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Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine that encompasses a number of unproven and disproven methods and treatments. 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." It has been described as pseudoscience, quackery, and at its essence a rebranding of complementary and alternative medicine.
Functional medicine was created by Jeffrey Bland. Bland founded The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) in the early 1990s as part of one of his companies HealthComm. IFM, which promotes functional medicine, became a registered non-profit in 2001. Today Mark Hyman is one of the leading proponents.
The discipline of functional medicine is vaguely defined by its proponents. Oncologist David Gorski has written that the vagueness is a deliberate tactic that makes functional medicine difficult to challenge, but that in general its practice centers on unnecessary and expensive testing procedures performed in the name of "holistic" health care.
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". These are meant to correspond to the underlying causes, the immediate causes, and the particular characteristics of a person's illness respectively. A functional medicine practitioner will devise a "matrix" from these factors which acts as a basis for treatment.
Functional medicine practitioners claim to diagnose and treat conditions that have been found by research studies to not exist, such as adrenal fatigue and numerous imbalances in body chemistry. Despite lacking evidence or studies to back up his claim, Joe Pizzorno, a major figure in functional medicine, purports that 25% of people in the United States have heavy metal poisoning and need to undergo detoxification. Scientists state that claimed detox supplements are a waste of time and money.
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" In 2018, it partly lifted the ban, but only to allow teaching an overview of functional medicine, not to teach its practice.
The opening of centers for functional medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and at the George Washington University has been described by Gorski as an "unfortunate" example of pseudoscientific quackery infiltrating medical academia.
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