“Naturopathy” is NOT “Functional Medicine”

 In Naturopathic News

A recent article authored by an ND, addressing the ability to heal autoimmune conditions with “functional medicine,” raises the question of whether it is clear to our profession the difference between “functional medicine” and “naturopathy.” Thomas Kruzel, ND writes a beautiful article on this topic [link here] and I’ll touch on a single distinguishing highlight.

Where the Term “Functional Medicine” Originated From in the First Place

Functional medicine is a term which originated out of affiliations between medical doctors and Bastyr University. The MDs found validity in searching for underlying causes, and coined the idea of “functional medicine” to describe a more patient centered nutritional, genetic, and “functional” approach. In the article in question, functional medicine is described as a focus on finding and healing the root cause of chronic illness and looking at health with a whole-person perspective. Sounds a lot like naturopathic medicine with one extremely important omission: vitality.

“There’s Something Missing”

What sets naturopathy apart from functional medicine is a core understanding that if left alone, the body will heal itself – that the most intense and powerful healing modalities simply stimulate the body to do all the work on its own. The therapeutic direction this mandates is incredibly different. If the body is viewed as capable of healing on its own, then the minimal amount of intervention will be utilized, with an emphasis to get rid of things that are overloading the system. From a functional perspective, often what is seen is a smaller piece of the puzzle which is not working, and needs specific external intervention. This is why functional medicine doctors are often noted for their extensive use of nutritional supplements – because “there’s something missing.”

The Exception Rather Than the Rule

This idea of “something missing,” is a very good conceptual way of understanding the difference between how naturopaths and functional medicine doctors approach patient care. This is not to say that there’s never “something missing,” sometimes there is, and this needs to be addressed. But on the general whole, if the body is a functioning, self-healing organism, this should be the exception rather than the rule, especially with the diseases of excess which are so common in today’s world.


Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision. 

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