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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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