Functional medicine

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Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine that encompasses a number of unproven and disproven methods and treatments.[1][2][3] Its proponents claim that it focuses on the "root causes" of diseases based on interactions between the environment and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems to develop "individualized treatment plans".[4] It has been described as pseudoscience,[5] quackery,[6] and at its essence a rebranding of complementary and alternative medicine.[6]

In the US, functional medicine practices have been ruled ineligible for course credits by the American Academy of Family Physicians because of concerns they may be harmful.[7][8]


The discipline of functional medicine is vaguely defined by its proponents.[6] Oncologist David Gorski has written that the vagueness is a deliberate tactic, but that in general its practice centers on unnecessary and expensive testing procedures performed in the name of "holistic" health care.[9]

Proponents of functional medicine oppose established medical knowledge and reject its models, instead adopting a model of disease based on the notion of "antecedents", "triggers", and "mediators".[10] These are meant to correspond to the underlying causes, the immediate causes, and the particular characteristics of a person's illness respectively.[10] A functional medicine practitioner will devise a "matrix" from these things which acts as a basis for treatment.[10]

Treatments, practices, and concepts will generally be those not supported by medical evidence.[1]

Institute for Functional Medicine[edit]

Institute for Functional Medicine
FounderJeffrey Bland, PhD
Focus"To serve the highest expression of individual health through the widespread adoption of functional medicine as the standard of care."[11]
MethodEducation, Research, Collaboration
Key people
Mark Hyman, MD, Chairman

Functional medicine was invented by chemist Jeffrey Bland.[12] He and Susan Bland founded the Institute for Functional Medicine in 1991 as a division of HealthComm.[13][14] That year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said that Jeffrey Bland's corporations HealthComm and Nu-Day Enterprises had falsely advanced claims that their products could alter metabolism and induce weight loss.[13] The FTC found that Bland and his companies violated that consent order in 1995 by making more exaggerated claims. The UltraClear dietary program was said to provide relief from gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory and immunologic problems, fatigue, food allergies, mercury exposure, kidney disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis. The companies were forced to pay a $45,000 civil penalty.[13]

The opening of centers for functional medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and at George Washington University has been described by Gorski as an "unfortunate" example of pseudoscientific quackery infiltrating medical academia.[6]


In 2014, the American Academy of Family Physicians withdrew granting of course credits for functional medicine courses, having identified some of its treatments as "harmful and dangerous"[7] In 2018, it partly lifted the ban, but only to allow teaching an overview of functional medicine, not to teach its practice.[8]


  1. ^ a b Sampson, Wallace (October 30, 2008). "Functional Medicine – New Kid on the Block". Science-Based Medicine.
  2. ^ Sampson, Wallace (July 9, 2009). "Functional Medicine (FM) What Is It?". Science Based Medicine. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  3. ^ Pal, SK (March 2002). "Complementary and alternative medicine: An overview". Current Science. 82 (5): 518–24. JSTOR 24105958.
  4. ^ Ehrlich, G; Callender, T; Gaster, B (May 2013). "Integrative medicine at academic health centers: A survey of clinicians' educational backgrounds and practices" (PDF). Family Medicine. 45 (5): 330–4. PMID 23681684. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  5. ^ Hall, Harriet (2017). "Functional Medicine: Pseudoscientific Silliness". Skeptic. Vol. 22 no. 1. pp. 4–5.
  6. ^ a b c d Gorski, David (September 29, 2014). "Quackademia update: The Cleveland Clinic, George Washington University, and the continued infiltration of quackery into medical academia". Science–Based Medicine. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  7. ^ a b Bellamy J (26 October 2017). "AAFP: Functional Medicine lacks supporting evidence; includes 'harmful' and 'dangerous' treatments". Science-Based-Medicine.
  8. ^ a b Bellamy J (27 October 2018). "AAFP should publish research behind finding that functional medicine lacks evidence, contains harmful and dangerous practices". Science-Based-Medicine.
  9. ^ Gorski, David (11 April 2016). "Functional medicine: The ultimate misnomer in the world of integrative medicine". Science Based Medicine.
  10. ^ a b c Knott L (6 February 2015). "Therapies and Theories Outside Traditional Medicine". Patient. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Our Mission". December 2014.
  12. ^ Leyton E (2006). "Functional medicine". Can Fam Physician. 52 (12): 1540. PMC 1783750. PMID 17279230.
  13. ^ a b c Barrett, Stephen (September 11, 2013). "Some Notes on Jeffrey Bland and Metagenics". Quackwatch. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  14. ^ "Founders". Institute for Functional Medicine. n.d. Retrieved November 10, 2014.

Further reading[edit]