What is the Straight Dope on "functional medicine"?

Here’s a cite describing it. If you look into it, there are lots of folks trying to sell books and such, which raises a red flag. My sister has gone all gung-ho on it, and if it’s bogus, I need to be able to explain to her why. Thanks.


It’s bullshit.

While some of the concepts may prove to have merit, as presently packaged, it screams of quackery.

If they have to say that it is science-based, it is not science-based.

QtM Thanks. The site is good a pointing out how many of the red flags there are, and that FM’s precepts are unproven. But do you know of any folks who can say WHY it’s bullshit? I already pointed out to my sister, that it seemed like a scam because the only way you could find out about it was to buy stuff.

Further, for the believer, “it has no scientific basis” isn’t enough. She believes that it is simply science that is yet to be proven. Has anyone actually tested it?

QtM posted almost the same link I was going to, except here’s the first article in the series by Wallace Sampson. And another opinion here.

My take is that “functional medicine” is a vague term, employing a variety of strawmen (i.e. physicians don’t treat causes, they treat symptoms; functional medicine is “personalized” (regular docs don’t recognize you as a person), everyone is biochemically “unique” etc.)

That last one takes a few grains of truth (there are genetic differences in the population that may affect disease incidence and treatment) and blows it up into a fantasy that everyone is different, making it impossible to rely on mainstream therapies and justifying one’s trying any and all supplements and questionable treatments in a search for the magic bullet.

So “functional medicine” is more of a marketing strategy than a unique and revolutionary “science-based” system. It tries to take credit for sound medical practice that is already in use and distorts the role of mainstream care.

For examples of the possibilities of alternative medicine, she gives me articles like this one:


This guy Dr. Ioannidis is one of her heroes.

His thing is exposing the suppression of “negative result” drug trials/experiments in the name of selling medicine, and points out, for example, the recent statin findings (i.e. that it has no effect on people who don’t already have a history of heart problems, yet it is sold to millions of people as a preventative drug.)

Jackmannii, Thanks for the first part of that series. Yes. It’s the mega doses of vitamins that she is doing (and trying to get me to do). I don’t think it could hurt anything, but have there been tests on it? (Her doctor isn’t even selling her supplements, just recommending it, so it’s no a scam THAT way. If the doc was selling them, that would be enough red flags for me, but no one has made a dime off of her, except a couple of office visits, with none more scheduled)

I presume he’s talking about the negative result that was so overwhelmingly suppressed that practically everyone on the planet has heard about it?

In any case, if I give you a list of a thousand statements, one of which is a lie, the 999 truthful statements also given don’t make the lie any less a lie.

Key phrases are “imbalances” (used 6 times but 6 different ways in 6 bullet point lines) and “detoxification,” both highly charged phrases used almost entirely by pseudo-medical sites, and having little or no reliable medical definitions.

That’s just for starters, but need I say more?

You hit the nail on the head, Grasshopper. “For the believer”: Some folks approach ideas with the belief first and ask for proof later, if at all. Sometimes the belief and hope are all they have, all they get, and all they need.

I believe a milkshake will cure cancer, and I will call it science that is yet to be proven. Does that make it worth anything?

Most things proposed are never proven to work. If there is a buck to be made, proof will often take a back seat to tests, since believers don’t feel the need and tests may destroy your golden goose.

Generally (not your specific problem), the problem with megadoses of vitamin or other supplements* is that because they’re not sold as medicine, but as supplements, they aren’t as tightly regulated. The biggest red flag is when the sellers start talking about the big pharma conspiracy suppressing their all-natural cure for cancer, so they only sell it on the internet or privatly. What you get is uncontrolled substances - they could be just flour = worthless, or contain herbs and plant substances that are dangerous - for a load of money.

As long as you are healthy, you’re “only” endangering your purse; but when you get seriously ill, this can turn life-threatening: "Dr." Rath filled huge halls with lectures on the pharma conspiracy and his natural vitamins, and brainwashed one pair of parents into rejecting normal cancer therapy for their son Dominik Feld. (The case went to court for endangering the health and life of their kid, to remove custody, but by the time it had been resolved, the cancer had progressed too far.)

*I know mostly the legal situation in Germany, but it seems that the situation in the US with the FDA is generally similar.


This is Dr. Grisanti. I have read your forum post about functional medicine and have a few comments I believe would be of value. As medicine director of Functional Medicine University, I have have trained over 1100 licensed physicians in functional medicine. 20% of my student base are medical physicians. What I find interesting is the fact that the peer reviewed medical literature is overflowing with scientific evidence of the issues of physiological and biochemical aberrations as it relates to disease.
Considering leaders at some of most prestigious medical school (John Hopkins, Harvard, Emory) have written and teach functional medicine concepts would not go along with the issues of quackery and some of the comments mentioned by some of the post.
If you have any questions or need an avalanche of scientific papers on the overwhelming evidence of functional medicine, please let me know.

Dr. Grisanti

This Doctor Grisanti?

Your site doesn’t allow cut & paste, but you refer to your Chiropractic Training & a pending Masters in Nutrition. You also stated you were “beginning a comprehensive program in Homeopathy.”

Did I miss your M.D.? I’m sure others will be here soon with more questions…

There is some truth in individual variations, and in a perfect world, we probably would customize treatments for each individual. But this isn’t a perfect world, and the sad fact is, we don’t know how to do that. The way that you find out what medicines work is that you test them on thousands of people, over a span of many years. But we only have one of you, and you probably can’t wait a decade for us to find out what’s best for you, anyway. All real-world doctors can do is give you a treatment, see if it works, and if it doesn’t, try another treatment until they find one that does. Which is, of course, exactly what they do.

And do you have any association with this website from the OP? And if you are not associated with it, do you endorse its views?

Dr. Grisanti, can you supply a list of specific diseases, conditions or ailments that functional medicine purports to treat? And does FM claim to treat these better than any other method?

Links, reports and studies can come later. I just want to define our terms first, in the simpliest, clearest way possible.

Does anyone else hear ducks?

I, for one, would be interested in seeing the scientific papers you mention. Were any of them published in peer-reviewed journals of evidence-based medicine?


Haven’t you read the website? Functional medicine doesn’t treat diseases, it treats patients!