The Difference Between Functional & Naturopathic Medicine

Lucky for us, when it comes to healthcare, we’re beginning to have options! As great as this is, it’s important to understand what your options are, in order to know what works best for you and your family. Outside of conventional medicine, you may have heard a lot about Functional Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine - but what’s the difference?

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine is the practice of addressing a possible underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine addresses the whole person, rather than just an isolated set of symptoms.


What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a system of primary health care that emphasizes prevention, partnered with natural therapies as the healing process. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) blend centuries-old knowledge and philosophies around nature ultimately being the most effective healer, with current research on health and human systems. The idea is to prevent disease, but when treatment is necessary, Naturopathic Medicine utilizes healing practices that work from the inside out.

This means that naturopathic modalities of healing might include physical manipulation (think acupressure massage), clinical nutrition, plant medicine, homeopathy, and hydrotherapy, integrated with conventional, scientific and empirical methodology in accordance with the ancient laws of nature.


The foundation of naturopathic medical practice includes:

  • The Healing Power of Nature: Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in people that is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.

  • Identify and Treat the Causes: The naturopathic physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms.

  • First Do No Harm: Naturopathic physicians follow three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:

    • Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat

    • Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms

    • Acknowledge, respect, and work with individuals’ self-healing process

  • Doctor as Teacher: Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and encourage self-responsibility for health. They also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship. 

  • Treat the Whole Person: Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors. Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.

  • Prevention: Naturopathic physicians emphasize the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity, and susceptibility to disease, and by making appropriate interventions in partnership with their patients to prevent illness.


What are the similarities and differences between the two?

Clearly, these two fields of medicine are similar in many ways including the incorporation of evidence-based medicine, patient centered care, a whole person approach, and treating the cause rather than just the symptoms.

MDs still need to obtain functional medical education after graduation to learn a more natural approach to medicine, whereas NDs (Naturopathic Doctors) are taught this natural approach throughout their medical training.

Our healthcare system, and the way we view it,  has definitely started to evolve over the last 20 years or so. However, we still have a long way to go! Even with Naturopathic and Functional Medicine being more widely accepted today, and often preferred over conventional medicine, both practices still receive plenty of resistance. Unfortunately, it may be awhile before either is included  in traditional insurance coverage.

For anyone interested in exploring a health & wellness approach outside of conventional medicine, I encourage you to look into Parsley Health. I have been been a member for a while now, and can not say enough amazing things about them!

What are your thoughts on Naturopathic and Functional Medicine vs. Conventional Medicine?