Come join others currently navigating treatment in our weekly Zoom Meetup! Register here: Tuesdays, 1pm ET.
Fill Out Your Profile to share more about you. Learn more...

FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE /Integrative Medicine Doctors

I would like to ask any members of the group to share your experience with Functional Medicine MDs? A local Cancer Community group offered a Zoom meeting that I attended with a Functional Medicine MD. (Not a Naturopathic Doctor or NP)

A hefty group of cancer patients attended, each with some devastating cancers, not just breast, but all obviously looking for ideas to help with side effects, etc. The current world of healthcare which is becoming such a business which disallows Western Medicine doctors to spend much time with patients anymore is particularly sad for Oncology and primary care doctors.

For hefty fees, often not covered by Insurance, Functional Medicine doctors spend more time with you and look at the whole picture of your health issues and use their training to suggest diet plans, supplements, etc., etc. I just do not know the success of going this expensive path as a complement to Western Medicine. They are often considered "out of network" and insurance paperwork you fill out to submit, might pay a portion?

Would love to hear thoughts from other members who have used Functional Medicine MDs?


  • salamandra
    salamandra Member Posts: 735
    edited June 2022

    My treatment center has an integrative medicine department that my oncologist wants to refer me to when I mention certain side effects. I've met with a nurse practitioner there, and also spoken with other practitioners in other settings.

    On the plus side, if they are actually licensed professionals, they have to be concerned about maintaining their license and at least have some credentials.

    But on the other hand, there's a reason that that kind of medicine is funneled away to its own category and that's because it doesn't have enough evidence behind it to become part of regular medicine. And there are plenty of doctors who are credulous and themselves are taken in by quackery, even if they're not purposely scammy.

    In my experience, it lumps a bunch of different things together. Some of it has relatively strong evidence in theory - for example, plenty of studies show that people who do yoga feel better - but little real evidence for execution - e.g.: how much yoga? what kinds of yoga? is it the yoga or is it the social experience of the exercise group or is it the physical movement itself or is it that people who are more likely to engage in organized exercise are more likely to have the financial resources or background level of health to have better outcomes. Certain supplements are like this as well - there may be some evidence that the supplements are associated with feeling better or better outcomes, but the evidence itself tends to be based on fewer or shorter term studies, and/or there are not regulated sources of the supplement to ensure that a person is actually getting what they intend to buy.

    I went to a presentation by an integrative doctor who does take insurance and is affiliated with a reputable hospital. Even so, it seemed like the presentation blurred different types of 'treatments' together, from stuff that has some decent evidence, to stuff that has very little evidence at all but that probably 'won't hurt'. Unless I asked her about the level of evidence for each 'treatment' individually, she seemed content to let us assume that all of them had the same level evidence behind them.

    I suspect that a lot of the apparent success of functional medicine is placebo. Patients get to feel heard and paid attention to and catered to in a way that the regular medical system does not deliver. Placebo effect is *real* and seems to actually do some good for a certain percentage of people a certain percentage of the time.

    I am personally wary of practitioners who take the functional or integrative route, even if they are licensed professionals associated with reputable institutions, and much more so if they are not. I certainly would not go into any financial stress or hardship for it. But I know enough people who have felt good about going that route *in addition* to conventional treatment that I also would not discourage someone whose heart is set on it if they actually can afford it.

  • racheldog
    racheldog Member Posts: 209
    edited June 2022

    Salamandra, I appreciated your input and agree with most of all it. I think patients are just looking to have someone spend more time with them and listen to them. Doesn't anyone wish their doctors would spend more time with them these days? I am leery of any NP or other primary doc who says they do integrative medicine. The thing about Functional Medicine MDs is they do have a residency behind them in integrative or functional medicine. Some ND (Naturopathic doctors) practices--many in Arizona---have loads of training but an ND doctor cannot even order labs, per se, as they are not recognized as MDs. And the cost to go to them is really high as well.

    I think it is great when oncology practices have the idea of integrated medicine into their services. Some University settings do that as well. But you are correct on the evidence based part. I think mindfulness, exercise, tai chi and all of that is definitely important as complimentary practices. I was hoping to hear more about supplements and diet changes and foods but this lecture I went to just scratched the service and, of course, the MD could not dish out advice. Most seem to be part of a group practice to survive and I will not spend the kind of money for visits that I see them posting. Usually you do the paperwork billing to recover anything if they even take insurance. I would bet Medicare does not cover any of this.

    I will also investigate Chinese Medicine MDs---true MDs, not one hanging out a shingle with no credentials pushing herbs. I guess my main reason for doing this was to look at alternatives to aromatase inhibitors. With all their research I still believe these are really toxic drugs with tons of bad side effects for women.

  • maryjc
    maryjc Member Posts: 61
    edited July 2022

    Thank you for your Racheldog, I too have had nasty side effects from the AIs. A friend who is an MD said to just get off of them as it was counterintuitive. Honestly chemo and rads were more tolerable. I did and now trying to lose all of the weight gained. I have an acupuncturist, she is a doctor of acupuncture and has helped me with several issues. She offered me these herbs to help with insulin resistance where my body would be more cooperative with my efforts to lose weight. I started taking them and in one week (really less than) started seeing a difference. So much so I started calling them my magic pills. When she gave them to me I asked her FIRST- do they raise estrogen. She said a strong NO. I am normally leery of herbs since after BC because they do great work across the board with several things. Well I started researching them and the first one I found a study saying it raises estrogen. So no more magic pills. I am looking for a doctor that can help me get in better health naturally without compromising breast health. Anyhoo I suppose just venting. Came on here to see experiences. Thanks again.

  • racheldog
    racheldog Member Posts: 209
    edited July 2022

    Maryjc, I get it. I am headed for knee replacement surgery in 3 weeks and there was no way I was going to stay on Letrozole or other AI because I need my stamina, brain power and whatever else these anti-estrogen drugs were doing to me. When I am done and out a few months of surgery I may/may not try again. I am interested in Mushroom complex. It does seem that my stomach does not like a lot of different "things" unless I introduce vitamins or herbs easily. I am not sold on functional medicine but I think those doctors at least want to spend more time listening. Of course, most are private pay!