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History of Functional Medicine

The Institute for Functional Medicine grew out of the vision, energy, and dedication of Susan and Dr. Jeffrey Bland, whose company, HealthComm, provided the initial home for an educational effort to support the innovative approaches to clinical nutrition that were the drivers for their product line. These new approaches and new products reflected groundbreaking thinking about the uniqueness of individual biochemistry and heralded the onset of a movement away from one-size-fits-all medicine to personalised, systems-based medicine. Jeff’s instinct about what the evolving evidence base really meant for human health proved prescient, and eventually a name was required for this new way of thinking. Thus was born the term FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE.

In the early years, IFM’s annual symposium focused on bringing cutting edge research to the attention of an eclectic audience of scientists, medical doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, and other health professionals. There was a growing excitement about the new findings and an ardent desire to hear from experts whose original research opened up new vistas for thinking about health and disease. The emerging science delved deep into physiology and biochemistry, moving way past the more simplistic one-disease—one-drug research that had been driving medical thinking since the mid-20th century. The nationwide movement to embrace complementary and alternative medicine added fuel to the fire, as clinicians of every discipline began to understand the underlying common pathways to disease as well as the individual expression of disease created by the unique, ongoing interactions among genetics, environment, and lifestyle that shape our lives.

This early phase in the development of Functional Medicine gradually gave way to a demand for clinical applications of the new information and ideas. It wasn’t enough to get excited about the research and its implications; IFM attendees wanted to take home practical clinical tools that would enable them to apply their new knowledge for the benefit of their patients. The AFMCP intensive arose to meet this need. Shortly thereafter, IFM became a freestanding, independent, nonprofit organization—a change that allowed it to focus entirely on an educational mission, free of any commercial connections.

As the research base matured, IFM’s program team began to work on a framework for sorting and applying the findings in clinically relevant ways. They studied and articulated the common principles that categorized this new field of Functional Medicine, and they developed models for applying the science. During this era, the Functional Medicine Matrix Model was born, including the core concepts of antecedents, triggers, and mediators; the integration of lifestyle into evaluation and treatment; and the central concept of an interconnected web, binding all elements of body (physiology, biochemistry), mind, and spirit.

Today, IFM offers a sophisticated model for teaching and practicing Functional Medicine. In addition to the Matrix, both the Timeline and the GOTOIT model for sequencing care have become core tools in the teaching program. A Toolkit of more than 200 different tools for use in clinical practice is available to IFM members. In addition to the early programs of an annual symposium and the AFMCP, the teaching program now encompasses six Advanced Practice Modules (APMs), a certification program, a growing portfolio of eLearning courses, and new courses on functional nutrition. The curriculum is deeply rooted in the scientific evidence base and adapts as needed to new and revised findings. As the evidence has matured and concepts have become clearer and better accepted, the need to train clinicians in new ways of thinking and practicing has soared.

DAVID S. JONES, MD served as President of The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) from 2000 to 2013 and is now President Emeritus and serves on the Board of Directors. He has practiced as a family physician with emphasis in functional and integrative medicine for more than 35 years. He is a recognised expert in the areas of functional nutrition, lifestyle changes for optimal health and healthy ageing, as well as the daily professional functions consistent with the modern speciality of Family Practice. Dr. Jones is the recipient of the 1997 Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Award. He is the Past President of PrimeCare, the Independent Physician Association of Southern Oregon (IPASO), where he served for seven years representing the majority of physicians in the Southern Oregon area. During the last three years he has served as a Scholar at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore, Maryland. His project title: “A Coherent Architecture for 21st Century Clinical Practice and Medical Education.”

As President, David led the development of the Textbook of Functional Medicine and the white paper on 21st Century Medicine. His vision, leadership, perseverance, and attention to developing a clinical model that could be taught and practised catalysed a global movement that is transforming medical education and clinical practice for many thousands of clinicians, educators, students, and patients. In addition to a very long list of tangible contributions, he also urged that IFM bring a heart-centred focus not only to therapeutic partnerships between patients and clinicians, but among the many interactions with staff, faculty, advisers, thought-leaders, collaborating partners, and even adversaries. We have all been blessed and deeply moved by his presence, wisdom, counsel, and loving kindness.
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