Blog Post

Is Functional Medicine Legit?

BW writes: “My husband is a very sick man with several serious medical problems and while I was looking up different medicinal ways of helping him I came across a different way of practicing medicine which is called Functional Medicine. After asking someone about Functional Medicine I was told that it works, and many people have been healed by it. My concern is if you know anything about it and if you do does it have anything to do with New Age or the occult? I do not want us to get involved with anything like that.”

Functional Medicine is very much a part of the New Age alternative market, which explains why it is considered to be a pseudo-science.  But that hasn’t it stopped it from making its way into the bastions of conventional medicine – much to the chagrin of scientists. For example, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Foundation (which also recommends Reiki and other forms of “energy healing”) opened the Center for Functional Medicine in 2014 as part of its “ongoing focus on wellness and disease prevention.”

This should raise a lot of eyebrows, especially when you consider the fact that functional medicine was invented by a man named Jeffrey Bland, who was not a medical doctor. He’s a Ph.D. who sells dietary supplements and whose companies have been repeatedly fined by the FTC and FDA for making false medical claims for their products.

But what exactly is it?

Not surprisingly, the definition of functional medicine is vague, which some say is deliberate in order to facilitate its promotion to the public. However, the website of one its biggest proponents, Dr. Mark Hyman, who was a pal of Bill and Hillary Clinton, takes a stab at it by describing it as “an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness.”

The practice requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and then leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes, the website claims.

“By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, Functional Medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual,” the site states.

According to functional medicine critic, Harriet Hall, M.D., “That sounds good, until you realize that it also describes good conventional medicine. Conventional medicine always addresses the underlying causes of disease: when you have appendicitis, you don’t just get morphine for the pain, you get an appendectomy to remove the cause of the pain.”

Conventional doctors also deal with the whole person, and spend time with their patient which is why 70 percent of the diagnostic process is learning the history of the patient.

“As early as ancient Greece, Hippocrates said it was more important to know which person had the disease than to know which disease the person had,” Dr. Hall writes. Conventional doctors look at genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, family history, social history, even occupation and finances. They routinely ask about things such as tobacco, alcohol, and exercise."

So what’s the difference between conventional and functional medicine? Simple. One relies on proven methods for treatment and the other doesn’t.

For example, although it does use conventional methods, functional medicine also recommends unscientific treatments such as homeopathy, biopuncture (the injection of homeopathic remedies), unproven nutritional interventions, and detox regimes.

This could explain why there is no evidence for the efficacy of functional medicine, such as research trials comparing it to conventional medicine in a clinical setting. When asked about the lack of testing, Bland replied: “Unfortunately, current research models do not have a way to test each individualized, patient-centered therapeutic plan that is tailored to a person with a unique combination of existing conditions, genetic influences, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices.”

This explanation doesn’t pass muster with serious scientists, such as Dr. David Gorski of the popular Science-Based Medicine blog.

“Basically, this is a manifesto for doing whatever the heck a physician wants in the name of ‘personalizing’ care,” Dr. Gorski writes. “It’s a lame excuse—the very lamest—and exactly the same excuse that homeopaths, acupuncturists, and the like make for not doing clinical trials testing their quackery . . .”

The question to ask yourself before investing in any kind of alternative medicine is whether or not it is worth the risk. In addition to the fact that it might not work, it also might be dangerous to your health – or to the health of others if you are using it to treat a communicable disease.

In addition, if you are a Catholic, you are required to use ordinary (i.e., scientifically proven) means to treat any condition that is life-threatening and/or contagious.

Conventional medicine is far from perfect, but it beats the alternative medicine industry which is riddled with quacks who operate state-of-the-art websites full of impressive testimonials but who have very little hard evidence to back up their claims.