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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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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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“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

How to find a good Functional Medicine doctor, Part 2

In my most recent post, I started laying out some guidelines I use to help people find a good Functional Medicine practitioner.  To sum things up so far…

The most important aspects of a good Functional Medicine practitioner include holding a doctor license of some kind (doctors of all kinds receive similar training where it counts in Functional Medicine – all receive extensive Anatomy, Physiology, Endocrinology, Biochemistry, Embryology, Histology, Cytology, Biology, Lab Diagnosis, and more).  Doctors of all kinds can order and interpret diagnostic lab testing in nearly all states, whether he or she is an MD, DC, or DO.  There are indeed MDs and DOs who practice exclusively Functional Medicine without using medications at all, and there are indeed DCs (Doctors of Chiropractic) who practice exclusively Functional Medicine without ever doing a single spinal manipulation or physical rehab therapy session.

So now, let’s move on to a few more guidelines that can help separate the “men from the boys”, so to speak, and maximize your chances of finding a good practitioner that meets your needs.  Here are a few more important clues to look for:

Guideline #4: Look for mentions of diagnostic lab testing, when surfing the web or calling around.  Some websites will mention some of the tests the doctor will order.  Look for standard lab work such as CBC (Complete Blood Cell Count), CMP (Metabolic Panel), immune profiles, antibody testing, and thyroid panels.  Look for specialty testing such as salivary testing, hormone testing, digestive analysis, or stool testing.  Shy away from anyone who says they can test your neurotransmitters by analyzing your urine; those tests are NOT reliable, diagnostic, or accepted.  In fact, they have been disproven.  Shy away from anyone using muscle testing instead of lab testing.  A combo of muscle and lab testing is OK, but I would personally ignore any “diagnosis” or assessment given by muscle testing alone.

Guideline #5: When surfing the web (or calling the clinics), look for (or ask about) the depth of the paperwork.  They should put a lot of stock in the intake forms.  They should want to know your life story in terms of your physical, mental, and emotional health.  They should want to know ALL KINDS of things about you, as far as your lifestyle, your travel history, your birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and more.  If what is posted on the web is very basic and there is no mention of additional paperwork to come, I would call the clinic and ask what kinds of questions and information the doctor wants to know.  Doctors practicing real Functional Medicine want to ask a lot of questions, and their receptionist should be able to tell you that.  Proper healthcare begins with an extensive gathering of information, and it’s not uncommon to see intake packets of 20 to 50 pages or more.

Guideline #6: Some Functional Medicine doctors list their preferred supplement companies online.  Word to the wise: many supplements, notably Standard Process, will inadvertently make their patients’ conditions worse, especially any autoimmune condition, because they contain wheat products.  Another word to the wise: Many supplements are either multi-level marketing companies (such as Juice Plus or some glutathione supplements), or they are affiliated with cults such as Scientology.  A Scientology-affiliated company can still make excellent products, but upon asking myself the question of whether or not I wanted to contribute financially to that type of organization, the answer was no.

Guideline #7: If they mention multi-level marketing companies (think Mona Vie acai berry juice, Juice Plus whole food supplements, Kangen water, or Nikken magnet products to name a few), I would personally shy away.  MLM products are generally fads that produce little to no results.  Some truly are good (such as the pH-based water); however, they tend to be overpriced and you may face some high-pressure sales tactics.  Many claim to have undergone testing or research, but typically the testing is useless because it is done in-house, and not by an objective, standard third party.  Thus, there’s a vested interest, which renders the scientific validity questionable at best.

Now…I’ll bring these next few things up because you’ll probably come across it in your research and if you’re like I was, you’ll wonder about the following:

  • Many Functional Medicine doctors do sell supplements in their practice.  Yes, this is ethical, as long as when they recommend a supplement, it is for a reason that benefits YOU, and it’s something YOU actually need.  Again, beware MLM supplements.  Google for a list of MLM companies; you may need to check several sources, as many MLM companies are newer and may not be on older lists.  Chances are if you see the product/supplement advertised on someone’s car/SUV, it’s an MLM.
  • Many Functional Medicine doctors do not file insurance.  (This topic alone will probably be discussed separately in the future.)  This is because insurance takes a lot of time and effort that the doctor would rather devote to your case instead of wrangling with bureaucrats.  Coverage for these types of services will depend on the policy you chose; doctors don’t know anything about the literally tens of thousands of policies out there.  Also, even if your insurance policy does not cover this type of care, that doesn’t mean it’s not valid or necessary.  Health insurance companies do not care about your health; they’re trying to minimize costs, even at your long-term expense.
  • Functional Medicine doctors should have no problem openly communicating with conventional medical doctors.  If they seem shifty about this, think twice.
  • Some Functional Medicine doctors may charge a fee to analyze your paperwork and review your records and history.  This is perfectly normal and legitimate.

This is by no means an extensive list – there are always other indications of a quality practitioner, as well as pitfalls to watch out for.  I’ll try to cover additional items as they arise.  For now, however, you should be armed with a little more information to begin your search.  Of course, the best bet is to ask around; although not many people are seeing a Functional Medicine doctor (yet!) you never know who may know someone. 🙂

What Functional Medicine is NOT, Part 2:

In the last post, I brought up a few myths that I frequently come across and dissected them.  As I mentioned before, when different practitioners use the same term (in this case Functional Medicine) to mean various things (such as nutrition, bioidentical hormones, or fad diets), this confuses people.  People are just starting to find out about Functional Medicine as it is, and many people aren’t exactly sure what it means.  And who can blame them?  It seems as though there is too wide a variety and not enough consistency, and people aren’t sure where to turn or who to trust.  I thought I’d help sort things out.

Since the last post got longer than I expected, I decided to split it into two parts.  Here is the second part…

Truth #5: Functional Medicine is not a scam, voodoo witch-doctor healing, or old wives’ tales.  The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has published an authoritative textbook that covers nearly all aspects of true Functional Medicine.  The author page boasts an enormous amount of inter-disciplinary collaboration, meaning that Medical Doctors, PhDs, Doctors of Chiropractic, Doctors of Osteopathy, Naturopathic Doctors, Certified Clinical Nutritionists, Dentists, Massage Therapists, Physical Therapists, people with Masters degrees including Masters in Public Health, and Acupuncturists have all worked together to produce this resourceful body of knowledge.  The book cites numerous solid references to genuine studies published in standard, respected peer-reviewed journals across the world.

And that’s just the textbook that many of us use.  In addition, there are classes affiliated with educational institutions that are recognized and accredited by the US Department of Education.  There are cutting-edge authoritative books written for the public by esteemed authors such as Datis Kharrazian, whose protocols I follow (with a few modifications for individual needs and sensitivities), which by itself cites over 600 genuine references.

True Functional Medicine bases their holistic treatment approaches on diagnostic lab test results ordered through standard blood laboratories (the same ones that any hospital or conventional doctors would use), and other CLIA-certified specialty laboratories.  The reference ranges used to interpret lab work are narrower than these labs have set, but are nonetheless based on respected organizations such as the American Endocrine Society and the Vitamin D Council.

Truth #6: Functional Medicine has nothing to do with muscle testing or AK.  Some practitioners utilize “muscle testing”, also known as Applied Kinesiology (AK).  This involves having you hold your arm out, resisting the practitioner’s attempts to push/pull your arm in a certain direction (or directions).  Once he or she establishes that the muscle group s/he’ll use for testing is working properly, s/he’ll have you touch certain points on your body, make certain movements, hold certain positions, or hold certain objects.  These practitioners claim that the results of this “testing” can show if you have a liver problem or adrenal issue.

I have several significant problems with this.  First, the test itself may not be accurate or reliable.  Not only is it incredibly vulnerable to practitioner manipulation (whether he or she is aware of their influence or not), but the scientific research has not been done to back up the validity of this so-called testing.  Not only that, but even if its results are accurate (and let’s say the test really is valid for adrenal dysfunction), there are multiple kinds of dysfunction.  There is overactivity, underactivity, and normal activity but in a chaotic rhythm.  Muscle testing can’t reliably break things down that far, and it certainly can’t quantify it into objective numbers like real lab testing can.

Truth #7: Functional Medicine is a real, recognized form of medicine, not something the alternative medical community made up.  Functional Medicine is not a “chiropractic thing”; in fact, it’s not specific to any single healthcare discipline.  It’s definitely not a fly-by-night approach to be considered second to conventional medicine, with conventional medicine holding the ultimate authority, from whom everyone else (patients and other practitioners) must seek approval.  Functional Medicine, in most situations, can very well be regarded on an equal playing field as any medication-based approach, and Functional Medicine doctors are every bit as knowledgeable in their approach as (and sometimes even moreso than) conventional practitioners who have not studied this approach.

Functional Medicine is indeed a medical subspecialty; its non-pharmaceutical approach allows any non-drug practitioners, including Naturopathic Doctors (in states that license them–of which Texas, where I live, is not one), Doctors of Chiropractic, and others to practice.  Essentially, as long as the practitioner is licensed in the state in which they practice, and their license covers the ordering of diagnostic lab testing, then they may also legally interpret the results and offer a Functional Medicine approach.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion out there. 🙂

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? 🙂