How to heal: A comparison between Functional Medicine and Chinese Medicine

First of all, what is functional medicine?

Functional medicine is a health oriented, collaborative patient centered model. It focuses on the root cause of disease and dysfunction while considering biochemical individuality. With a blood work model that is much broader than typical western medicine lab markers, it is more cost effective over time because functional medicine utilizes a preventative approach for chronic and long term illnesses. It is both high touch and high tech meaning; palpation, detailed questioning and observation are typically used in diagnosis along with high tech western equipment such as labs and imagining. Primarily, it utilizes dietary and lifestyle changes along with nutrition, supplementation and herbal medicine. 

And what is Chinese medicine?

Similarly Chinese medicine is a whole systems approach that considers the entire person including observation, pulse taking and a detailed intake to discover root causes of disease. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evolved over thousands of years and relies on modalities such as acupuncture, tai chi, cupping and herbal medicine. Supportive Elements within the medicine also include dietary and lifestyle changes alongside nutritional advice. 

How do they differ?

Chinese medicine has changed little over the centuries. Its basic concept is that a vital life force called Qi, exists in the body and is crucial for homeostasis. An imbalance or stagnation of qi can cause disease and illness. Viewing humans as microcosms of our larger  surrounding universe and interconnectivity to nature, TCM treatments aspire to restore our natural balance. 

Systems Approach

Functional medicine was developed as a systems and biology approach for the prevention and management of chronic disease fundamentally. Founded by Dr. David Jones and Dr. Mark Hymen its beginnings date back to 1950, with the practice taking off in the 1980’s including its introduction into the Cleveland Clinic of medicine. During this era discoveries were being made about the nature of the human body and the nutrients it needs for optimization. Lifestyle medicine combined with detailed lab testing and an emphasis on nutritional supplementation and herbs have become the benchmark of functional medicine.1

How are they similar?

 Both gravitate towards approaches that help improve quality of life and prevent/treat chronic pain and disease.Each system of medicine considers various organs systems that work in harmony to perform a given function. Functional medicine accomplishes this through blood work, Chinese medicine accomplishes detailed diagnosis through pulse tongue and observation. We don’t think of discrete organs we think of organs working  together.

 1 Dr. Kalish, Dan. The History Of Functional Medicine. October 10th 2019, Kalish Institute of Functional Medicine.