Tag Archives: gastrointestinal

The Truth Behind the “Everyone Is Different” Mantra

If you’ve hung around the internet-based support groups and forums (either general or for a specific disorder) long enough, you might get lucky and see a practitioner pop up every once in a while with a gem….followed by the disclaimer: “Everyone is different.”  Many patients in my office ask me how long it might take them to get better; someone next to me in the grocery store might ask me what they can take for their Candida, Mercury toxicity, or a general detox plan.  Or a colleague calls me to ask what they can do for a patient with a mysterious symptom.  To which I reply with my own: “Everyone is different.”

What’s with that?  Is “Everyone is Different” a simple cop-out?  An office ploy to obtain more patients or clients?

Maybe it is for some practitioners, but I can only speak for myself and how I practice.  When it comes out of my mouth, “everyone is different” really means just that.

The skeptics out there scoff and say, “well, that’s just a ploy.  There can’t be that much variation between human beings.  After all, we share 96% of our DNA with cats, which is only a 4% variability; how can humans vary so much?”

The easy answer is…three factors.  1) Predisposing Factors, 2) Triggering Factors, and 3) Perpetuating factors.

1.  Predisposing Factors

That starts with genetics.  You’ve probably heard the term “genetic predisposition”, usually in reference to a disease or condition.  Our genes vary a lot!  For example, 30% of the population has a genetically-predisposed reactivity to gluten.  About 40-50% of the population has a methylation (detox pathway) defect.  Do you have estrogen dominance symptoms, or are you one of the estimated 50-80% of the women out there with uterine fibroids?  Then you may be among the 50% of the population that metabolizes estrogen differently in the liver, turning it into a very powerful, too-active form of the hormone.  When I order a genetic screening of someone’s detoxification ability, about 25% of the markers are abnormal, indicating mutated genes…in every.  Single.  Person.

It’s not just genes, either.  We vary in our physical structure as well.  Ten percent of the population is missing the retinaculum, a strip of tissue that goes across the inside of the wrist.  An estimated 40% were born *without* a psoas (pronounced “so-azz” major muscle.  Wow!

Let’s consider development, the first factor being prenatal care.  Parents whose children were planned are much more likely to have sought prenatal care, including prenatal vitamins with extra folate and other nutrients vital for proper fetal growth.  At the very least, they have (hopefully) stopped smoking or drinking.   A mother who doesn’t realize she’s pregnant (and may not until the third or even fifth month!) may not have taken any of these precautions.

2. Triggering Factors

Triggering Factors (or “triggers”) involve events or physical/chemical/emotional assaults that set something in motion, usually the development of a chronic disorder.  These usually occur after birth (although they can indeed begin in the womb), and can happen at any time of life, even in the elderly.

The birth process itself can change things.  A traumatic or emergency delivery, or a situation in which the baby was deprived of (or otherwise low on) oxygen can present lasting problems.  If the baby was born vaginally, this bodes much better for the development of the “good”/helpful bacteria that live in the GI tract; in fact, it’s an important point of establishment.  Those born by Cesarean section by-pass that opportunity.  The same goes for breastfeeding versus a soy or cow’s milk formula; the first three days of breast milk production isn’t the milk protein at all, but rather, colostrum, which is absolutely vital to a healthy immune system and (once again) the establishment of good intestinal bacteria.

Immediately after birth, a baby is born with 287 different toxic chemicals and metabolites in the blood. The urinary studies are even worse: of over 3,000 metabolites found in the urine, 2,200 were toxic and unnatural.  According to current research, it’s estimated that a lady sheds 60% of the stored toxins from her adipose tissue (fat cells) during pregnancy.  These do indeed cross into the umbilical cord.  If this lady lives on a rural ranch, her toxic exposures will be different than for someone who lives in a city, across from the cement plant (which releases ambient Mercury into the air).

As a newborn, if a baby was separated from his or her mother (mom was in the military or otherwise absent), this can actually intensify the brain-adrenal stress response, creating changes that last through life.  If the baby is vaccinated immediately, the immune system fails to develop properly (it is not developed well enough to know how to handle a vaccine properly until at least six months of age; vaccinating beforehand simply confuses the immune system, not to mention the doses of Mercury, propylene glycol/antifreeze, and formaldehyde that have been reported in vaccines).  Again, the same goes for breastfeeding – six months is the minimum for a healthy immune system; 12 months is ideal; I’m happy with anywhere in between.

Then, one must ask, what is this person’s early life like?  Do the parents fight?  Did the family move a lot?  Is the house clean and sanitary?  (Is it *too* clean and sanitary?)  Did the neighbors treat their lawn with chemicals or commercial fertilizers?  Is there an unknown growth of black mold in the vents?  Is there an unknown termite infestation releasing naphthalene (a toxic chemical) into the air?  What about diet?  Some brands of commercial baby food contain MSG!  That does not promote a healthy gut; in fact, it causes a Leaky Gut.  And what about baby clothes?  Many of today’s baby products (such as clothes, blankets, etc) have been treated with flame-retardant chemicals, which sounds good in theory, but in reality are quite toxic.  These chemicals release fumes into the air and through the skin that end up in the baby’s blood, threatening vulnerable developing tissues (like the brain and reproductive system, especially).

When the child gets sick, is he or she automatically given antibiotics?  During a seasonal cold or flu, it’s good to know that dairy and sugar create additional mucus and prolong the illness.  Eliminating these foods from the diet, at least during that time (and regardless of allergy) will help ease the symptoms and duration of a cold or flu.  Antibiotics, however, will not.  What they *will* do is kill off healthy bacteria.  There’s a place for antibiotics–to take care of an immediate problem before it becomes worse, while then taking the time to figure out why it happened.  A healthy immune system only gets a seasonal cold once or twice per year and in some people, every two years.

In light of the above, consider all of the “forks in the road” that each of us has faced.  We’ve had incredibly different combinations of predisposing and triggering factors influencing us from before birth!

You get the idea.  Most of my sickest patients had been subjected to long-standing family dysfunction or other emotional traumas growing up.  Many others were just fine until they got caught up in a bad relationship or moved to a particular house in which, undisclosed to them, was a black mold or cockroach infestation.  For others, it was a job change, in which the new job was extremely stressful, with a steep learning curve.  And for still others, all was well until a college spring break trip abroad, during which they contracted a stomach bug that ended up being an ulcer-causing bacteria; this created a hole between their intestinal tube and their bloodstream, and from there they went on to form severe reactions to several major foods.  Which brings us to…

3. Perpetuating Factors

These are factors that, once a condition or dysfunction has been set in motion, play a major part in keeping it going/making it worse.  These factors provide additional–often daily–assaults to the system, progressing the condition.  Prime examples include unrealized food intolerance, a dysfunctional marriage, fibromyalgia, harsh medication, environmental chemical exposures, processed foods, MSG intake, genetic abnormalities (such as the estrogen metabolism example mentioned early on), a manipulative sibling, an aging parent, chronic injuries from a car accident, migraines, birth control pills, a chronic unknown intestinal or dental infection, a special needs family member, death of a loved one, an old sports injury, *additional* food allergies (that develop long after the first few), and so much more.

Alcohol intake or prescription medications will change one’s nutrient status, and with that, one’s entire function.  The same holds true for one who is under chronic stress or chronic pain from an old injury.  Someone who harbors emotional traumas that have not been resolved through quality counseling may do “everything right” in terms of their care plan, and their symptoms may not budge.  Thus, it’s crucial that your doctor asks a lot of probing questions, scrutinizes every inch of a detailed health and personal history, gathers information about medications you’re taking, and recommends a comprehensive diagnostic lab workup.  (Hint: A blood cell count and an adrenal stress test are *not* a comprehensive workup!  At least not when you have a long list of mysterious symptoms and nothing you’ve tried has provided lasting relief.)

(The Unwritten #4: The Gameplan)

Each of us is a fingerprint–we look the same, but no two of us are exactly alike.  I see this variation very plainly when I receive lab test results on my patients.  I must carry three or four different versions of, for example, an intestinal healing formula, because a patient with a sulfur-loving bacteria growing in their intestine wouldn’t respond to the version that contains MSM, a sulfur-derived natural compound.  Others have an aloe allergy, so they wouldn’t handle the one with aloe very well.  Some need a more basic formula, while others need one with more anti-inflammatory ingredients.  Some peoples’ immune systems need turning up, while others’ systems need calming down.

Another good example involves thyroid disorders.  There are about 22 different patterns of thyroid dysfunction.  Healthy levels of specific brain chemicals are needed in order to stimulate TSH, the thyroid-stimulating hormone.  The thyroid gland must be open to receiving that TSH signal.  Then it must have enough raw nutrients (minerals and proteins) to make thyroid hormones.  The catch is, most of the thyroid hormone that the thyroid gland makes is inactive.  This hormone must be activated elsewhere.  If you suffer hidden, sneaky, chronic inflammation, you won’t activate thyroid hormones properly.  Thus, your thyroid tests can be “normal” and you still feel like a textbook hypothyroid case.

Some people need Iodine to improve their thyroid function, while for others, that can be an unpleasant–and risky–idea.  Some people need immune boosting (or calming) support in order for their thyroid symptoms to improve.  And still others need to tone down their adrenal stress before they’ll feel normal in thyroid terms again.  Sex hormone dominance can also mimic low thyroid function.  There’s no one magic bullet for “hypothyroid”.  For some people it might be a stomach cell-rejuvenating formula so that they can break down protein again in order to make their thyroid hormone backbone.  For others, it might be an adrenal modulating formula so that excess stress hormones stop interfering with thyroid hormones.  And so on…

The good news is, the technology is out there–and it’s now reliable, widely-available, and cost-effective!  It is now possible to sniff out these underlying causes, and rule some out while ruling others in.  This allows us to very specifically hone in on what the underlying cause of *your* particular problem is.  This also allows us to say, “well, it isn’t that, so we don’t even have to go down that road; let’s focus our efforts over here instead.”  The diagnostic approach becomes smarter.  The treatment or care approach becomes more targeted.  People heal more completely.  They even heal faster…

….even if:     “Everyone Is Different”

🙂

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Natural Weight Loss Alternatives: Part 2

Weight gain has been a bane of our existence in our current society.  It’s frustrating, especially when you’re trying to follow all the rules and do everything right.  Well, sometimes it’s not as simple as counting your calories or spending hours in the gym.  In the last post, I mentioned three major reasons why someone would gain extra weight.  Here are three more:

Cause #4: Gastrointestinal problems – many of us have major disruptions in our digestive system without realizing it.  More than 75% of all my patients have some kind of digestive dysfunction, whether it’s a parasite, a yeast, a bacterial infection, or a combination.  Much like a nice patch of grass that becomes infested with weeds, these “critters” take up residence along the walls of your intestines, keeping us from digesting and absorbing of many nutrients that help us burn fuel efficiently.  Without these nutrients, we end up with a scenario similar to the thyroid dysfunction, storing the unburned fuel in our fat cells.

Gastrointestinal bugs can also produce wastes that bog down the liver, causing the traffic jam I described above.  A comprehensive digestive analysis is a crucial tool that reveals a lot of information about how well you’re digesting and absorbing nutrients, as well as whether or not you have a parasite, yeast, or bacterial infection in your intestinal tract.

Cause #5: Excess Estrogen (both sexes) and/or Uterine Fibroids (women) – with all the hubbub surrounding hormone replacement therapy and its touted benefits, it may surprise you to learn that many women (and men) actually have too MUCH estrogen!  This is a condition known as Estrogen Dominance.  Estrogen in the proper amounts is normal and healthy, but too much estrogen can wreak havoc on the body.  In men, excess estrogen starts to compete with testosterone, which shifts a man’s metabolism more toward fat storage.  In women, there is less testosterone, but the outcome is similar: easier fat storage.

In addition, estrogen can promote abnormal uterine growth, called a uterine fibroid.  Uterine fibroids are benign tumors of the uterus, and with excess estrogen driving them, they can grow very large–the size of a grapefruit, or even bigger.  These can contribute toward significant (and sometimes rapid) weight gain.  This is especially true if your body has shifted toward making a more powerful form of estrogen rather than its normal, healthy mild form.  Often, a blood test for estrogen levels doesn’t go far enough; it’s good to test for the actual ratio between the milder and more powerful forms of estrogen.  This test is simple and can possibly save your life by alerting you to a possible risk of certain hormone-driven cancers such as breast cancer.

Cause #6: Excess Insulin – estrogen isn’t the only hormone that promotes fat storage.  When we eat a meal, especially one high in sugar or carbohydrates (even complex carbs), our blood sugar levels rise.  To counteract this, the pancreas will release insulin, whose job it is to take that blood sugar and bring it inside the cells for fuel.  However, if there is too much insulin over time, the cells become stuffed with blood sugar and they don’t need anymore.  So they stop responding to insulin when it comes knocking with more blood sugar in hand.  Now the blood sugar has nowhere else to go except–you guessed it–right into the fat cells.  Most doctors will test fasting glucose (a very simple and routine blood test) but may not run another very important test that measures how well your body has handled its blood sugar over the long-term, a period of about 4 months.

As you can see, there are several possible reasons why a person might gain weight, none of which have much to do with calorie-cutting or spending time on the treadmill.  When the body functions inefficiently or there’s a breakdown in body function, one of the most common ways this shows up is weight gain.  The important part is finding out which cause or causes are actually happening, because each of these causes requires a different approach in order to be effective and get results.  This is why comprehensive testing is so important.  Remember: for every test not run, the practitioner is only guessing, and you may not see the results you’d like.  It’s best to know for sure – it saves time and money in the long run.

Foods or Herbs to heal stomach lining with Gastritis?

A reader writes:

“My doctor informed me that I have gastritis and prescribed me medication.  Are there foods I can eat or herbs I can take that will help heal the lining of the stomach?”

There are indeed.  Some people are going to chime in:

“Marshmallow!”
“Glutamine!”
“Slippery elm!”

But before we get to that, a more important question to ask is, what’s causing the gastritis?  After all, everything mentioned above is just symptom relief. 

It doesn’t do anything to alleviate the real problem.

In Functional Medicine, a diagnosis is certainly helpful, but it doesn’t tell you anything about why you have the problem or what’s causing it.  For example, “gastritis” is a very nonspecific term for “an inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lining of the stomach”.  That’s a good place to start, but what’s causing the inflammation in the first place?  (Most doctors don’t attempt to look for the cause.)  Until we know the underlying cause(s), all you can do is treat the symptoms; by getting to the “why” and the root cause, that’s how we figure out the most appropriate course of action so that the problem can be corrected from the ground up.

The reason it’s so important to identify the root cause is, a single symptom or disease can have several widely different causes, and each of those causes must be addressed differently.  In this case, gastritis has two extremely common causes, and I see these all the time in practice.

  1. Reactive intolerance to certain foods – namely gluten, but definitely not limited to gluten only!
  2. Intestinal microbes – these can include parasites (hookworms, pinworms, etc), yeasts/fungi (candida and others), and/or bacterial infections (Helicobacter pylori or opportunistic bacterial overgrowth).

Practically every single patient I see in my office has BOTH of these problems!  They are both incredibly common.  They are also both incredibly overlooked or worse, met with skepticism by most doctors if a patient attempts to bring up the subject.

In this case, there are some diagnostic tests that can be ordered to figure out why your digestive lining is inflamed.

One is a gluten intolerance/reactivity test.  This isn’t the same as some of the tests they usually run at a hospital for Celiac Disease (which usually involves an endoscopy, which often produces falsely “negative” or “normal” results).  There are several ways to test for various aspects or evidence of gluten intolerance, and there are several different lab companies that each offer their own versions of testing options.  Some offer lab testing services directly to patients and don’t require a doctor’s order!  A variety of testing methods are available, and some results can be obtained from a simple cheek swab.  Please visit my SA Gluten Free website for my free, no-strings-attached e-book on Gluten Intolerance and various testing options.

The other test I typically need to order is a digestive analysis with microbe screening.  This is actually a combination test panel that offers a whole lot of info about any microbes you might be carrying around (as mentioned above, these can be any one or combination of the following: yeast, bacteria, and/or parasites.  The average patient comes into my office with no less than 3 separate species of these microorganisms!).  In addition, the version of this test I run tells us a lot about the environment of your digestive tract and it offers some indirect evidence of how well you’re absorbing nutrients.

It’s especially important to order these tests because:

Reason #1: Everyone has these problems.  Out of hundreds of tests I’ve done, I’ve had only one single initial test come back clean, which means in my clinical experience, the incidence of these issues is extremely high.

Reason #2: Other doctors are NOT checking for these and if they are, the tests are very invasive and outdated and frankly, can give you incorrect results.  They may appear “normal” or “negative” even if something is going on.  It’s crucial that sensitive, relevant test methods are used to ensure accurate information.

Reason #3: These issues wreak havoc until they’re dealt with.  Food intolerances do not go away, and neither do intestinal microorganisms.  Intolerance reactions build with time and may become severe enough to promote destruction of your own tissues, organs, or glands.  Intestinal microbes act like squatters on your property (your intestines) until they’re forcibly evicted.

Reason #4: Treatment approaches for these issues are very different.  Many people make the innocent mistake of attempting to treat themselves using information gleaned from a Google search (I used to be That Person myself), but until we have the test results in hand, how will you know which approach to take?

If the problem lies behind Door Number 1 (the food intolerance), one must eliminate that food, identifying the infinite number of possible hidden sources, and this dietary modification is usually for life.  Some choose to forgo the testing and simply attempt to eliminate (or “cut back” on) the reactive food, but this approach is rarely successful and besides – why go through the trouble until you know for sure that you need to?

If the problem lies behind Door Number 2 (the intestinal bugs), it takes a very potent synergistic blend of herbs, nutrients, enzymes, and probiotics to manage and help eliminate intestinal imbalance, and it can take a considerable amount of time and expense.  Again, there’s no reason to spend 3 months or more (to do it properly) and spend a heavy investment if you don’t know for sure that you need to.  And more importantly, without the proper testing, there’s no way to know for sure whether or not the efforts were successful.

Maybe the problem lies behind an unforeseen Door Number 3.  In that case, even if the first 2 tests I discussed above were truly negative, the effort and investment was not wasted, because it’s good to at least have ruled out those very common ailments so that we can begin to look at other possible issues without having wasted time or energy elsewhere.

Once we know what’s going on, we can address the root cause of the problem so that we can give you a permanent solution and real, long-term RELIEF with an approach that we know is going to truly make a difference!

How do I choose the right probiotic?

A reader writes…

“How do you go about selecting the right probiotic?  I’ve heard such conflicting information.  Some say that probiotics are useless, because you’re born with what you have and there’s no way to replenish.  What are your thoughts?”

My first thought is, who on earth is telling people there’s no way to replenish good intestinal bacteria?  Whoever it is, he or she is gravely misinformed on several counts.  First, we’re not actually born with any gut bacteria; we acquire it early on–first during a regular vaginal birth and next during breastfeeding.  (Those who did neither missed out on these opportunities and may not have adequate levels of good bacteria if they didn’t acquire it from other places.)

Next, it’s important to understand that our normal gut flora (beneficial or “good” bacteria) are constantly under attack.  These attacks come from anywhere: stress, processed foods, alcohol, tap water, soil, other animals, medications (especially antibiotics and antacids), other people, and lack of stomach acid, just to scratch the surface.

Why do we need these bacteria in the first place?  They carry out an extensive array of extremely important functions.  They help fight some major disease-causing bacteria; in fact, they help form most of our immune system!  They turn vitamins into their active forms so that our body can use them.  They help you absorb nutrients, including fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and others.  There’s even a growing body of evidence that suggests these bacteria may play a role in lowering cholesterol.

So, when we don’t have enough of these bacteria, the above benefits start to evaporate; the immune system becomes weak, other “bad” bacteria (as well as yeasts, fungi, and parasites) can become opportunistic and “install” themselves, you can become seriously deficient in multiple important nutrients, and if the recent studies are correct, your cholesterol may elevate.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It should.  Why?  Because most people are indeed missing much of the good bacteria they need.

So, we turn to probiotic supplements.  I would love to sit down with someone who doesn’t believe probiotics do any good and show them the before-and-after digestive analysis tests of my patients (with names protected, of course), and show them the growth of the colonies of good bacteria between the initial test and the subsequent follow-up.  The numbers of good bacteria do improve.  This is how I know the probiotics are working.

So how does one choose a good probiotic?  There are quite a few choices out there and unfortunately, not all probiotics are created equal.  The supplement industry is largely left to police itself without a lot of regulation, which has both advantages and disadvantages.  The bad news is, there are some that don’t do squat.  The good news is, there are many that are quite effective, and these companies are free to innovate and develop superior products, which many of them have done.

So how do we separate the “men from the boys”, so to speak?  There are two fundamental qualities to look for in a probiotic: a variety of species, and high, potent doses.

At your local health food store, most of the products contain anywhere from 3 to 5 species or so.  This is okay, but it’s not quite enough.  This is because your intestinal tract is essentially a small ecosystem.  There are literally billions, even trillions of different types of bacteria happily co-existing together, each of them occupying space and keeping each other in check, ultimately creating a delicate balance.  Supplementing with a 3-species formula won’t do much.  (Most formulas available only through healthcare professionals typically have much higher quality and potency than those available to the public at health food stores and other places.) The most diverse higher-quality* formulas we have found so far (and thus, the ones we use) contain 12 different species.  While that doesn’t sound like much of an improvement in the grand scheme of things, it seems to work quite well, each additional species having a compound effect.

Next, let’s talk potency.  Potency is measured in colony-forming units, or CFUs.  One CFU, theoretically, goes on to start its own entire colony.  It’s mind-bending to consider how many billions of microorganisms there are in just a teaspoon of probiotic powder.  The storebought brands tend toward lower dosages, somewhere around 5 to 35 billion CFUs.  The highest dose medical grade supplements we found (and incidentally, the ones we use) contain 100 billion CFUs…in a single quarter teaspoon.

And last but not least, as with all supplements, it’s important to avoid supplements that contain (or come from a factory that uses) gluten fillers (wheat germ, wheat flour, wheat proteins, food starches, etc), yeast, soy, egg, milk, corn, shellfish, and MSG, just to name a few.  This is because many (if not most) people actually have immunological hypersensitivites to various common foods, in which the body’s immune system perceives that food as a toxin and launches an attack against it, creating lots of inflammation and chronic, mysterious health problems.  Many storebought supplement companies may be contaminated with these common allergens, but most medical grade supplements specifically state that they are free of all of these substances.

Since our ability to maintain good bacteria balance declines with stress, age, and lifestyle, it’s good to take a high-quality probiotic as part of a maintenance regimen.  This is especially true after finishing a round of antibiotic treatment, such as that for an infection.

*There are other formulas that may contain up to 14 different species, but these are not potent enough to be considered medical food/medical grade supplements, which have the highest quality and potency.

In health,
~Dr. L. Sweeney
Functional Medicine, Functional Endocrinology, and Functional Immunology
San Antonio Family Alternative Medicine

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Testing, testing: Lab testing and Functional Medicine

A Revolution in Advanced Clinical Nutrition…

A segment of Clinical Nutrition began to evolve considerably–quietly–about 30 years ago.  Now, it has bloomed into a full-fledged, legitimate medical subspecialty.  We now know much more about the mechanisms behind chronic disorders than we did even 10 years ago.  We also now realize that pharmaceutical medications, while necessary at times, don’t usually offer much in terms of resolution or long-term relief/improvement for these conditions.  Irregular blood sugar, autoimmune disorders, nutrient malabsorption, gastrointestinal microbes, inefficient liver detoxification, and adrenal fatigue don’t necessarily respond all that well to medications.

Since many of these disorders mimic each other (sometimes very closely), it can be difficult to determine exactly what’s going on using symptoms alone.  This can pose a problem, because if there is any hope in making progress or getting relief, the right treatment approach must be followed.

For example, let’s say Betty has fatigue.  The first remedy that come to mind might be caffeine pills.  It sounds logical; if she’s tired, the idea of a stimulant probably appeals to her.  If she doesn’t like the concept of chemical stimulants, she might opt for a more natural route; a naturopath or herbalist may suggest Ginseng or something similar.  Functional Medicine, on the other hand, asks why she is tired, and considers all the possibilities.  Fatigue is a common symptom, with many causes – maybe her adrenal glands aren’t producing enough cortisol.  Maybe her thyroid gland isn’t producing enough T4, or maybe she has a sluggish liver or gastrointestinal tract and can’t convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to active thyroid hormone her body can use (T3).  Maybe she’s got a lingering virus.  Maybe her energy is being diverted toward immune system activity because she has seasonal allergies.  Maybe her blood cells aren’t carrying enough oxygen.  Maybe she’s got candidiasis (overgrowth of candida albicans, a problematic yeast); maybe she’s fighting a bacterial infection.  Maybe she she has a food intolerance (these can make people profoundly drowsy).  Or maybe she has low blood sugar.

Each of these possibilities is a completely different problem.  Ten people with fatigue may all share the same symptom, but have completely different reasons for feeling the fatigue.  If the underlying reason isn’t investigated, and the person assumes they have adrenal fatigue when really they have a low thyroid, and they begin taking herbs that boost adrenal function, then they’ve missed the thyroid issue and they fail to correct the problem…and the problem remains.  This begins to illuminate the reason why lab testing is crucial.

As I mentioned before, when most doctors order lab testing, they tend to stick only with what insurance covers.  What you may not realize is that the testing insurance will cover is bare-bones, hardly scratching the surface of what’s actually going on.  Essentially, it’s a screening tool for basic disease and that’s really about it.  The limited tests that are ordered and the way in which the results are interpreted does not do much of anything to accurately assess someone’s actual baseline health.

This is not to “bash” the medical profession at all or paint some kind of “us versus them” polarized picture that illustrates that Functional Medicine is everything while conventional medicine has no place.  Indeed, some of those basic disease screenings can be highly appropriate and unquestionably warranted.  However, those basic screenings are sorely limited in their ability to comprehensively assess someone’s genuine health, wellbeing, and quality of life.  And that is where Functional Medicine has a chance to shine…

Functional Medicine doctors will order comprehensive testing that evaluates multiple areas of body chemistry and multiple important functions that are hardly ever touched on in hospitals or regular clinics.  When we order testing a patient has never had, we find things other doctors have never found.  A good Functional Medicine practitioner will evaluate (at minimum) several areas during routine testing:

  • Nutrient metabolism
  • Cellular energy production
  • Oxygen delivery
  • Inflammation markers
  • Organ and gland functions
  • Infection screening
  • Status of certain nutrients
  • Blood sugar consistency, long and short-term
  • Intestinal microbes, beneficial and hazardous
  • Adrenal stress
  • Central Nervous System state

Another important tenet of Functional Medicine pertains to how the lab testing is interpreted.  Most doctors simply scan the lab test results, looking for anything that the lab has “flagged” as abnormal.  In order for a result to show up as abnormal, it must fall outside of the “normal” or “reference” range.  These ranges are set based on statistics.  They vary by lab and even by region.  Look around you; you’re being compared to your neighbors, your friends, family, and co-workers.  How healthy are they?  I don’t know about you, but being “normal” compared to everyone else isn’t exactly reassuring.

What Functional Medicine doctors do is look closer at the lab test results.  They are familiar with what healthy ranges look like and where a person’s body chemistry should be.  These doctors will find literally a dozen or so dysfunctional/abnormal results that labs and conventionally-practicing doctors will flat-out miss.

Many Functional Medicine doctors take yet one more step further, to analyze patterns between these abnormal results, to attempt to find a common denominator, because often, various dysfunctions are related.  It is indeed entirely possible that a person may have multiple dysfunctional processes happening at once, and it’s also possible that multiple symptoms may stem from one underlying disorder.  Functional Medicine practitioners spend a tremendous amount of time behind the scenes pouring over lab test results and conducting any necessary research.

In short, the rabbit hole that is human physiology can go far deeper than expected; Functional Medicine is the only discipline to ever rise to the challenge.

What is Functional Medicine?

The short answer is, Functional Medicine is the future of medicine, if we are to get well and stay well as a society.  It’s the direction in which regular medicine should have gone.  It should be used as the primary method of treatment, especially in cases that are not acute, infectious, catastrophic, life-threatening, or other emergencies.

The long answer is, the definition of Functional Medicine largely depends on who you talk to.

  • The Institute of Functional Medicine, arguably the leader and Gold Standard of the field, describes a science-based, patient-centered form of healthcare that recognizes biochemical individuality and favors active prevention.
  • A talented colleague of mine defines Functional Medicine as a complete lifestyle-modification program that evaluates physiology using extensive diagnostic lab testing and then corrects any imbalances found by applying specific, individually unique combinations of neuro-metabolic therapies.
  • Another talented colleague of mine mentions looking at everything (hormone balance, nutrient metabolism, immune system, and a plethora of other categories) all at the same time, leaving no stone unturned

Functional Medicine really is “all that” – in terms of the explanations given above, as well as being Just That Cool.

When I explain it, Functional Medicine can take on a few different personas that all relate back to the same Big Idea.  Various descriptions are as follows…

  • A highly-advanced version of Clinical Nutrition, taken to another level as practiced by a doctor, that bases its herbal and nutritional plans on comprehensive lab testing
  • A third type of healthcare that is separate from both conventional and alternative medicine branches we’re already familiar with, that utilizes the best of both worlds
  • An emerging medical subspecialty that combines conventional testing and natural therapies
  • A logical, scientific alternative for those looking for natural or holistic healthcare, perfect for those who don’t know where to turn or who to trust.
  • A scientific-yet-holistic of looking at the functions of the body and how they are inter-connected, identifying dysfunctions in key areas using lab tests, and then correcting them with a comprehensive lifestyle modification plan.

That last one is my favorite (couldn’t you tell?)

Functional Medicine really shines with chronic, complex disorders, especially the degenerative and/or mysterious.  I can say it is definitely worth the effort, commitment, and investment!  Most Functional Medicine practitioners know firsthand; many of the best doctors got involved with the field because of their incredible experiences.

We’re a product of the choices we have made every day.  Every day we have another chance to stay on our current path or choose something different.  What are you waiting for? 🙂