they argue that “dietitians and health coaches are integral because they address the nutritional, psychological, and social aspects of patient’s illnesses and promote long-term self-management, which are components needed for the treatment of various chronic conditions.”

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The last part of this study that I thought was fascinating was their clear and concise definition of what functional medicine is. They define this medical model by stating “the functional medicine model uses a systems-based approach to care that looks upstream of a patient’s symptoms and considers the complex web of interactions within a patient’s history, physiologic status, genetics, lifestyle, and environment, and contributes to their physical and mental functional status.” In summary, functional medicine fixes the underlying problem of a chronic illness rather than just masking the symptoms of that illness with medications.

This is a huge win to support the efficacy of functional medicine! It is indeed evidence-based and anyone who says otherwise has simply not examined this literature.

I predict that over time, we will begin to see more and more studies like this that show functional medicine is not only better at fixing chronic diseases, but it also saves patients money in the long run.


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This study can be found at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2753520

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Gavin Guard, MPAS, PA-C, CISSN

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