By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES, MDVIP
Photograph courtesy of MDVIP
Interest in functional medicine is on the upswing; in fact, it’s a wellness trend of the 2020s. But what is functional nutrition? And how can it help you?
What is Functional Nutrition?
Functional nutrition stems from functional medicine – a branch of medicine based on the belief that everyone responds differently to illnesses. Doctors provide thorough assessments to patients and focus on finding the root cause or causes of an illness – from genetics to environment to lifestyle. Functional medicine practitioners create life plans to treat the causes of illness, not just the symptoms. And while many functional medicine treatment plans incorporate traditional modalities such as prescription medications or a type of therapy, the patient’s body, mind and spirit also are considered.
Functional nutrition uses food as medicine. Like functional medicine, everyone enrolled in a functional nutrition plan should have a personalized approach built on genetics, lab values, family history, personal health history, medications and lifestyle (including exercise routine, sleep pattern, stress levels and dietary pattern). It’s not a specific diet, but a tailored approach to eating based on the holistic needs of an individual. Conventional nutrition often provides recommendations based on dietary guidelines and nutrition fact labels that were developed for the entire nation.
So if you visited a conventional dietician to help control a food-related health problem such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, gout or a gastrointestinal condition, your treatment would probably involve a diet specifically designed for that condition – a valid remedy. But a functional nutrition plan could include many of the same foods used in conventional diet, as well as additional whole foods, supplements and/or herbs selected expressly to help you ease underlying causes. You probably will be encouraged to give up processed foods and engage in activities that help you get physical activity, manage stress and promote sleep quality.
“Over the last few years, people have been turning to functional nutrition to help them prevent or control a condition,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Studies credit functional medicine and nutrition with helping people get off medications, overcome addictions and improve psychological illnesses.”
Why Is Nutrition So Important?
Sound nutrition provides your body with the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats it needs to help keep your body functioning properly. Studies have found that a healthy diet can help lower the risk of some chronic conditions, while nutritional deficiencies and food sensitivities are linked to many health issues. A healthy diet also can strengthen the immune system. Moreover, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the immune system resides in the gut. A healthy gut has good bacteria and immune cells that help fight off infections and communicate with the brain through nerves and hormones, contributing to overall health and wellness.
What Happens at Functional Nutrition Appointments?
Before functional nutritionist providers make recommendations, they gain a deep understanding of your health issues through food diaries, questionnaires and labs. Appointments, especially the first few sessions, can be a couple of hours long.
Who is Qualified to Practice Functional Nutrition?
Registered dieticians as well as other licensed healthcare providers are qualified to be functional nutritionists. After traditional training and licensure, these professionals complete a certificate program through Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy and sit for the exam.
“If you’re interested in functional nutrition, talk to your doctor. If they’re onboard, they may be able to refer you to a qualified functional nutritionist,” says Kaminetsky.
Don't have a primary care physician? Consider partnering with MDVIP.