Tag Archives: functional medicine

What is functional medicine? Looking for the root cause


You may have noticed the term “functional medicine” becoming more popular. What is functional medicine and how is it different from regular medicine? Functional medicine addresses health disorders by looking at their root causes rather than masking symptoms with drugs or surgery. Functional nutritionists practice by this philosophy as well, within their scope of practice.

By focusing on root causes, you improve your energy, sleep, vitality, and even libido. This is why seeing a functional nutritionist or doctor for a gut problem can also improve your brain function and hormone issues. Everything in the body works together.

Root causes: Address engine, not engine light

If the engine light of your car comes on, do you find a way to turn off the engine light, or do you investigate under the hood?

That analogy works for functional medicine.

Functional medicine is not about giving you a drug for a symptom, but instead investigating why you have a symptom and working on that instead.

For example, suppose 10 different people have the same complaint, whether it is depression, fatigue, digestive problems, or persistent skin rashes.

Each of those 10 people can have the same symptom, but for 10 very different reasons.

An overgrowth of gut bacteria may be causing depression in one person, while it is a gluten intolerance in another.
Fatigue can be the result of low blood sugar in one person, and autoimmune B12 anemia disease in another.

You must know why you have a health problem

Until you understand why you are suffering from a health problem, chasing after drugs or therapies can keep landing you at dead ends.

Functional medicine relies on published, peer-reviewed science to help us understand how the body works and where breakdowns occur.

Lab tests, questionnaires, in-office exams, and a discussion about your case history help the functional medicine practitioner learn where the root cause lies.

Five common functional medicine root causes

Although different people can have the same symptom for different reasons, functional medicine often finds common root causes for various problems. Some of them are:

• Food intolerances, especially to gluten and dairy
• Low blood sugar
• High blood sugar (insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes)
• Intestinal bacterial and yeast overgrowth
• Autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue)

Addressing one or all of these factors, depending on the person, can relieve not only the symptom that brought you to the office, but a number of other symptoms as well.

There are no specialties in the human body

The body is a highly complex web in which all systems and parts are related.

The body does not have specialties in the way medicine does. The digestive system — or any other system in the body — does not function independently of the rest of the body.

For instance, if autoimmune disease is destroying the thyroid gland, it’s not just the thyroid you address, but also the immune system. If the gallbladder is acting up, addressing a gluten intolerance and chronic inflammation can sometimes prevent gallbladder surgery.

Functional medicine is about reversing or stopping the progression of disease as much as possible without the use of drugs or surgery (although medication and surgery should not be avoided when needed).

It’s also about feeling as good as you should feel. For more information, please contact my office.

How to use functional nutrition to boost your libido

Happy couple in bed smiling at cameraWe often think of good health in terms of blood pressure or cholesterol levels, but your libido is also an important indicator. If yours has gone missing, it could be a red flag that important underlying health issues need to be addressed.

People who turn to functional medicine for other health issues, such as low thyroid function, an autoimmune disorder, or depression, often report a boost in their libido thanks to their protocol.

Of course, it’s natural to expect low libido following a major stressor or during an unhealthy relationship, but if it’s chronically absent, investigate why.

Common causes of low libido

Below are some common causes of low libido that can be addressed through functional nutrition:

Blood sugar imbalances. Many people eat more carbohydrates than their body can handle, they skip meals, or they consume too much caffeine. Eating habits that send blood sugar constantly soaring and crashing will eventually lead to fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, and depression. All of these make zoning out in front of Netflix more tantalizing than a roll in the hay.

Adrenal fatigue. Your adrenal glands secrete stress hormones to help you manage life’s daily ups and downs. Most people are so stressed out from not only their lifestyles, but also their diets, chronic inflammation, gut health problems, and other health issues that adrenal function is fried. This is one of the primary causes of hormonal imbalances in men and women, delivering a double whammy to libido.

Leaky gut. Leaky gut means inflammation has made the lining of the small intestine too porous, allowing undigested foods and other pathogens to escape into the sterile bloodstream. This causes inflammation throughout the body, which typically leads to pain, fatigue, depression and other unsexy symptoms.

Food intolerances. Can a gluten or dairy intolerance really cause low libido? Yep. When you constantly eat a food that triggers an immune reaction, you send your body into an inflammatory tailspin. How you react depends on your genetic makeup. Symptoms include flare ups of your autoimmune disease, skin rashes, gut problems, joint pain, depression, migraines, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, and, you guessed it, no desire for sex. You can run a food panel from Cyrex Labs to figure out which foods rob you of vigor, or follow an elimination diet such as Balanced and Clear.

Diminished brain function. They say the biggest sex organ is the brain and it’s true. Many people today suffer from a brain that is aging too fast, besieged by inflammation, not getting properly oxygenated, struggling from poor fuel supply, or suffering from poor activity of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Although all of these issues can often be addressed with the functional medicine basics I just mentioned, various nutritional compounds can also help boost brain function and, as a result, libido.

These are just a few underlying causes of low libido. Sometimes, of course, it’s more complicated, especially if you are unhappy in your relationship, suffer from low self-esteem, or run yourself ragged putting others’ needs before your own.

However, don’t shrug off low libido as no big deal. You could be missing out not only on the health benefits of regular sex, but also on the opportunity to address an underlying health concern.

Why your doctor can’t help you

why doctor cant help

You notice you’re feeling worse and worse. You suffer from chronic fatigue, pain, digestion issues, depression, anxiety, insomnia …. the list goes on. Yet when you go to your doctor, you’re told your lab tests are fine, it’s just age, or perhaps you need an antidepressant. If you press for more tests or keep returning with complaints, you’re labeled a problem patient or told it’s all in your head.

Unfortunately, this happens to untold numbers of people each year. When you can barely muster the energy to get through life’s daily tasks and you have long since abandoned your hobbies, sports, or time with friends, hitting a brick wall at the doctor’s office can fill you with despair.

It isn’t that your doctor is an uncaring person, he or she simply works in a paradigm that is woefully outdated when it comes to the exploding incidences of chronic and inflammatory conditions today. There are instances when conventional medicine is like a miracle, but for the one in five people suffering from autoimmune disease (a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue in the body or brain), and countless others suffering from undiagnosed autoimmunity, chronic inflammation, severe pain, environmentally induced illnesses, food sensitivities, chronic viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, brain chemistry imbalances, hormonal imbalances, hair loss, unexplained weight gain, and more — being told your lab tests are fine and you simply need an antidepressant can feel like a kick in the groin.

Medical schools don’t teach nutrition

Medical doctors receive very little nutritional training despite an ever growing body of evidence linking diet with the explosion of chronic diseases today. We know, for instance, that the high blood sugar that comes from eating standard American fare can ultimately lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease.

The standard approach to autoimmune disease, the occurrence rate of which far surpasses that of cancer and heart disease combined, is to wait until its advanced enough to either surgically remove the affected tissue or administer severe immune-suppressing drugs.

Gluten intolerance is still overlooked by many doctors. Standard testing for gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is limited and outdated, missing countless positive diagnoses. This despite the growing body of evidence that links gluten with autoimmune and neurological conditions. Other dietary proteins can also provoke severe immune reactions, something many doctors are not aware of unless it’s a classical food allergy (which is a different beast than a food sensitivity).

Doctors are constrained by their medical education, which has yet to catch up with modern illnesses. Liability insurance, health insurance, peer pressure, lack of time, and other factors often keep them from investing in the education required to help the millions of people suffering from “mystery” symptoms which, when you look at the science, are not always that mysterious.

Functional medicine for chronic symptoms and illness

Fortunately, functional medicine specializes in using nutritional, botanical, and nutraceutical approaches to manage chronic, inflammatory, and autoimmune conditions. We keep up with the latest science and the latest lab testing, which is integral to unraveling chronic symptoms and conditions. If you’ve hit a dead end with your medical provider, ask me how functional nutrition can help you regain your energy, vitality, and well-being.

Blood test for health: Functional ranges versus lab ranges

functional versus lab rangesDid your blood test for a health problem say you’re perfectly healthy even though you suffer from fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, digestive issues, joint pain, or other symptoms that make you miserable? Does your doctor give you a prescription for antidepressants or tell you to seek therapy because your problems “don’t exist.”

Many doctors dismiss people’s health complaints because of an incomplete blood test that only looks for full-blown diseases instead of trends toward disease. In functional medicine, however, we use a blood test for assessing risk of disease before it develops. This way you can do something about it before it’s too late. For instance, a fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dL can identify a risk for diabetes long before a diagnosis. Or more complete thyroid testing can explain hypothyroid symptoms when a standard test shows results are “normal.”

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Can pregnancy cause hypothyroidism?

Question

Why did pregnancy trigger my hypothyroidism?

Answer

Natural immune shifts during pregnancy, together with a genetic tendency and other predisposing factors, can trigger hypothyroidism in some women.

Hypothyroidism is an immune disease for most

For 90 percent of Americans, hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.

The immune system has two major arms of function, one that reacts immediately to an invader, and one that reacts later to produce antibodies. When one of these arms of becomes overly dominant it can trigger an autoimmune disease.

Going into pregnancy predisposed

Pregnancy and the postpartum periods naturally polarize the immune system. In the third trimester the delayed immune response is dominant. Postpartum the immediate immune reaction is stronger.

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Fractures common today: Build stronger bones

Question

Is it my imagination or are broken bones more common than ever today?

Answer

Boys are 32 percent and girls 56 percent more likely to break a bone than children 40 years ago. Fractures are also common in older adults.

Soda has replaced milk

Dairy provides 70 percent of calcium in the American diet. However 40 years ago children drank four times more milk than soda; in 2001 they drank two and a half more times soda than milk. Today males ages 12-29 average half a gallon a day of soda. Not only is soda replacing more healthful, bone-building options, but it also contributes to obesity, blood sugar imbalances, inflammation, and other metabolic disorders that lead to poor bone quality.

Chronic inflammation weakens bones

For instance, just the chronic, low-grade inflammation caused by regular soda consumption can lead to weaker bones; inflammation accelerates the breakdown of bone so that it outpaces bone building. Soda consumption is also linked to a rise in obesity, another barrier to good bone health. Studies show obese people have weaker bones as their bone marrow produces more fat cells than bone cells. Continue reading

Why does eating make me sleepy?

Question

I practically fall asleep in my plate after every meal. Why does eating make me so sleepy?

Answer

Feeling sleepy after meals is a common symptom of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.

Starchy foods and too much insulin

Insulin resistance is common today and is a stepping-stone to diabetes. Overeating and eating a diet high in sugar and starchy foods causes insulin resistance. These foods include breads, rice, pasta, pastries, chips, potatoes, soda, sweet coffee drinks, and more.

Converting glucose to fat demands energy

Insulin escorts glucose into the cells to make energy. Starchy foods bombard the bloodstream with too much glucose, forcing the release of insulin to lower it. When a person eats a starchy diet on a regular basis, the body overproduces insulin to lower chronically high blood sugar.

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Food allergies can prevent weight loss

Question

I learned I have intolerances and allergies to certain foods, and that I need to avoid those foods if I want to lose weight. Isn’t it just a matter of eating fewer calories?

Answer

Some people find they can’t lose weight through calorie restriction alone. When that happens several issues need to be investigated. One of the most important is food intolerances. Eating foods to which you are allergic or intolerant will prevent weight loss.

Food intolerances cause inflammation

Food intolerances and allergies create inflammation, and inflammation prevents weight loss. Every time you eat gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, or some other food that may be a problem for you, you create inflammation in your body.

Leaky gut is a primary culprit

For many people today, a variety of foods trigger inflammation. This is due largely to intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut,” which allows undigested food particles to slip into the bloodstream through damaged and inflamed intestinal walls. Leaky gut is very common today due to poor diets, excessive sweets, chronic stress, and other maladies of modern life. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are also common and cause leaky gut. Continue reading

Depression linked with bad digestion

Question

I went to see my natural medicine practitioner for depression and she wants to work on my digestive health. I don’t get the connection.

Answer

Many people would be surprised to learn how greatly gut health affects brain health. A poor diet, inflamed gut, and intestinal permeability definitely can promote depression.

Depression a not-so-obvious symptom of poor digestion

Sometimes digestion issues are obvious; they cause gas, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. For others the main symptom is not so obvious—depression. An unhealthy diet and compromised gut health can promote depression in several ways.

Poor nutrition

When one eats a junk food diet laden with processed foods, trans fats, sugars, and artificial chemicals, the brain suffers. The brain needs healthy fats, high-quality protein, abundant vitamins and minerals, and a diet low in starchy foods and sugars. Continue reading

Why do antibiotics give me health woes?

Question

It seems ever since I took antibiotics I haven’t been the same. I’m sick more frequently, my digestion is messed up, and I have chronic yeast infections. Why?

Answer

Antibiotics are one of modern medicine’s life-saving miracles. However if preventive care isn’t taken, their use, and especially their abuse, can lead to chronic health problems.

Good bacteria serve us

The digestive tract contains an estimated 2–4 pounds of beneficial bacteria that are an integral part of our immune system. They resist bad bacteria, and they aid in the digestion of food, the absorption of nutrients, and the synthesis of B vitamins and vitamin K. Continue reading