by Yoojin Lee-Sedera, N.D., O.M.D.
Depending on whom you ask, you may hear slightly different definitions of both terms. As someone who finished medical school with a degree in naturopathic medicine and trained also in functional medicine, here is my simple explanation discerning the two.
Both naturopathic medicine and functional medicine share the understanding of the body being an interconnected wholesome organic entity rather than mechanical sum of different organs or body parts. Likewise, they both address health issues from a nutritional approach based on the complex biochemical functions of our body. As you might imagine, both are very much based on scientific evidence.
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There are a few key differences between the two. Naturopathic medicine has a long history in all forms of natural medicine, including nutrition, herbology, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, physical therapy, and etc., with a very deep and strong root in philosophy of nature cure, originating from Europe about a couple of hundred years ago.
Meanwhile, functional medicine is relatively a new term. The concept rose from the increasing need for and interest in functional aspects of human body, based on nutrition and biochemical pathways. And, because it is based heavily on scientific research and evidence, functional medicine has been accepted a little bit more easily and widely by numerous physicians trained in conventional medicine within a short time period, while there is still some stigma around the term naturopathic medicine. However, naturopathic medicine has also progressed and adopted the science-based approach to reassess and confirm the effectiveness of various therapeutic modalities under its umbrella.
In essence, functional medicine may be considered as one of the therapeutic modalities practiced in naturopathic medicine.
Functional medicine can be practiced by any licensed healthcare practitioners, such as D.C., M.D., D.O., N.P, and etc. with some extracurricular training.
There are a few educational institutions offering a certificate in functional medicine, but it is not required for the practice. In most states, one is required to have a state license to practice naturopathic. In order to become a licensed naturopathic physician or doctor (N.D.), it is necessary to finish one of the eight accredited naturopathic medical schools in North America, which is a 4-year post-graduate level education, with clinical internship, and pass two steps of board exams (basic science & clinical exams).
Then one can apply for the license in the respective state he or she would like to practice in, if there is a state licensing board. In the state of Nevada, there is no legislation nor regulation regarding practicing naturopathic medicine, so there is no legal implication for calling oneself “naturopathic doctor (N.D.)” without proper educational background.
Researching your doctor and checking their reviews can be a helpful way to ensure your provider is equipped to give you the best medical care possible.
I have been practicing both naturopathic and functional medicine for over a decade now. One big lesson I have learned is that whether naturopathic medicine or functional medicine, it can be easily reduced into natural approach with temporary improvement of symptoms. What I mean by that is, one can use natural medicine to put a band aid on any symptom without addressing the deeper imbalance, which is utilizing only a small part of naturopathic and functional medicine. By combining elements of naturopathic and functional medicine, one can provide a richer healing experience to help you live your healthiest life.
All in all, naturopathic and functional medicine share their true essence in the implementation of a healthier lifestyle to provide the support your body needs for optimal functioning.