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Systems biology tells us that living systems are complex and dynamic. Their behavior and expression will be difficult to determine from the attributes of distinct parts of the whole.

Systems thinking focuses on how something being studied interacts with other elements of the same system. Instead of isolating the specific item, and getting more specialized and limited in scope, systems thinking expands the view to take in a broader set of interactions.

One of the key tenets of Functional Medicine is the importance of taking a systems-based approach. This constitutes both how we consider the internal environment as a web of interconnections—with each cell, organ and reaction impacting other parts of the whole—as well as the shift in our approach to care.

It’s the systems thinking that I want to speak into today.

While the Full Body Systems curriculum is designed to provide health and wellness practitioners with a deeper understanding of the web of interactions within the body, and how no one system exists in isolation, the entire Functional Nutrition Lab curriculum was created to provide you with the tools and frameworks that enable us, as clinicians, to work more dynamically and effectively with the multifactorial cases that we see more and more of today, no matter our scope of practice.

Just as we need systems thinking to understand the body as a whole, we also need systems thinking to understand a case as whole—a person is more than their diagnosis, and we need systems to understand all the factors that contribute to that person’s well-being.

In healthcare, systems thinking is relevant when we see:

  • complex challenges that are due to myriad underlying factors
  • recurring problems or those that are made worse by previous efforts to fix them
  • signs and symptoms whose solutions are not obvious

In these situations (which are on the rise and which we all need to learn to address with more acuity if we are to help this population and have success in practice), the conventional approaches using one prescriptive pill or protocol (pharmaceutical or nutraceutical) are failing.

A systems-based approach is the solution.

Systems provide ways to capture and organize data in a complex case.

[bctt tweet=”Systems provide ways to capture & organize data in a complex case. #functionalnutrition ” username=”AndreaNakayama”]

And to embrace a systems-based approach we need tools and frameworks.

I like to think of this reframe as framework vs. formula.

While I know that it can be challenging to accept the reality that there is no formula for clinical success—that the diet that works for you may not work for me—frameworks provide systems and structures that enable us to better think into the unknown.

Frameworks acknowledge that each person is unique and complex.

Frameworks help you to capture information that is relevant about the person’s history and their physiology and organize what matters so you know what to do next.

In my Functional Nutrition clinic we use a number of frameworks to help us unravel the systems biology and step into systems thinking so that we can do our best to work toward addressing the root causes for more sustainable clinical results.

I can’t wait to share those systems with you!

“This ancient Sufi story was told to teach a simple lesson but one that we often ignore: The behavior of a system cannot be known just by knowing the elements of which the system is made.”
—Donella H. Meadows

Ready to start thinking in systems? In Full Body Systems, we do just that.


Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.