Holistic Medicine Proven Effective in Landmark Study

A landmark study by Cleveland Clinic and published in the mainstream JAMA Network Open demonstrated that functional medicine significantly improved health-related quality of life. Physical and mental health measures were monitored using a National Institute of Health questionnaire. Those receiving holistic (functional) therapy had improvements in fatigue, physical function, pain, gastrointestinal problems, and emotional well being.

Interestingly, those receiving care at a functional medicine center were compared to patients seen in a typical primary care setting. As you and I would expect, there were significantly larger improvements in health scores for those receiving holistic compared to typical medical care after six at both 6 and 12-month points.

Functional medicine looks at the body as a whole instead of isolated systems or symptoms. It is similar to a naturopathic or integrative medicine approach. The authors of the study note that functional medicine is a healthcare approach that:

  • works to reverse illness, promote health, and optimize function by addressing underlying causes, symptoms, and functional imbalances in interconnected biological networks. These imbalances may impair principal biological functions (assimilation, defense and repair, energy production, biotransformation, communication, transport, and structural integrity) that result from gene-environment interactions, including lifestyle, environmental toxins, and the microbiome. Functional medicine removes triggers for illness and provides inputs to restore and optimize health. Functional medicine also addresses social determinants, including the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health and disease. A foundation of functional medicine is the use of food as medicine to prevent, treat, and reverse chronic disease.

The functional medicine approach is essentially a repackaging of what licensed naturopathic medical doctors like myself have been practicing for the past several decades (see https://markstengler.com/our-philosophy/). It makes good sense! It takes studies like this to wake up the tunnel-visioned medical system in America that is over-focused on drug therapy and surgery.

The authors of this study also noted that functional medicine addresses chronic disease by delivering “precision medicine.” Yes, holistic doctors like myself use modern technology, along with the patient’s history, signs, and symptoms, to prescribe a protocol that treats the root cause(s) of one’s problems very precisely. This approach allows one to achieve faster, more lasting results, and with a greatly reduced risk of side effects.

The study also described the functional medicine setting as an environment that fosters empowers patients and fosters a therapeutic partnership. In my 25 years of practice, I have had numerous patients tell me about their frustration in the mainstream medical system, where the doctor acts as an impersonal dictator that commands instructions to the patient. Instead as this study demonstrated, empowering patients to be stewards of their health creates a healing environment and partnership with their doctor. By empowering patients to be proactive in their healthcare it can result in “both satisfaction and outcomes most likely owing to altered self-management and adherence to therapies”.

So the next time your doctor rolls their eyes when you tell them you prefer to focus on holistic healthcare methods, make sure to inform them of this study. Better yet, make sure you have a holistic doctor leading your healthcare team! We now have four highly trained and experienced holistic (functional) doctors at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine www.markstengler.com


Beidelschies M, Alejandro-Rodriguez M, Ji X, Lapin B, Hanaway P, Rothberg M. Association of the Functional Medicine Model of Care With Patient-Reported Health-Related Quality-of-Life Outcomes. JAMA Network Open. 2019 [accessed 2019 Nov 4];2(10):e1914017. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2753520