What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine uses a system approach that partners with clients to create health.
There’s more to a tree than meets the eye.

Functional medicine practice may be easier to understand when compared to a tree. A tree is a living system. It has a trunk with branches and leaves above the ground. A tree specialist looks at branches and leaves to determine if the tree is healthy. The branches and leaves provide important clues. In the same way traditional medicine practitioners look at the symptoms an individual is experiencing. They ask “what” to arrive at a diagnosis. This approach works well when someone is suffering from a short term problem like a broken bone. The treatment is simple. Reset the bone and allow it to heal. However, treating long term conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, or arthritis isn’t so simple.

Functional Medicine asks What? Why? When?

Getting to the root cause of disease is the practice of functional medicine.
Getting to the root cause of ill health is the specialty practice of functional medicine.

Let’s revisit our tree analogy. A tree specialist knows that the health of the tree is determined by more than meets the eye. For example, the hidden root system delivers nutrients from the soil through the trunk to the rest of the tree above ground. “What” questions certainly get the conversation going. However, functional medicine practitioners don’t stop there. They look deeper, below the ground into the individual’s soil. Their mission is to find the root cause of the chronic condition. In addition to asking “what’, they also ask “why” and “when” to uncover hidden causes of the chronic health problems that keep clients from thriving.

Functional medicine looks deeper into the soil - the internal and external environment of the client.
Soil is where health is cultivated.

Everyone’s Soil is Unique

Additionally, functional medicine practitioners understand that everyone’s soil is unique. The unique soil combination of genetics, lifestyle and environment creates different pathways to chronic diseases. Take two people with a common condition like diabetes. Their symptoms appear similar and their diagnosis is the same, but a deeper look into the cause of their diabetes reveals two different pathways. As a result, you can see that a one-size-fits all approach to treating chronic diseases doesn’t work to eliminate the root cause. Getting to the root cause of ill health is the specialty practice of functional medicine.

The Functional Medicine Tree

The functional medicine tree shows how lifestyle and the environment affect health at the root level. Good news! There is a lot that people can do to improve their soil!

Functional Medicine Tree handout
The Functional Medicine Tree (downloadable PDF)


  • Sleep & Relaxation
  • Exercise & Movement
  • Nutrition & Hydration
  • Stress & Resilience
  • Relationships & Networks


  • Trauma
  • Microorganisms
  • Environmental Pollutants

Functional Medicine – creating health from the roots up!

Functional medicine practitioners work with clients to create health – from the roots up!

In summary, treating chronic health conditions requires looking both above and below the soil. Lifestyle and environmental factors, like the nutrients in soil, affect growing conditions for health. It follows that a stressful lifestyle and toxic environment make poor soil. Practitioners trained in functional medicine acknowledge the power of lifestyle changes to treat the root cause of chronic illnesses. Certainly medications are necessary at times to bring symptoms under control. However, the goal of functional medicine is to use personalized care plans featuring lifestyle changes to improve health and reduce or eliminate the need for medications whenever possible. Functional medicine practitioners use a person-centered approach with clients to create the vibrant health they are seeking, from the roots up!

Rachel is a registered nurse and functional medicine certified health coach who is passionate about helping you transform your life using lifestyle detox. You have more power than you may realize to change your health outcomes and start living your best life – today!


The information provided by Upstream Wellness Coaching is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.

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