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Functional nutrition is a specialized field of nutritional science that looks at the relationship between food and health. Nutritionists who practice a functional medicine model will often use lab testing, lifestyle strategies, health coaching, and the latest in cutting-edge research to help their clients achieve optimal health.

What is a Functional Nutritionist?

Functional nutritionists take a holistic approach and are trained to treat chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or autoimmune conditions. They use lab testing to identify imbalances in your body that may be causing you pain or discomfort.

This sets them apart in the world of nutrition alone! Before functional medicine, nutritionists could only work with patients based on a currently known diagnosis or a client’s self-reporting of symptoms.

Functional nutritionists have access to a wide range of testing methods that allow them to identify imbalances and deficiencies in the body before they cause symptoms or illness. Through this diagnostic testing, functional nutritionists can see patterns in your lab work and use that information to create a personalized plan for you.

It’s not enough to just test your blood and see that it’s low in vitamin D or iron; functional nutritionists want to know why your levels are low.

Did they change drastically over the past year? If so, then what is causing the fluctuation? Are there other symptoms present? Functional nutritionists can use this information to help tailor their treatment plans based on your unique needs.


How a Functional Nutritionist Differs From a Registered Dietitian.

Functional nutritionists and registered dietitians have overlapping areas of responsibility in the field of healthy eating and require ongoing continuing education, but they have different skill sets and educational backgrounds.

Registered dietitians help with chronic health problems, but their practices are regulated by governmental guidelines, the same guidelines that demonized fats and promoted the consumption of margarine – one molecule away from plastic. Dietitians rarely work in terms of holistic health and lifestyle modifications.

In contrast, functional nutritionists work with people who want to treat and prevent those same issues by improving their overall wellness. Functional nutritionists can also help patients lose weight or deal with food intolerances, depending on what their needs are.

The best way to choose which one is right for you is through an initial consultation so that your treatment plan can be customized accordingly!


Nutrition and Chronic Disease

More and more research is comming to light that the root cause of most chronic diseases lies within our lifestyle choices, particularly our daily food choices.

Industrialized farming and commercial food production have played a key role in making poor-quality foods more available and affordable. As the shelf life and stability of processed foods have increased, the quality of food consumed has declined.

Healthy food choices, meal timing, and improved food quality all impact the trajectory of disease and can support the return of patients toward optimal health.

In the past decade, functional nutrition has become a hot topic in health and wellness. Functional Nutritionists are those who study how specific foods, nutrients, and compounds can positively affect the body’s function and contribute to an improved quality of life.

Functional nutritionists can help with chronic disease management by tailoring meal plans that fit a patient’s needs. They may also recommend supplements or other therapies to supplement food therapy.


Why You Want to Work with a Functional Nutritionist

Functional nutritionists are trained to identify and address underlying causes of disease. Health coaches then take on the role of one-on-one coaching with clients in order to ensure that they make lasting changes in their diet and lifestyle.

They can be an excellent resource for anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes, autoimmunity, or heart disease, but also those suffering from digestive issues, fatigue, and low energy levels (“adrenal fatigue”), as well as weight loss/weight management.

If you are looking to dive deeper into your life and how everyday actions may contribute to the development, progression, or treatment of disease, a consultation with a functional nutritionist is an excellent place to start.


Functional Nutrition vs. Standard Nutrition

Functional nutrition is a proactive approach to health. It focuses on the root cause of a problem and works to identify and address the underlying causes of disease rather than treating symptoms alone.

It’s not just about fixing broken parts—it’s also about improving overall function.

You can think of it as being like an electrical engineer who knows that if he fixes certain components in his circuit board, everything will work better—or an auto mechanic who understands how different parts work together as well as their own limitations, so he doesn’t overwork any one part unnecessarily.

Adding ‘functional’ to the term nutrition allows the practitioner to broaden their approach outside of food therapies alone. What about your sleep, stress, physical activity, environmental toxins, etc? These are all factors that can affect your overall health. And when it comes to treating chronic pain, these are often the first things we address.

Functional practitioners also have the unique ability to order their patients’ lab tests to gather definitive scientific data that can be used to identify the source of their issues and help them find a plan that works for them. This may include an adrenal assessment, nutrient deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity, and more.


Functional Lab Testing

Functional lab testing is the process of identifying what’s going on in your body by analyzing the way your genes and cells are responding to the environment. Functional-based nutrition focuses on how diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors affect your overall health. This includes digestion, energy levels, immunity, and hormone balance.

A functional lab test looks at a variety of different markers in your blood or urine that can indicate imbalances or deficiencies in specific nutrients that may be impacting your health and reducing your longevity. These markers include:

  • Gut microbiome (intestinal permeability, parasites, immune system)
  • Sugar levels (insulin resistance)
  • Inflammation markers like CRP & hsCRP
  • Hormone status, including thyroid, cortisol, testosterone & estrogen levels

These tests can provide information that helps you understand why you might feel tired all day long even though you get a full night’s sleep every night; why certain foods make you feel bloated; why others give you headaches; or why it takes so long for certain things to digest once they’re eaten.

All without having to spend hours with a doctor asking questions about how many times per week should you exercise? How much sodium should you eat? How often can you eat fast food? Etc…

So, what does this mean for you? If you’re interested in working with a functional nutritionist, you can schedule a free consultation HERE to find one who matches your needs and goals and work together to help improve your health.


Vanessa Harris
Oncology Nutritionist

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