Will Cole, and the Grift of Functional Medicine

By Katie Suleta — Apr 16, 2024
An alternative healthcare provider with a massive social media following, Will Cole sells wellness and scary-sounding pseudo-diseases. His empire, like other functional medicine hucksters, sells supplements and aligns with celebrities for promotion and legitimacy. Let’s tease apart the hype from the hyperbole.
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Who is Will Cole

Will Cole is a celebrity alternative healthcare provider, author, and salesman. He’s built a large following on social media, with over 500,000 followers on Instagram alone. He’s got Gwyneth Paltrow’s stamp of approval as evidenced through his Goop profile, their shared stories of how he’s helped her “reset her health,” and Paltrow writing the forward to one of his books. His influence spreads far and wide. Such an expansive influence warrants a closer look at who he is.

On his website, Cole claims that he,

“…specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems.”

Given the platform he’s amassed and the specialty knowledge he claims to have, one would hope he’s well-trained, educated, and credentialed. He does have several initials after his name, specifically DC, IFMCP, and DNM. But what do all those initials mean? DC stands for Doctor of Chiropractic. IFMCP stands for Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner. DNM stands for Doctor of Natural Medicine. Let’s break these down and investigate further who he is.

DC - Doctor of Chiropractic

Cole went to the Southern California University of Health Sciences (not to be confused with the University of Southern California, which has a Health Sciences campus) for his Doctor of Chiropractic degree. Cole claims to specialize in many different areas, none of which are in a chiropractor’s wheelhouse. Chiropractors manipulate joints and the spine. As I have written, they aren’t trained to identify, diagnose, or treat thyroid issues, brain problems, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disorders, or digestive problems. So, maybe these areas are covered by one of the other initials?

IFMCP - Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner

This one needs some unpacking. First, what is functional medicine? According to the Institute for Functional Medicine,

“…Functional medicine treats root causes of disease and restores healthy function through a personalized patient experience.

This definition includes “root cause” and “personalized,” keywords that functional medicine practitioners claim differentiate the medicine they practice versus typical medical practice

Functional medicine claims to focus on the root cause of an illness, with the implication being that medicine, as typically practiced, does not, only focusing on symptoms. However, this is not true. The germ theory revolutionized medicine for a reason; suddenly, we could point to organisms that cause illness. Antibiotics and vaccines are used to address the root cause of infectious diseases. Though difficult, medicine is constantly looking to identify the root cause of an illness.

Functional medicine will also claim that care is personalized, implying that typical medical care is not. You may be thinking, “How do they do that?” The answer is the same way typical medicine does: through lab tests. However, in functional medicine, there are a lot more lab tests. Physicians typically order tests if there is a reason indicated by patient symptoms. Those plying functional medicine order everything and the kitchen sink, sacrificing the personal and precise for a route costing you time, money, and sanity.

Now, with the basics of functional medicine, let’s talk about that IFMCP credential, beginning with the institute behind it, the Institute for Functional Medicine. It has some concerning features for an institute where people seek healthcare training.

 Mark Hyman is their Board President of Clinical Affairs. For the uninitiated, he’s a prominent figure in the wellness and alternative medicine world. He’s famous for nutrition misinformation, bunk claims about brain problems and open hypocrisy for peddling supplements containing the exact substances he publicly demonizes.

A hallmark of functional medicine is selling supplements. For example, if you look at the Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19 through the Institute for Functional Medicine, they recommend a large number of supplements. Would it surprise you to hear that Mark Hyman, their Board President of Clinical Affairs, just happens to sell many of those recommended supplements? Echinacea. Curcumin. Luteolin. Vitamin C. Vitamin D. Elderberry.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Quite the coincidence, isn’t it?

The IFMCP certification comes from a dubious institution with questionable medical positions and recommendations that just happens to recommend treatments and prevention efforts sold by one of their board members. We haven’t even touched on the dubious nature of education it provides to people, but it’s essential to know that it seems to be a natural extension of this institute; it’s a money-making ploy.

DNM - Doctor of Natural Medicine

This credential seems to have been created simply to cause confusion and turmoil in the alternate world of natural medicine. Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) should not be confused with a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND).

A naturopath or a Doctor of Natural Medicine is not a naturopathic doctor. When you are looking for a practitioner in a … non-regulated modality, such as Doctor of Natural Medicine, it doesn’t really tell you anything. There may be ideals of educational standards or ideals of practice, but when anyone can use a designation without an outside, independent regulatory body overseeing each applicant and ensuring standards, it leaves room for a lot of confusion.”

  – Iva Lloyd, ND, Board of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors

DNM programs are not regulated in any way; therefore, it’s difficult to say what kind of training Cole actually received. However, it’s safe to say that without regulation, this type of credential seems like a far cry from “specializing” in any areas he claims.

Wellness

So, Cole is not a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathic medicine, or indeed, even a naturopathic doctor. While he has a doctor of chiropractic degree, this degree does not provide training in any areas he claims to specialize in. He is not qualified to be diagnosing people with autoimmune disorders, brain disorders, etc.   

None of this stops him from discussing scary-sounding diagnoses, whose sole purpose is to get you to buy something in the name of your health. Of course, like other wellness influencers, he sells his brand of supplements. For example, leaky brain syndrome. Sounds concerning. ACSH explained this “diagnosis” and why you shouldn’t be concerned about it. However, that doesn’t stop Cole and others like him from trying to whip up a health scare around it. Then, he runs the same play I described another chiropractor using, selling you the “cure” for your “disease” described in the article with supplements that you can buy on their website.

Cole’s not even trying to hide this. He states on his website:

“Once we find out the objective data, we customize a clinical functional medicine program, tailored to your needs that include customized diets and condition specific natural supplements—all tailored to your unique physiology.”

The way that you should read that statement is, “We’ll provide and charge you for a lot of lab tests that you don’t need, that we aren’t qualified to interpret, and then diagnose you with a scary sounding, yet made-up disease that we ‘cure’ with one of our supplements.” That has a much different ring to it, doesn’t it?

We’ve barely scratched the surface of Cole, functional medicine, and the wellness industry, but you can see that it’s all connected. They run the same playbook over and over again. Seemingly legitimate credentials, promises of holistic care, scary sounding diagnosis, providing the cure they just happen to sell.

Be wary. Be vigilant. Be skeptical. Don’t buy into the hype.

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