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Functional Medicine Success in Mental Health Treatment

Last Updated on February 21, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

There are many types of medical treatment models in practice today. While some have proven to be beneficial in health conditions affecting physical well-being, functional medicine for mental health treatment has found considerable success for those seeking a holistic, alternative model.

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What Is Functional Medicine?

As a form of integrative medicine, functional medicine incorporates environmental factors, lifestyle practices, and genetics into a personalized treatment plan. After an in-depth review of a patient’s medical history, genetics, toxicity levels, hormones, and other factors, an individualized plan is developed to address needed neurotransmitter rehabilitation and other areas that may need attention in recovery. Treatment plans can include exercise, dietary enhancements and correction, nutritional supplements, IV therapy, chelation, and neurotoxin removal. 1,11

The functional medicine model can include several recommendations to change a person’s typical daily lifestyle into something better. This promotes the most optimum levels of health and vitality to each body system.3,4

Breaking Medication Dependence

Often used as a means to treat underlying symptoms or illnesses at the root of the problem, functional medicine may help avoid unnecessary long-term medication dependence. Research on functional medicine for mental health can provide predictive information as well as undoing damage to neurochemistry as well as other systems in the body.  This is especially of interest when it comes to medication management.2

In mental health, medications tend to treat the symptoms of an illness rather than the cause of the illness. Meanwhile, the medication can instigate more symptoms. In addition, some pharmaceutical drugs come with many side effects. If the underlying areas of concern are neglected, a patient may spend years reliant on psychiatric medications without even scratching the surface of the actual problem.

The cause of a mental illness or symptom could be a hormone imbalance, addictive biochemistry, levels of inflammation in the body, or an individual’s inability to detoxify or shed neurotoxic elements. While a medication may help the user avoid or minimize symptoms, treatment for the underlying causes is likely needed in order to make a full rehabilitation.

Understanding Functional Medicine

The human body is comprised of multiple systems which are interconnected. The key to understanding functional medicine lies in recognizing how our systems and imbalances within each system affect the others.

Oftentimes, a person showing a symptom, such as anxiety, will be dealing with imbalances in multiple body systems. Some organs belong to more than one body system and, therefore, a holistic approach encompassing the entire picture is commonly the most effective.

Functional medicine can apply to many physical systems:
  • Respiratory
  • Digestive
  • Cardiovascular
  • Urinary system
  • Endocrine system
  • Nervous system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Immune system
  • Reproductive system

Although all systems have a unique function, if one falters, all other systems are affected. Once you incorporate factors in relation to all body systems, a person can begin to understand that overall health is reliant on the health of all internal functions. This typically ensures that each system is functioning at the highest level by incorporating health practices that treat the body and mind as a singular system. In effect, this is total health required in order to feel well.

Functional Medicine Success

When healthcare professionals are able to identify the root causes of symptoms, results are evident for long-term success. This form of treatment empowers patients to help themselves while on an individualized treatment plan.

Understanding how diet, physical activity, and healthy neurochemistry collectively impact a person’s daily moods and symptoms is invaluable. When the patient becomes part of the solution by making changes to their daily routine, they ultimately learn how to take care of themselves. And that, in many ways, is success. In an individual who suffers from symptoms such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or sleeplessness, finding the right daily routine and best practices to keep the brain and body healthy, can allow them to move past the original symptom for good.

Functional Medicine Model Example

functional medicine sedona drug rehabAn example of how functional medicine could prove more effective than conventional medicine can be seen in a patient being treated for anxiety.

An appointment with a traditional psychiatrist would normally involve a question and answer session, followed by a prescription of an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax. It is unlikely that a psychiatrist will ask for or require any lab testing, or search for underlying causes of the anxiety. Therefore, a new patient could be given a medication that simply makes them feel better temporarily, rather than focusing on a long-term solution.

Through functional medicine, a person who was prescribed Xanax for 10 years to treat anxiety could discover that their symptoms are caused or worsened by an existing environmental factor, such as a heavy metal toxin in their water supply, food, or hygiene products used. This is just one of many examples as to why Alternative To Meds Center incorporates a functional medicine model while treating residents with mental health symptoms.

To determine underlying causes of troublesome mental health symptoms like stress, anxiety, or depression, functional medicine includes running a comprehensive series of lab tests, inquiring about medical history, and genetic details.

Typically, a patient will be given recommendations to apply in a daily schedule to include diet, additional nutrients in the form of supplements or IV therapy, or a full neurotransmitter rehab. In addition to receiving health coaching, thousands of our patients have been provided education and guidance in how to effectively regain their health following symptoms of medication withdrawal, or to eliminate long-term medication dependence. Please visit our services overview pages for a much more detailed description of services offered, and what a typical day in treatment looks like for our inpatient clients.

Some of the best functional medicine practices will include the following:

1. Nutrient Therapy – Our brains need the proper nutrients for optimal health and proper function throughout the day. Many symptoms like anxiety or stress are exacerbated by nutrient deficiency. One of the first areas a functional medicine doctor will look at is diet habits and nutrient intake. A person in a mental health crisis may require immense amounts of nutrients to begin the process of jump starting the brain chemistry back into proper function.3

2. Dietary Recommendations – Neurotoxins in foods affect our brains and contribute to our state of being. Typically, a person with mental health problems will want to consider a clean and organic, nutrient-rich diet that eliminates toxins, food additives, processed sugars, and GMOs. By working with a clinical team or dietician, a person suffering from symptoms can be advised of the best plan to achieve overall mental and physical well-being.5,7

3. Exercise – A review of daily habits will often show shed light on the symptoms that are occurring. Not only can inactivity lead to problems within each bodily system, but can lead to deficiencies of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. If the individual’s lifestyle does not include much physical activity, by adding a 15- or 30-minute workout or light cardio, the benefits to the body and mind include assistance in operating at the most effective levels possible. Recommended are Qi Gong, yoga, and other approaches to exercise, especially where the body needs gentle encouragement.8,9

4. Coaching and Counseling – People have a tendency to neglect traumas, or other areas of life that cause discomfort by mere mention or recommending change. When life becomes unmanageable or generating feelings of unhappiness, working with a life coach or licensed counselor can be the catalyst needed to make positive changes. A large part of why functional medicine is successful is because the practitioner will take the time needed to get to know each client. Reviewing the patient’s history, decision-making patterns, and other factors helps ensure that the tailor-made treatment plan developed and utilized is more effective. Better than generic treatment, individualized care meets a patient where they are in the moment and throughout the treatment process.10,11

5. Changes in Habits or Environment – Identifying parts of one’s daily routine will indicate shortfalls and show areas that need to be changed. Sometimes, even our environment could be working against us. For a person with a desk job, drinking large quantities of coffee or caffeine will often lead to mental health symptoms as the person is providing energy to their body which is not being used appropriately. For an individual who is sensitive to neurotoxins in their daily environment, a look at chemicals used in their home or place of work may also point towards factors that are contributing to their symptoms.3,6

The Best Opportunity for Mental Healing

Alternative to Meds Center blends the orthomolecular and functional medicine models to give the best available treatment to our clients. Through personalized treatment plans, recommendations for long-term health are included each inpatient resident’s daily schedule and provided upon returning home from treatment. A typical treatment stay at our inpatient mental health center in Sedona, Arizona includes a 60-day rehab, after which most individuals are given a holistic wellness plan that helps encourage optimal health and well-being.

We have helped many patients overcome long-term medication dependence by treating symptoms in a natural way. For those wanting to try a healthier treatment plan for anxiety, depression, past trauma, or diagnosis of bipolar, mania, or schizophrenia, our team is here to help review your circumstances and provide a pathway to better mental health and living life to the fullest.

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance, please review information about admission to our licensed inpatient holistic psychiatry center.


1. Bland J. Defining Function in the Functional Medicine Model. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2017 Feb;16(1):22-25. PMID: 28223904; PMCID: PMC5312741. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

2. Flores M, Glusman G, Brogaard K, Price ND, Hood L. P4 medicine: how systems medicine will transform the healthcare sector and society. Per Med. 2013;10(6):565-576. doi: 10.2217/pme.13.57. PMID: 25342952; PMCID: PMC4204402. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

3. Minich DM, Bland JS. Personalized lifestyle medicine: relevance for nutrition and lifestyle recommendations. ScientificWorldJournal. 2013 Jun 26;2013:129841. doi: 10.1155/2013/129841. PMID: 23878520; PMCID: PMC3710624. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

4. Bland JS. What is Evidence-Based Functional Medicine in the 21st Century? Integr Med (Encinitas). 2019 Jun;18(3):14-18. PMID: 32549804; PMCID: PMC7217393. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

5. Janson M. Orthomolecular medicine: the therapeutic use of dietary supplements for anti-aging. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(3):261-5. doi: 10.2147/ciia.2006.1.3.261. PMID: 18046879; PMCID: PMC2695174. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

6. Cardenas-Iniguez C, Burnor E, Herting MM. Neurotoxicants, the Developing Brain, and Mental Health. Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. 2022 Jul;2(3):223-232. doi:  10.1016/j.bpsgos.2022.05.002. Epub 2022 May 23. PMID: 35911498; PMCID: PMC9337627. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

7. Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020 Jun 29;369:m2382. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2382. Erratum in: BMJ. 2020 Nov 9;371:m4269. PMID: 32601102; PMCID: PMC7322666. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

8. So WWY, Cai S, Yau SY, Tsang HWH. The Neurophysiological and Psychological Mechanisms of Qigong as a Treatment for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 18;10:820. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00820. PMID: 31824346; PMCID: PMC6880657. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

9. Schuch FB, Vancampfort D. Physical activity, exercise, and mental disorders: it is time to move on. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2021 Jul-Sep;43(3):177-184. doi: 10.47626/2237-6089-2021-0237. Epub 2021 Apr 21. PMID: 33890431; PMCID: PMC8638711. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

10. Nakao M, Shirotsuki K, Sugaya N. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for management of mental health and stress-related disorders: Recent advances in techniques and technologies. Biopsychosoc Med. 2021 Oct 3;15(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s13030-021-00219-w. PMID: 34602086; PMCID: PMC8489050. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

11. Kocsis JH. New strategies for treating chronic depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61 Suppl 11:42-5. PMID: 10926054. [cited 2024 Jan 11]

Originally Published Feb 18, 2019 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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