What is Orthomolecular Medicine?

Is Orthomolecular Medicine the right path for you? Read on to learn more!

Orthomolecular Medicine is …

. . . was one of the precursors to a Functional approach. It essentially states that the basis for health is good nutrition, and that “good nutrition” is different for every patient because each of us has different nutrient needs and requirements.

Orthomolecular Medicine …

. . . has its roots in bioindividuality — the principle stating that we are all biologically and genetically unique, and we’re all impacted by myriad and diverse life experiences, exposures, and insults. Because of bioindividuality, each person needs different nutrients and therapies, in particular doses, in order to achieve their optimal health.

“Orthomolecular” is …

. . . a term that was coined by Linus Pauling in 1968. It describes a method that uses nutrients and “normal” constituents of the body in targeted amounts as treatment and therapy. This means that nutrients—likely specific ones and in specific doses based on the individual’s needs—are introduced and utilized to fine-tune biological function and preserve health.

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It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has.

– Sir William Osler ( 1849-1919 ), Physician, renowned diagnostician and patient-centered clinician

How Functional Nutrition uses the principles of Orthomolecular Medicine

Functional Nutrition has its roots in a legacy of efforts to return to a kind of healthcare that:

  • honors the truth that each patient is unique
  • recognizes that we need to embrace systems thinking in our assessment
  • highlights the care in healthcare

Let’s consider an example: a study might conclude that eggs are good for brain health and development because of their high concentration of the nutrient choline. Yet for someone who’s taken several rounds of antibiotics in their childhood (like many of us did), and may have developed an immediate or delayed immune response to eggs as a result, eating eggs will not help, but instead potentially harm brain health—possibly contributing to both neurological and systemic inflammation.

Therefore, despite information that the egg is a perfect whole food in and of itself, providing key nutrients for health, it may not be ‘healthy’ for all.

These individuals will take in less choline on a regular basis than people who have a daily omelet or hard-boiled egg for breakfast. This means that those who steer clear of eggs for their own bioindividual reasons will have a greater need to address their choline intake and potential deficiencies in this key nutrient. They may need to ensure they’re getting this important nutrient elsewhere.

A more simple analogy may be to consider our modern day mineral intake given the depletion in our soil. These deficiencies will vary from person to person based on their geographical location, their food choices, their physiological function and more. In this way, each of us (and each of our patients) has distinct needs for particular minerals.

Bioindividuality: the foundation of Orthomolecular Medicine

Throughout history, doctors and researchers have been heralded for their efforts to treat people who were suffering as the individuals they are—for their specific needs and the unique conditions that lead to their signs, symptoms and diagnoses. But somehow we continue to slip-slide back into misinformed cultural desires. Those desires are for the quick-fix (even where one may not exist), the band-aid approach (that masks the roots we actually need to uncover), or for the seductive theories that may be interesting to study in the classroom but hold little weight by the bedside.

No wonder there is a growing population of people suffering from chronic conditions not addressed by these types of approaches!

Functional Medicine has its basis in bioindividuality, pure and simple. This is the principle stating that we are all biologically and genetically unique, and we’re all impacted by myriad and diverse life experiences, exposures and insults. Because of bioindividuality, each person needs different nutrients and therapies, in particular doses in order to heal.
In other words, pay heed, as one size never fits all.

A Functional approach always honors bioindividuality.

A Functional approach always considers that the constituent parts—within the person’s body, their history, and their life habits—interrelate, and understands how these systems work together over time.

A Functional approach always honors bioindividuality.

Orthomolecular Nutrition and anti-nutrients

We can also look at an orthomolecular approach as it applies to “anti-nutrients”.

An anti-nutrient is any “food” that requires more nutrients for the body to use it than the food itself supplies. Refined sugar is one such anti-nutrient. It supplies zero nutrients while requiring magnesium, zinc and B vitamins (to name a few) for its metabolism.

So do you think that a person who is consuming or has consumed a lot of sugar or alcohol in their life might have some subclinical deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals due to the nutrients that they’re unknowingly robbing from their very own bodies? It’s very likely.

There are many people walking around with subclinical deficiencies in certain nutrients that are critical for normal metabolic and body function. If you’re working with clients, you’re likely to encounter them! These subclinical deficiencies often fly under the radar in Western medicine and traditional lab tests (or at least traditional lab test interpretations!). That means that just because a patient was tested, and those tests appear ‘normal’, doesn’t mean they aren’t deficient.

These upstream nutrient deficiencies can lead to downstream complications of the nervous system, the energy systems and, most particularly, the immune system.

Here’s a Functional sequence of what happens when there is a nutrient deficiency in the body:

1. First, nutrients are depleted from the body’s tissues and cells

2. This lack of nutrients at the cellular level can impact the body’s overall enzyme activity

3. This leads to a physiological injury, where the body’s functions are affected

4. If that depletion continues, a classical or pathological deficiency can manifest

5. Finally, if not addressed, the pathology can result in permanent injury to tissues and organs

As you can see, while a subclinical deficiency may seem minor, we have the opportunity to catch them with optimal nutrition as early as possible.

This subclinical realm is also sometimes referred to as “hidden-hunger.” Taking an orthomolecular or Functional approach tells us that we can address this “hidden hunger” with normal nutrients to bring about metabolic and physiological homeostasis and prevent downstream issues before they occur.

Dr. Jeffrey Bland says “Prevention is a hard thing to quantify. How do you know you prevented a disease you never got?”

In Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nakayama’s opinion, as Functional Medicine and Nutrition practitioners, it is our job–to help prevent disease and bring those back from the precipice of myriad imbalances.

what you can do right now to incorporate the principles of orthomolecular medicine into your practice

Remember, Orthomolecular Medicine fundamentally states that the basis for health is good nutrition, and that “good nutrition” is different for each of us because we all have different needs for nutrients.

Our Functional Nutrition immersion program—Full Body Systems—gives you everything you need to create individualized therapeutic recommendations for your clients, putting the principles of both Functional and Orthomolecular Medicine into practice.

A key component to the protocol you’ll learn in Full Body Systems is a framework Andrea Nakayama created called 3 Roots, Many Branches.

The 3 Roots, Many Branches tell you where to start with every client, and how you can leverage the powers of nutrition, uncovering the unique foods and lifestyle changes each of your clients need.

Sign up for Andrea’s free training below!

Functional Medicine and Functional Nutrition just make good sense. And true to their names, they make your practice function well!

Sign up for a free training series
to help you begin practicing
functionally today!

Sign up for a free training series with Andrea Nakayama where you will learn her groundbreaking approach to root cause resolution for chronic conditions. It’s full of practical tips and insights into the nature of health, disease, and your unique role in the healthcare revolution.


How our graduates use the principles of Orthomolecular Medicine

I’ve had several instances recently where a client has been told by another practitioner that diet won’t make a difference in their condition. And I have a client who worked with other “nutritionists” who only sold her supplements and the nutrition part was just a handout. Yet when I get in there and do the true, Functional Nutrition work, they do get better. They’re able to avoid medication for anxiety, able to wear jeans again after resolving severe vulvodynia from interstitial cystitis, and really what it comes down to is that they’re able to take back control of their own health through their daily decisions and actions around food which is a great gift to be able to give people.

licensed dietitian-nutritionist (LDN), Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner (FNLP)


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Andrea Nakayama Founder and Lead Instructor

Meet Andrea Nakayama

Our founder, Functional Medicine Nutritionist Andrea Nakayama, blends the latest insights from Functional Medicine and Functional Nutrition into the training curriculum as well as our clinical practice for optimal outcomes. Andrea is a gifted educator, with an exceptional talent for turning complex concepts into practical insights – so, that you can put the latest thinking in Functional Nutrition to practice, right away.

Meet Andrea