Old Paradigm Restored

In many ways, the field of functional medicine is modern scientific articulation of the universal truths underlying the ancient teachings of Ayurveda (the "science of life") and the medical science that Ayurvedic clinicians developed based on these truths.   Therefore, although it proclaims itself to be a "new paradigm", it is actually an old one stated in a way that people living in this day and age can understand. This is a good thing. What is important is not who first identified and described certain truths about health and healing. What is important is whether people living at a given time in human history live and practice medicine according to them.

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Biochemical Individuality

The concept of "biochemical individuality" refers to the fact that you have a unique genetic make-up that predisposes you to certain patterns of biochemical and physiological function in your specific environment. In this context, "Environment" refers to everything that impacts your organism - the food you put into yourself, the air that you breathe, the medications that you take, the activities in which you engage, the toxins to which you are exposed, the way in which you are treated by others, etc.

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Physiological Processes

"Physiology" refers to how you function as a living, breathing biological organism -- how you grow and reproduce, how you generate energy to move around, how you protect yourself from things that might harm you, etc. Your health depends upon certain fundamental physiological processes.

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Core Clinical Imbalances

While conventional medicine focuses on the treatment of diseases that affect various organs and organ systems, such as the heart and the cardiovascular system, or the bladder and the urinary tract,  the practice of functional medicine involves understanding and correcting imbalances that underlie the expression and experience of disease.  The principal foci are  (1) first, identifying imbalances which occur because your unique set of genetic attributes (predispositions), attitudes, and beliefs are unable to fully or correctly process your life experiences, including the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink, your level of exercise, the toxins to which you are exposed, and any injuries that befall you, and (2) second, correcting or minimizing those dysregulations before an existing disease progresses or a new one develops.

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Nutrigenomics forms the interface between nutrition and physiology. It seeks to understand the effects of diet on health by studying how genes and bioactive food components interact. Nutrigenomic research is revealing the chemical mechanisms by which various micro- and macronutrients act upon the human genome to alter genetic expression and gene products, both directly and indirectly. This has made it possible to relate different cellular responses to particular nutrients, paving the way for us to use specific nutrients to evoke particular metabolic responses.

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While nutrigenomics studies how genes and foods interact, nutrigenetics identifies how the genetic make-up of a particular individual coordinates his or her response to various dietary nutrients. Nutrigenetics reveals why and how people respond differently to the same nutrient. Genetic variations determine what kinds of nutrients will be ‘heard’, and how they will be interpreted by genes. Certain foods, in certain individuals, disrupt or alter nutrient-gene communication significantly, resulting in increased risk for various diseases. People respond to dietary interventions according to their unique genetic responses to the nutrients involved. Thus they respond differentially to diet therapies. A lack of response does not mean that a particular therapy is wrong, or that a person will not respond to therapy. It simply means that the person in question is not yet eating something that speaks a language his or her genes can understand.

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Lifestyle Medicine

In conventional (allopathic) medical approaches to health care, lifestyle medicine is usually defined as an approach to medicine that involves using principles from environmental, behavioral, medical and motivational sciences to help people manage and reverse health problems that are due to unhealthy lifestyles.   This is because it is most often used by allopathic clinicians as an adjunct to the pharmacological treatment of lifestyle-related diseases after they have been diagnosed and progressed, rather than as a preventive approach to primary care to enhance health and promote longevity before any illness develops.

This is not the case in natural approaches to medicine, such as naturopathy and Ayurveda, where lifestyle modification forms the basis for primary care and people are encouraged to develop and sustain daily life-promoting habits based upon both general and individualized principles of health optimization.  So, for example, in naturopathy, people are often educated about the universal risk of high sugar consumption and encouraged to limit, even eliminate, sugar regardless of whether or not they have diabetes or a family history of diabetes.  In Ayurveda, lifestyle recommendations are individualized according to a person's constitutional type, using concepts and principles for understanding personal differences that are unique to Ayurveda.

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A New Paradigm

We have entered an era where

•  Genetic predisposition (genes predispose you to disease risk)

replaces Mendelian genetic determinism (your genes cause disease risk),

•  Where biochemical individuality (everyone is different)

replaces biochemical homogeneity (everyone is the same),

•  Where the importance of biological terrain or internal milieu (your current level of physiological function)

exceeds that of the external invader (bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc.).


David Jones, A Textbook of Functional Medicine (2005: 63)

Parenthetical explanations (Ani Hawkinson, 2012)