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 United States, 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]

Functional medicine was created by Jeffrey Bland,[9] who founded The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) in the early 1990s as part of one of his companies, HealthComm.[10] IFM, which promotes functional medicine, became a registered non-profit in 2001.[11] Later, Mark Hyman became a leading proponent.[9]


Functional medicine is not well-defined by its proponents.[6] Oncologist David Gorski wrote that the vagueness is a deliberate tactic that makes functional medicine difficult to challenge.[12]

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".[13] These are meant to correspond to the underlying causes of health issues, the immediate causes, and the particular characteristics of a person's illness.[13] A functional medicine practitioner devises a "matrix" from these factors to serve as the basis for treatment.[13]

Treatments, practices, and concepts are generally not supported by medical evidence.[1]

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.[14][15] Contrary to scientific evidence, Joe Pizzorno, a major figure in functional medicine, claimed that 25% of people in the United States have heavy metal poisoning and need to undergo detoxification.[7] Many scientists state that such detox supplements are a waste of time and money.[16] Detox has been also called "mass delusion".[17]


In 2014, the American Academy of Family Physicians withdrew 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 overview classes, but not to teach its practice.[8]

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


  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 c 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. ^ a b "Functional medicine: Is it the future of healthcare or just another wellness trend?". independent. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  10. ^ Barrett, Stephen (11 September 2013). "Some Notes on Jeffrey Bland and Metagenics". Quackwatch. Retrieved 5 April 2022.
  11. ^ "Institute for Functional Medicine 2001 tax forms". ProPublica. 9 May 2013.
  12. ^ Gorski, David (11 April 2016). "Functional medicine: The ultimate misnomer in the world of integrative medicine". Science Based Medicine.
  13. ^ a b c Knott L (6 February 2015). "Therapies and Theories Outside Traditional Medicine". Patient. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  14. ^ Gorski, David (December 17, 2018). "Functional medicine: Reams of useless tests in one hand, a huge invoice in the other". Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  15. ^ "Adrenal Fatigue | Hormone Health Network". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  16. ^ "Scientists dismiss detox schemes". BBC. 3 January 2006.
  17. ^ Dixon, Bernard (2005). ""Detox", a mass delusion". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Elsevier BV. 5 (5): 261. doi:10.1016/s1473-3099(05)70094-3. ISSN 1473-3099. PMID 15854880.

Further reading