A better model of healthcare is being built today by those practicing Functional Medicine/Health - one success story at a time. It's to be expected that those who stand to lose the most - the ones whose symptom management model is threatened with obsolescence - will be the ones trying to mess things up the most.
There will be charlatans and pretenders that seek to capitalize on the successes of Functional Medicine by calling themselves a "Functional Medicine Doctor" or claim to be practicing Functional Medicine or Functional Health. So before the terms get too polluted, let's be clear about what Functional Medicine/Health is and isn't, as well as what constitutes a Functional Medicine/Health practitioner, so that you - patient/client/consumer - don't end up wasting your time or money on someone claiming to be something they're not.
One of the most fundamental aspects of Functional Medicine/Health is that practitioners work to get to the root cause of what's wrong with you, rather than just treat your symptoms or manage your disease. In fact, most practitioners I know don't even treat for disease. Their main purpose is to help coach up your adaptive physiology by treating the entire body non-specifically as a whole, integrated unit that has the ability to self-heal once it is properly balanced and provided with the correct energetic inputs.
Those inputs are provided by your natural environment and lifestyle choices: eating a healthy diet, having good sleep habits, proper circadian rhythms, exercising, drinking clean water, and exposing your skin and eyes to sunshine daily, while at the same time reducing/eliminating stress, exposure to nnEMFs, too much blue light, toxic relationships, and environmental pollutants.
These are the fundamentals that affect your health the most, and personally, I generally like to spend at least the first thirty days with every new client dialing in the fundamentals before doing anything else, because I want them to fully understand how powerful an effect they have on overall health. Teaching a person how to make fundamental changes that allow them to be able to sleep without the aid of a pill, or poop without needing coffee or a laxative is truly the most powerful medicine of all, and a lesson that lasts a lifetime. In some cases, the fundamentals are all we need to address.
Yeah, they're that powerful.
If your doctor doesn't talk to you about the importance of these things - or provide you with a health coach that does - that's a good clue you're not dealing with a Functional Medicine practitioner.
Supplements? Of course they can be helpful - whether for relief care, corrective care, or maintenance care. In any case, they're an adjunct therapy to be used parallel to correcting your environment and lifestyle habits. In fact, supplements are usually only necessary BECAUSE your environment and lifestyle are out of sync with nature. Sometimes they're needed for a genetic issue. In any case, they should be used for the shortest amount of time possible, unless the situation warrants longer term usage - like supplementing for deficiencies in a vegan diet or making up for nutrients lost due to aging.
If your health practitioner sends you home with a big bag of supplements, herbs, or nutraceuticals - without addressing your lifestyle habits first (or at least, in tandem) - they're not practicing Functional Medicine. Most physicians don't know the first thing about making environmental and lifestyle changes, because it wasn't taught to them in their big pharma-funded medical schools. It's also not uncommon for a doctor to switch from prescribing pharmaceutical drugs to prescribing natural supplements and herbs and calling it Functional Medicine. It's not.
And just so you know, I'm not hating on pharmaceuticals or pretending like Functional Medicine is ALL natural. There are some Functional Medicine docs who also have the ability to prescribe, and will do so when appropriate - like to quickly eradicate a pathogenic bacteria, parasite, or yeast overgrowth. I'm all for intelligent allopathy when necessary, especially if it helps move the patient in the right direction quicker, with less stress, and be able to continue on the with the rest of their healing program. However, I seriously doubt you'll have a FM doc prescribe you an SSRI for depression or a PPI for acid reflux or a statin for high cholesterol. Those should be alarm bells cautioning you to watch out.
Prior to all of that, there should be an extensive intake process designed to acquire as much information about your history (as well as your goals) as possible, in order to best understand your unique, biochemical individuality to decide on the best way forward for you. Just as every patient is different, the healing path forward will be different too. There is NEVER "one size fits all" in Functional Medicine.
The intake form I use is 45 pages long and was designed by the brilliant minds at the Living Proof Institute. You can expect to spend at least an hour+ filling it out, along with at least another hour+ talking with me about your health needs before you sign up for anything. During that time, if I feel like you aren't going to be serious about making the environmental and lifestyle changes that will be necessary for your healing, I'll tell you that I don't think you're a good candidate for my program and send you on your way. Why? Because I want you to be successful and healthy - but your success and health status is up to you, and have to be willing to put in the time to make it happen.
A good practitioner won't waste your time and money.
If you don't spend at least thirty minutes to an hour+ discussing your history and your future on your first appointment with your practitioner - it's not Functional Medicine. It's absurd to make people wait one to two hours, only to see them for ten minutes and then push them out the door with a handful of drugs to manage their symptoms. It's even more absurd that people actually put up with it - like a medically-induced Stockholm Syndrome.
Finally, there will be labs. Any practitioner who works on you without running labs is just guessing what's wrong with you. Functional Medicine doesn't guess...it tests.
Labs underscore the whole "biochemical individuality" thing I mentioned above. They help us dial in what's wrong with you so we can decide how to help you. If your practitioner runs, say, a thyroid panel - but only checks TSH or T4 - then Functional Medicine it most definitely is not. Full thyroid panel or GTFO.
Along with that, Functional Medicine uses "functional" ranges on lab results. I can't tell you how many times I've been told "my doctor said my labs look fine" or, "my doctor said nothing's wrong with me." Conventional lab ranges are based on the averages of sick people. Functional lab ranges are based on what we know to actually represent a healthy person. If your practitioner doesn't know the difference, it's not Functional Medicine. Not only that, if your practitioner actually tells you that there's nothing wrong with you based on your lab results - despite your tears and pain and pleas for help - he's also a dick. Fire him.
That brings us to the critics...the ones who like to punctuate their sentences with the word "quack" and reference snopes.com. They jeer and snort and huff about "alternative" medicine, chiropractors, naturopaths, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, placebo effect, meditation, herbs, and anything else not canon to mainstream medicine. They even criticize running labs, as though they're some kind of functional scam. They're not.
The successful outcomes that Functional Medicine has speak for themselves, and they really should be good enough to silence the mainstream naysayers on their own. However, let's be clear here: the only reason conventional medicine is considered "mainstream" at all is because it has the backing of very wealthy and powerful people who have lobbied lawmakers for decades to make it so. If it wasn't so heavily coddled and protected, it most definitely would not be mainstream.
To that end (and to wrap this up) I want to make one final distinction and clarification: I'm not anti-conventional medicine. Indeed, it shines the brightest in cases of acute care - fixing broken bones and mangled bodies, trauma, heart attacks, surgery, a ruptured appendix, etc. If there's an emergency or a need to be cut open or put back together, damn right I'm going to a hospital - even if the food is shit.
But for chronic care - like inflammatory conditions, hormonal problems, autoimmune disorders, obesity, digestive disturbances, metabolic issues, neuroendocrine malfunctions, etc - and ESPECIALLY for preventative care, Functional Medicine is the star illuminating the path towards a brighter future in healthcare.
Caveat emptor, dear health seeker.