what does functional medicine meanWhether describing a form of fitness, treatment methods, or how to eat, the word “functional” is being used in contexts that don’t always do it justice. To be honest, the number of professions that have taken how of the word even has us confused sometimes! So today we want to talk about what “functional” really means and how functional medicine and treatment are different.


When it comes to a functional model of care, the word function refers to the function of the body, and it all comes down to the root cause of any given symptoms. The WHY. Functional medicine views the body as a whole, rather than breaking it down into individual parts. For example, the microbiome, endocrine and immune systems are all intricately connected and affect one another in many ways (and bi-directionally!). It uses a patient-centred approach that looks to the underlying reasons for dysfunction taking into consideration many lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors such as food, stress, sleep, toxins, allergens, hormones, family history and more.


To really understand this term and discover the answer to “what is functional medicine”, let’s dive into some fun facts about what functional really means.

It is not linear:

We are taught to think of the body very linearly (“cause and effect”) and it does NOT work like that! Eating one donut will NOT cause the spare tire on your tummy. Nor will getting on the treadmill for 20 minutes NEGATE eating the donut! For example, a donut going into a celiac or someone sensitive to gluten can create leaky gut. This means those “calories” aren’t even being taken up by the body, they are creating an immune response and causing a domino effect that will ramp up cortisol and increase belly fat. Translation: It’s not as simple as counting calories. It’s more a symphony of steps that help the belly fat persist.

The body has back ups to the back ups to the back up:

Thank GOODNESS for those back ups. If one thing/system goes off or is missing, another part of our body will step in. For example, if we miss a meal or two (glucose), our body can make it from our stored fat for energy. If cortisol is low, adrenaline will step in to help. Our body has checks and balances happening in REAL TIME! It is constantly tweaking without you even knowing! How cool is that?

It honours that the body needs time:

It acknowledges that the body and mind are super complex! If our body is used to taking in small amount of water for example and one day you start drinking 6 litres, you’ll probably pee most of it out. The body needs time to acclimatize to the new hydration, so start slow!

Where we can make the greatest change is in the grey areas. We don’t WANT the issue to be black and white. Black and white issues are often best fits for drugs or surgery (i.e. a multiple fractured leg – you need surgery, probably some plates and screws, not a new dietary strategy and stress management!).

It throws out the one-system approach:

As we mentioned above, everything is intricately connected. This is why we harp on, and encourage the many routes to effect change in the body can affect MANY systems. For example, acupuncture, or changing your diet, or drinking more water, or rebalancing nutrient deficiencies. These all have positive change on MANY systems, not just one! If digestion gets optimized, nutrient extraction and our absorption becomes better. This will then be positive in areas other than just our digestive system.

It honours our environment:

Our body is constantly responding to the environment it’s put into. Look at how different our immune systems/viruses act in colder weather vs. the summer! A true functional approach creates space for the problem and the solution to be in two different areas of the body/mind!

It honours bio-individuality:

A functional way of looking at something allows for the solutions to be different for different people, rather than a one-size fits all “here’s a pill for that” solution. Why is this important? It’s simple – What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Someone might do well on a vegan diet, for example, while another person won’t. Every body (and everybody!) is different. We all grew up in different families, perhaps in different parts of the world, have different ancestry/genetics, and so on.


When we see dysfunction in the body at TMB, whether it be an injury or digestive issues, we seek to understand WHY. WHY is the body is doing what is doing and WHY there might be a symptom. What factors could have contributed and what is the source? Moreover, we take into account the bio-individual circumstances of the patient, meaning everything we do is personalized. Taking this type of approach can only help uncover the underlying cause NOW, but also help with the prevention of additional health risks in the future. To us that’s what it means to us to be functional in our practice.


dr shalini bhatThis article is excerpted from our weekly TMB Magazine — an exclusive subscriber only publication that is packed with all sorts of in-depth latest study breakdowns, functional medicine insights and wisdom from Dr. Bhat and her team.

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