Food as Medicine: an introduction to functional nutrition

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

Did you know that working with a functional nutritionist can help you if you step on a rusty nail? 

Stick with me while I explain, starting with a little quiz: 

If you stepped on a nail, would you: 

a. Take a pain reliever

b. Pull out the nail 

c. A combination of both 

If this were to happen (and I hope it doesn’t!) you would probably choose option c, right? 

In this made-up setting, option a. represents conventional medicine. Taking a pain reliever might alleviate the pain temporarily, but it doesn't address the underlying issue.

With option b., you can pull out the nail to get to the source of the problem, but you still may need some temporary pain relief. 

So option c. combines the two approaches to lead to a more comprehensive and effective treatment plan. 

What does this have to do with nutrition? The nail-in-foot analogy can be applied to someone experiencing digestive issues, for example. A doctor might prescribe antacids or other medications to alleviate symptoms such as heartburn or acid reflux. While these medications can provide relief in the short term, they do not address the underlying cause of the digestive issues and can lead to significant health problems such as asthma, osteoporosis, and dementia.

In contrast, a functional nutritionist like myself would seek to identify the causal factors of the digestive issues, which could be related to diet, gut health, or many other factors.

In an ideal world, the doctor and nutritionist work together to manage symptoms, provide relief, and address root causes. Ideally, the patient receives the best care from a team of practitioners with the individual’s best health in mind.

What is functional nutrition? 

Functional nutrition uses food as medicine to positively affect chronic diseases. 

Functional medicine diverges from traditional Western medical care as conventional medicine primarily deals with diagnosing and treating symptoms with medications, which is appropriate for acute care scenarios. 

Most functional medicine practitioners, however, do not work in acute care settings. Functional nutrition interventions are designed to identify what is contributing to the problem and address it at its source. Functional nutrition takes a holistic approach and considers the whole person, including their genetics, lifestyle, environment, and emotional wellbeing.

Functional nutrition can provide an integrative approach that combines the best of both worlds by using food as medicine without conflicting with the solutions the doctor is providing.

Functional nutritionists like myself use a range of tools to assess a patient's health status, including comprehensive health questionnaires, functional laboratory tests, and in-depth medical histories. I develop personalized nutrition and lifestyle plans that are tailored to your specific needs and goals. 

Why is functional nutrition needed? 

Functional nutrition has gained popularity in recent years due to its effectiveness in addressing chronic diseases that are on the rise and are a major burden on the healthcare system.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal, and autoimmune disorders are often caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Conventional medicine often treats them with medications that focus on managing symptoms rather than addressing what is causing the disease.

A functional nutritionist may work with a patient with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. Rather than prescribing medication, the functional nutritionist would focus on identifying and addressing the underlying factors that contribute to the autoimmune response, such as nutrient deficiencies, digestive disorders, inflammation, and stress.

Functional nutrition is  effective in impacting chronic diseases such as Hashimoto's, IBS, PCOS, arthritis, etc. Here's how:

  1. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Functional nutrition can help identify and eliminate trigger foods, reduce inflammation, and promote gut healing.
  2. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Functional nutrition can help balance hormones, manage insulin resistance, and reduce inflammation.
  3. Arthritis: Functional nutrition can help reduce inflammation, support joint health, and improve overall quality of life.

As a real-life example, my client, Jennifer, came to me with uncontrolled PCOS symptoms that she wanted to manage holistically, without taking medication for each individual symptom. 

Jennifer committed to a six-month package and we created a healing protocol specific for her. Jennifer also followed my Detox program and experienced incredible results, losing more than 50 pounds, reversing PCOS symptoms, and started ovulating naturally again, with improved skin, energy and mood. 

You can read her testimonial here: The Gift of Life (

How exactly does functional nutrition work?

Functional nutritionists  offer a range of laboratory tests to assess a client's health status. These tests provide valuable information that can help identify nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances, gut imbalance, and other factors that contribute to chronic diseases. 

Many advanced lab tests are not commonly available in mainstream healthcare. The cost of functional nutrition testing is typically not covered by insurance, but it can help you gain a clearer understanding of your health concerns and identify underlying issues.

These tests are not meant to replace clinical diagnostic testing, but serve to complement it. Gaining the right information about your body through functional nutrition lab testing is crucial in gaining clarity and awareness of your overall health. Understanding the underlying cause of health issues such as brain fog, fatigue, skin breakouts, IBS, and migraines, is important in keeping these issues from becoming bigger problems. 

Some common tests I use: 

It's important to note that these tests may not be beneficial for everyone, and the tests needed may vary for each individual.

Once I analyze your results I can give you highly customized nutrition, supplement and lifestyle recommendations designed specifically for you. 

Who would benefit from seeing a functional nutritionist? 

Anyone who is looking to optimize their health and investigate underlying health issues may benefit from seeing a functional nutritionist. This could include you if you’re experiencing chronic disease, gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune conditions, fatigue, brain fog, and other health concerns. 

As a functional nutritionist I take a holistic approach and treat you like the unique individual you are. If you're struggling to find health and vitality, please come see me. It may not be as hard as it seems. I'm willing and ready to help you fall in love with your body, your food, and your life!

Book a complimentary consultation with me here to explore how I can assist you in discovering the therapeutic potential of food and attaining optimal wellness.