Tag Archives: imbalance

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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What Functional Medicine is NOT, Part 1:

The term Functional Medicine has become a buzzword.  This is only a natural phenomenon; several practitioners have built lucrative Functional Medicine practices that are becoming well-known and receiving a lot of attention.  Practiced correctly, it truly is the next wave of medicine, or at least we can only hope.  Naturally, many practitioners want to catch the wave and “cash in”.

The only problem is, many practitioners who say they are practicing Functional Medicine aren’t really doing so.  They have attempted to bend the term to fit their practice, without really adapting or changing anything they were doing.

When practitioners use one term to mean several different things, the public gets confused.  So, since we already know what Functional Medicine is, I thought I’d ease the above situation by spelling out what Functional Medicine is NOT.

Truth #1: Functional Medicine is not bioidentical hormones.  In fact, bioidentical hormones are not even utilized in genuine Functional Medicine, because exogenous hormones (i.e. hormones that the body itself did not make, that come from the outside of the body) is, by definition, an allopathic treatment.  (That’s not to say that you don’t need them or they won’t do some good.  It simply means that someone who claims to be a Functional Medicine practitioner simply because they give you Armour instead of Synthroid to jumpstart your thyroid is full of baloney.)

Allopathy is the branch of medicine that most doctors practice – they seek to eliminate symptoms by introducing a substance that changes the body’s internal chemical environment such that it can’t sustain the disease or symptoms.  For example, the standard allopathic treatment for diabetes (high blood sugar) is to introduce insulin (which lowers blood sugar).  High cholesterol is treated with statin drugs that lower cholesterol.  In the allopathic approach, little thought is given to the cause of the problem; the focus is on eliminating symptoms through biochemical manipulation.

Back to bioidentical hormones… Bioidentical hormones may indeed be beneficial and they may be necessary.  They may also indeed be superior to synthetic hormones.  I don’t disagree with that one bit.  And Functional Medicine DOES aim to balance hormones, after all.  What I DO find problematic, is when a doctor says they practice Functional Medicine because they balance hormones using bioidentical hormones.  That is NOT Functional Medicine.  The litmus test is this: do I need a prescription to obtain any of the remedies the doctor wants me to take?  If the answer is yes, than it’s not Functional Medicine.  Pure Functional Medicine can (and should) be practiced without any pharmaceutical medications.  True Functional Medicine will approach a hormone imbalance by attempting to find out what’s wrong underneath the surface, by asking the question: WHY are the hormones out of balance?

Truth #2: Functional Medicine is not HCG weight loss or any other fad diet.  HCG, whether in the form of the actual hormone or a homeopathic essence, is also allopathic.  This topic will most likely get its own post, because there’s more to say about this than is appropriate for the scope of this post.  For now, suffice it to say that HCG hormones are also allopathic and possibly harmful.  True Functional Medicine will ask: WHY is the person overweight in the first place?

Truth #3: Functional Medicine is not a quick fix.  While I’ve personally seen some miraculous results in just a few weeks using only true Functional Medicine and nothing else, it takes quite a while to normalize and regulate body chemistry, especially using non-pharmaceutical options.  Medications are meant to force the body’s chemistry to change quickly, and they are very good at what they do.  Natural medicine is very good at what it does, too, but its process is much slower.

Truth #4: Functional Medicine is not just glorified nutritional counseling.  It’s an entire lifestyle modification program.  Dietary modification and specific supplementation are indeed part of the major backbone, but there is much more to the story.  Since most of today’s chronic health problems developed from multiple genetic and environmental influences, the complete solution that delivers the best results utilizes multiple neuro-metabolic therapies based on genuine diagnostic lab test results.

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? 🙂