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Nutritional approach to health

Updated on November 25, 2013
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An experienced integrative healthcare professional & Member of the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists

The functional medicine approach to clinical nutrition differs from dictectic approach to nutrition in the way that:

  • Functional medicine looks at conventionally acknowledged nutrients as multipurpose molecules rather than just having one specific role in the body like that in dictectic nutrition[1]
  • A functional approach considers different types of for example a fibre source because different foods contains different types of fibres thus a more complete detailed approach in utilized in the functional medicine approach [1]
  • Is a science-based approach to healthcare that is guided by these principles [1] :
    • -Biochemical individuality (we are all chemically diverse and have different metabolic levels and the way we assimilate nutrients and digest food for example)
    • -Patient centred care (considers the triggers. Antecedents i.e. what preceded the patient’s illness and the mediators of disease)
    • -Dynamic balance of internal and external factors (to examine core clinical imbalances that underlie a disease and not merely viewing health from a symptomatic perspective)
    • -Interconnections of physiological factors (the body is a fully interconnected organism)
    • -Health as positive vitality (where one goes back to prevent or treat disease using subclinical changes due to ‘invisible’ biochemical and physiological changes that were occurring prior to appearance of symptoms)
    • -Promotion of organ reserve (so as to support the body to allow it to thrive despite challenges of living instead of merely surviving)

“Conditionally essential” in relation to the nutrients of human biology is defined as the nutrients that are classed as non essential in the conventional sense but are conditionally essential is certain individuals in order to promote and restore and maintain optimal patient health [1]. For example, a cell in its inflammatory state will accept as much as 10 times the amount of Vitamin C when compared to a cell in its non-inflammatory state [1].

Biochemical individuality refers to the personalised approach we should adopt in the functional approach to nutritional medicine [1]. This principle tells is that we are all different in the biochemical level (e.g. in our everyday involuntary processes) and in the psychological levels [1]. Thus we have to do better than the recommended daily dietary allowances which are based on bell-shaped distributions of an average person [1]. We are all metabolically different and thus assimilate nutrients in varying ways and thus absorb different amounts despite being given the same dose of any particular nutrient [1].

Difference between homeostasis and homeodynamics [1]:

Homeostasis is defined as the relatively stable physical and chemical composition of the internal body environment resulting form regulatory compensating mechanisms and systems. An example of a homeostatic process involve the regulation of our body temperature [1].

Homeo-dynamics take into account that body temperature, alveolar and atmospheric pressure and blood pH are not fixed parameters [1]. When we take a temperature, we get a fixed number. However this fixed number is not a constant in our bodies. Body temperature fluctuates about three degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day. Moreover, body temperature is different at the extremities compared to internal sites where it is slightly higher on average [1]. Thus, body temperature is not static but dynamic [1]. It is in dynamic balance and being maintained at around 98.2 Fahrenheit which fluctuates constantly to adjust to environmental changes and body needs at different times [1].

A mineral or vitamin cofactor may be required in some circumstances and not in others because different patients will have different individualistic differences such as other conditions like diabetes for example or dietary variability [1]. In diabetes, inflammatory conditions and in the presence of infections for example, these people will require a substantially increased need for Vitamin C [1]. The companion presence of certain minerals or vitamins has dramatic effects on nutrient absorption [1]. One example includes the presence of flavonoids which enhance the absorption of Vitamin C [1].

Another example is in Wilson’s disease characterised by excess copper absorption and deposition in the body (which leads to liver cirrhosis and degeneration of brain tissue) whereby if Zinc therapy were provided, it would help to lower the excessively high copper levels due to the natural antagonism relationship between Zinc and Copper [1].

The functional medicine approach to nutrition looks at the multiple roles of various nutrients and other food factors and allows for a more patient-centred and individualistic approach to healing to allow for optimised patient care and promotion of positive health outcomes.

A diabetic patient will require increased needs for Vitamin C for promoting wound healing [1]. Furthermore, circulation is impaired in diabetes and thus Vitamin C can also help in this regard and maintain healthier integrity of vessel walls. Diabetics will also need a higher level of chromium to assist with sugar cravings and thus regulate their blood sugar levels [1]. Seeing that diabetics are usually taking pharmaceutical medicine, they will require an increased need for folic acid when compared to a non-diabetic.

As a woman, my dietary requirements for Iron for example is at a higher level than that of my male cousin who does not menstruate. Due to differences in our genetic makeup and whether or not I have an infection will determine increased needs for Vitamin C for example. I will also require less calcium compared to an elderly grandparent because I still engage in more regular weight/load bearing exercise compared to my grandparent which is necessary for maintaining healthy bone [1].


  • DeAnn Liska, Sheila Quinn, Dan Lukaczer et al.Clinical Nutrition-A Fucntional Approach, 2004, The Institute of Functional Medicine, a Nonprofit educational organization


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