Harriet Hall on Functional Medicine: Redundant and Full of Babble

October 28, 2016

Harriet Hall, the Skepdoc, joins us to talk about “functional medicine,” a term that was fairly new to me. Here’s what Wikipedia says functional medicine is:

Functional medicine is a form of alternative medicine which proponents say focuses on interactions between the environment and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems.

Uh oh.

Practitioners attempt to develop individual treatment plans for people they treat.

Well that just sounds like “medicine.” Big deal, right?

Functional medicine encompasses a number of unproven and disproven methods and treatments, and has been criticized for being pseudoscientific.

And we’re off to the races.

As Hall pointed out, this is really just a new branding of what’s usually been known as “integrative medicine,” and the principles that proponents of FM say make up the core of the practice are no different than what real doctors using conventional medicine already do. For example, one tenet of FM was that “the acute care approach is inappropriate for chronic diseases.” To which Hall responded, “Well, DUH.”

When you drill down to the claims in FM marketing, we learn that all diseases are, at their roots, caused by “imbalances,” including “toxic emotions.” (If that’s true, then I am poised to get literally every disease ever.) FM even invents conditions that aren’t even diseases, like “toxicity” and, my favorite, “leaky gut.” Not a thing.

Hall shows us that FM, like much in the world of alt-med and pseudoscience, sounds a lot like sectarianism. There is a glaring lack of evidence for any of the practice’s claims, and it’s riddled with “indecipherable babble and word salad” in order to explain any of those claims.