Functional Medicine:
The Dark Side
Functional medicine has exploded in popularity in recent years with advocates turning their backs on conventional medicine. Let's dive in a little deeper and find out more...
Functional medicine has been vaguely defined as an "all-systems" approach, with a focus on the root causes of disease. Proponents claim the body can heal itself when addressing or correcting the interactions of our bodies' digestive, endocrine and immune systems with our environment and subsequently, creating individualised treatments. Obviously, this narrative appeals to many who have felt that the medical system has failed them.

How many times have you waited for ages waiting to be seen by your doctor? Before you know it, you're in a 5 -minute consultation where your doctor doesn't seem to be listening and bam, a prescription is handed to you while he bids you farewell. This scenario is becoming too common driving many away and understandably so. Now, I don't want to address the reasons behind why conventional medicine is failing today and why the likes of Poosh and Goop are becoming a haven for the seekers of alternative therapies (this article actually does a great job), but I wanted to highlight how functional medicine may actually simply be taking advantage of the vulnerable and weak.

Lunching with a famous Functional Medicine Doctor...
I've been wanting to share this story for a while now and after seeing clients who have been fooled and failed (also) by functional medicine, I decided not to hold back.

A few years ago, I was invited to lunch by a very famous "functional medicine doctor" here in Switzerland given my work in gut health and my speciality in food intolerance and allergies. They were impressed with my background and the purpose of our meeting was to discuss up-skilling their practitioners in this area "from the perspective of a qualified gut health dietitian". I took this opportunity to ask all the questions around the following:

  • Why are you promoting unorthodox food intolerance testing when you know they are not a proven diagnostic tool?
  • Why are you ordering so many lab tests, with some being totally irrelevant?
  • Is there such a demand of colonics and vitamin drips?

The answers to my questions above all had a common theme – "these people have tried it all and won't hesitate to pay more for thinking outside of the box, they are desperate for answers that modern medicine hasn't given them". When we discussed food intolerance testing – they were very much aware of their uselessness but wanted to "provide their patients a starting point", without the mention of gaining commission from promoting these tests.

As for treatments like chelation therapy, colonics and vitamin drips: "Our main clients come from Asia and the Middle East, so Sandra, they have the money and loyalty. We treat them like VIPs with their own fully-catered space, run a whole bunch of tests to make sure that they are at their utmost health and provide them with a few "add-ons" such as colonics and topping their system up with vitamins to boost their wellbeing".

The reason I'm mentioning all of this is because in my experience, functional medicine tends to hide behind a façade of "finding the root cause" while gaining a ridiculous amount of $$$ by doing so. The amount of lab-work that is useless or has no scientific backing is also at the centre of it all, from analysing your saliva to testing for "heavy metals", desperate clients will do anything to get the answers they've been seeking for. Add a narrative of "food is medicine" to the mix and you've hit gold! So this brings me to..

Food is NOT medicine
How can a dietitian even say that, you may ask? You know what, you actually won't find ethical dietitians using the 'food is medicine' slogan because it's an overly-simplistic message that can actually be dangerous. Food can be seen as prevention, as nourishment, pleasurable, sociable, complementary to medicine but not medicine. Why is this message dangerous? We're now seeing more and more people ditch chemotherapy, turn away from their much-needed medication, stop treatment...etc. We're seeing this trend thanks to fear-mongering documentaries, functional medicine doctors who claim they've cured disease and simply said, the unregulated world of social media.

Food is Food and Medicine is Medicine. There are definitely conditions where changing the way you eat can have an impact or improve the course of a condition but to claim that food is medicine or food is a cure is frankly irresponsible. So why do you think the movement of functional medicine was created?

Enter the world of cancer and autoimmune disorders, where sufferers feel that the medical community has failed them. These conditions are extremely complex and yes, medicine is not there yet but you know what, science doesn't always have the answers. This may portray modern medicine as a 'failure' within these groups of people because they are desperate. Now behold the world of "food is medicine" fadvocates who capitalise on this.

Here's what I've seen. I have seen first-hand the dangers of ditching medical treatments for such messages resulting in death, complications, seizures and who do we hold responsible? When something goes wrong, what happens? This was a question I asked and the answer was "our clients are fully aware of the risks and possible outcomes, Sandra we are a business at the end of the day"…

My own personal position when it comes to alternative therapies?

The medical community needs to restore the trust in people again and there is SO MUCH that needs to change with a reduction in overly-prescribed medication and the revival of basic EMPATHY from doctors. Also, I do stand behind medical practitioners with an integrative approach because both worlds can co-exist. I work with fantastic medical doctors who are also open to integrating approaches such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and most importantly, lifestyle and nutrition advice from QUALIFIED and certified nutritionists and dietitians. What I am completely against is taking advantage of the vulnerable, promoting pseudoscience and capitalising on it. I do appreciate the honesty of the functional medicine clinic that I've met with but safe to say, we haven't built a partnership and there won't be one in the future.

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