Tag Archives: symptoms

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!

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“My lab tests are normal” (…or are they?)

Cindy* sits across my small round table during our first visit together.  She has hit a brick wall.  Last week, she submitted to my office her intake forms and previous medical records, which consist of lab test after lab test.  These are isolated individual tests, taken on different days (or even months), never all at the same time.  Some of the tests are repeated several times.

Cindy shrugs, throwing her hands in the air.  “I don’t know what to do.  They look at me like I’m crazy.  They tell me my labs are normal.  And yet–well, you’ve seen my questionnaires.  I’m a mess!”

So her lab tests were “normal”, eh?  Let’s see about that….

First, let’s talk about the blood test process.  After the doctor or nurse takes your blood, they send it to a lab, telling that lab to run various tests on it.  The lab analyzes the blood sample and determines the results of the tests ordered.  These test results are reported back to the doctor in the form of a number.  Some of those numbers are familiar–for example, a cholesterol of 183, triglycerides of 132, or a blood sugar/blood glucose of 94.  If you have a thyroid issue, you may also know your TSH level.  The lab will compare your number results with what is called a “reference range” – a “normal” range.

Next, it’s important to understand what “normal” means.  The conventional medical system only recognizes two states of health: either you have a disease or you don’t.  If they can’t establish the presence of a disease, the doctor tells you you’re “normal” or “fine”.

The problem is, the regular definition of “normal” (and the “normal range” used by the labs to determine whether you’re sick or not) isn’t based on good health or healthy function.  It’s based on that “normal range” we talked about earlier.  How are those ranges determined?

By statistics.  The large national lab companies are responsible for setting their own reference ranges.  To do this, they compile the test results of the samples submitted, established an average, and compare the results to the corresponding patients. Every so often, as the general health of the population shifts and the average number values change, these laboratories will adjust their average ranges accordingly.

Look around you; 60% of the population is overweight and 20% of the population has developed diabetes.  About 73% of the population is taking at least one medication.  Cholesterol problems, hormone imbalances, and digestive issues abound.  Alzheimer’s Disease and autoimmune disorders are skyrocketing.

Do you really want to be compared to those around you?
Do you really want your “normal” range to be based on those people?

Also, it’s important to understand that these labs do this on a regional basis.  This means that a patient in South Carolina and a patient in Utah may have the same fasting blood sugar levels, but get labeled “normal” in South Carolina, while the lab in Utah would “flag” the result as abnormal.  The South Carolina patient’s doctor would tell that patient he or she is “fine”, while the Utah patient’s doctor will make recommendations for preventing diabetes.

One huge problem is that in gathering these statistics, labs fail to take prescription drugs into account when establishing normal ranges.  Medications, by definition, artificially manipulate the body’s function, altering its chemistry.  Because of this, it’s important to consider their effects when determining what’s “normal” and what’s not and yet, this is not done.  As a result, people undergoing thyroid testing get lumped in with people taking thyroid medications, and people undergoing a blood sugar screening get lumped in with those taking insulin.

Do you want to be lumped in with people taking loads of medications?  Do you think that these “normal” ranges can be fully trusted?

Now…when most doctors get these results back, they scan them, looking for abnormal results.  If any test result falls out of range, the lab highlights it, usually in bold, stating “high” or “low” off to the side.  Most doctors, lacking the time to fully investigate these results, quickly scan each line item.  Anything not flagged in “pathological” (disease) range is passed over without a second thought.

So, back to Cindy.  When she hands me the printouts from her previous lab tests, I, too, scan for the lab’s flags.  However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg; I usually find many more abnormal results that lie outside of healthy range, but not yet far enough advanced for the lab to flag the result as “abnormal”.  It’s not that I run different tests, it’s that I use “functional ranges”, which are much tighter and designed for healthy function.

For example, a good healthy functional range for fasting blood sugar is about 85-100.  The lab’s established reference range is often 65-110. If Cindy has a fasting blood sugar of 77 , she begins to lose optimal function, and yet most doctors will tell her she’s “fine” because the lab won’t highlight her result as “abnormal” until she reaches 64.  By the time her blood sugar falls that far, she has lost a lot of function!  She probably started feeling dizzy and lightheaded around 79.

Is Cindy hypoglycemic at 77?  Nope, she’s what we call “functionally hypoglycemic”, because she falls below the lower functional blood sugar limit of 85.  When she gets to 64, we can officially call it true hypoglycemia.  But why wait until then?  Someone with blood sugar in the 70s can certainly have hypoglycemic symptoms and can still benefit from a blood sugar stabilizing plan.

That’s what Functional Medicine is all about, folks: good function.  It’s about catching health issues early, identifying breakdowns in proper function before they become established diseases.

Of course, once they do, it’s not impossible to turn it around.  But if you’ve got a train starting to travel in the wrong direction, picking up speed second by second, isn’t it easier to get it stopped and turned around before it reaches full speed?  True health works exactly the same way. 🙂

*real patient, but not her real name

Does my health insurance cover Functional Medicine?

That’s a great question.  In fact, that’s one of the first and most common questions people ask.  This is understandable; after all, chances are you’re paying good money for your premiums, not to mention deductibles and co-pays.  Your employer has no doubt touted the benefits of each plan, which seems generous at the time.

So where does Functional Medicine fit in?  The short answer is, I recommend that you first carefully review your policy, checking for any reference to “preventive” services, or possibly “nutritional counseling”.  When in doubt, it’s best call your insurance company directly and ask them if any of these types of service are covered under your plan.

To understand the long answer, we must first make an introductory foray into the world of so-called “health” insurance.  The first thing that you should know about health insurance is that the term is a misnomer; your health insurance company (be it Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, Humana, or worse, United Healthcare) has not made your health their top priority.  How can this be?

Well, let’s do a little research (I love research).  Quick Google searches show that the first Blue Cross plan was introduced in 1939.  Humana was founded in 1961.  United Healthcare is the new kid on the block, formed in 1977.  And the elder of the insurance companies?  Aetna has been around since 1853.

Since insurance companies are private corporations, this may go without saying, but it’s worth highlighting here: in order to survive, health insurance companies must turn a profit.  This is true of any company, family/household, or individual.  You must make more than you spend.  By definition, this means that they must take in (revenue) more than they pay out (expenses).  This means that their customers (that’s you) must pay more in premiums (as well as deductibles and co-pays) than they pay back out on your behalf (in the form of benefits, or covered services).

Functional Medicine itself requires the doctor to spend an enormous amount of energy behind the scenes between your appointments.  This time spent on your behalf includes deeply interpreting lab results and putting them together, attempting to find the underlying common cause or causes of the problem.  This may also take research and review of the newest published studies as they come hot off the presses.  No other healthcare discipline goes this far or invests this amount of time on each patient.

Since these doctors only have so many hours in a day, they’d rather devote that time to your case, (researching and reviewing your case, preparing information and treatment plans, and answering your questions), than wrangling with insurance bureaucrats, none of whom have any medical training themselves and thus lack the understanding that Functional Medicine doctors have.  Most Functional Medicine doctors would love to provide the convenience and assistance of filing insurance for their patients, but with the time and energy constraints, they find that they can’t do both well.  The bad news is, they don’t file your insurance for you and they furnish you with the receipt to submit instead.  The good news, though, is the most important: they’re not bound by their arbitrary rules, and their time can be spent where it counts–devoted to YOU.

So, about that receipt I just mentioned… Yes, most Functional Medicine doctors will provide a descriptive receipt upon request.  Depending on your insurance company, they may accept that receipt and perhaps reimburse you for part of the out-of-pocket investment you made.  I can never guarantee this, as insurance companies are like water, always changing and tough to get a firm grasp of.  Sometimes they will want codes, and this is where things get sticky…

The codes the insurance company likes to have essentially reduce you to a Dewey Decimal-like system of numbers.  Every established disease (official diagnosis) has a 4- or 5-digit number, in the form of “123.45”.  Each recognized type of treatment has a 5-digit code, too, in the form of 12345.  Although the two numbering systems are different, each recognized disease corresponds with its appropriate avenues of treatment, and vice versa.

So what’s the problem?  The difficulty arises in that these coding systems are old and outdated.  They fail to consider dysfunction (i.e. breakdowns in healthy functions or processes, the earliest signs of disease) and they also usually neglect to include contemporary health issues.  In other words, there is a language barrier between Functional Medicine and health insurance, especially considering that health insurance is actually structured around–and oriented toward–conventional medicine, which intervenes only when the dysfunction has advanced for years to decades, resulting in a blatantly recognizable, established disease condition.

The common scenario is this: you start to feel that something’s not quite right.  You visit your conventional/regular doctor, who runs the blood tests and, after scanning them quickly, says “everything is normal”.  You know that it’s not, but now they’re hinting that it’s all in your head.  Meanwhile, your health does slide further and further away from healthy ranges, toward the outlying borders of “normal” and eventually it does cross into “abnormal” territory.  This may be years later, and by then it may or may not be too late to effectively use natural methods.  But the insurance company now has a number it can assign you, a little numeric box it can neatly put you into.  They’re happy, they’ve been satisfied.  But what about you?

That’s where Functional Medicine comes in, and hopefully you’ll be able to see a Functionally-oriented doctor before you reach the disease point.  With any luck, your insurance company will cover at least part of the tab.  If they do, look at it as a secondary bonus, and if they don’t, simply consider it part of the cost of living.  After all, when owning a vehicle, we understand that if we don’t invest in maintenance, the car breaks down and stops working.  We must pay for regular oil changes, state-mandated vehicle inspections, license plate tags/stickers, brake pads (which are actually designed to wear out!), tires, and many more.  Why give your body any less?  Make your health your top priority, even if it’s not your insurance company’s.  Why?  Because you only have one body, and it only treats you as well as you have treated it.  We’re a product of the decisions we have made every day.  Up until now, people have relied on their insurance coverage for any kind of medical care.  But if we want a different result, we may have to consider a different approach…whether an out-of-touch insurance company thinks it’s medically necessary or not 🙂

How Functional Medicine works – the nuts & bolts

Practiced properly, true Functional Medicine orders a LOT of diagnostic testing because each test gives another piece of information, much like putting together a puzzle.  Basic testing only gives you part of the puzzle picture; you’re never really sure what the rest is supposed to say, and you’re forced to guess.  I don’t like putting my patients’ health at that kind of risk; it’s too important.  So the testing is non-negotiable – and why wouldn’t it be?  The human body is quite complex and there’s a lot to evaluate.

Actually, a good evaluation starts before testing is ordered:

  • Lifestyle habits
  • Dietary analysis
  • Trauma and illness history
  • Thorough symptom and metabolic questionnaires
  • Complete medical history
  • Vaccination schedule
  • Medication and supplement regimen
  • Cognitive evaluation
  • Motivation assessment

An important concept in Functional Medicine is that the testing conventional doctors order is not nearly enough.  It barely scratches the surface, because the current healthcare system is driven by insurance companies who do not see the merit in prevention; they are in the business of screening for advanced, established disease and then patching the symptoms with medication when they get further out of hand.

Once we uncover and identify dysfunctions, the doctor takes a secondary, supportive role in the patient’s care as the spotlight begins to shine on patient him- or herself.  The patient’s participation and initiative become crucial for a successful outcome.  He or she may be asked/required to do any of the following:

  • Dietary changes – short-term, long-term, or permanent
  • Specific supplementation – short-term, long-term, or lifelong
  • Specific exercises – these can include eye movements, walking, stretches, arm circles, strength training, interval training, or yoga positions
  • Homecare instructions – these can include doing math or art, reading, prayer or meditation, or utilizing the senses such as listening to music or smelling various scents
  • Other modalities and specialties – acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, talk therapy, thermography, colon hydrotherapy, homeopathy, physical therapy, brain-based therapy, conventional medical intervention, and more
  • Other lifestyle modifications – TV or computer limitations, activity modification, sleep-wake schedules, work environment, and others

It’s a challenge, and each person must decide for themselves whether or not they’re ready to take the plunge.  Commitment is key.  Motivation is key.  The effort is worth it; one of these days I’ll share some of my patients’ success stories–real cases (while protecting privacy), to demonstrate the power and miraculous relief that Functional Medicine can bring when conventional medicine, traditional alternative medicine, and self-treatment via the web have ALL failed.  It’s truly amazing!