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Posts Tagged ‘functional medicine’

Taken by Tom Mallinson

Lab testing is foundational to functional medicine, and for good reason. It can show you what is causing your symptoms, if you are headed toward a disease (even if you don’t have symptoms), track the progress of your protocol, and motivate you to stick with your protocol.

Lab testing includes many different tests. Some examples of testing used in functional medicine include:

Food sensitivity testing. If a food you eat regularly causes inflammation, this contributes to chronic health disorders.

Gut testing. Gut problems contribute to chronic health issues. Tests can screen for leaky gut, gut function, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and autoimmune reactions.

Blood chemistry panel. This is an excellent starting point in functional medicine testing and includes the use of functional medicine ranges (versus lab ranges). Blood testing screens for some diseases and can catch a trend toward a disease while there’s still time to reverse it.

Chemical and metal sensitivity testing. As with foods, an immune reaction to chemicals or metals can trigger chronic inflammatory health disorders.

Adrenal testing. Adrenal testing reveals the relationship between your health and stress handling. The most important test is the second one because it shows if your protocol is working. If not, you need to dig deeper.

Hormone testing. Hormone imbalances profoundly affect health. Testing screens for excesses, deficiencies, feedback loops, and how well you metabolize hormones.

DNA genetic testing. Genetic testing delivers insight into disease risk and genetic metabolic variations that affect health. An example is the MTHFR variance.

These are just a few examples of the types of testing used in functional medicine. What type of testing you need depends on your symptoms and health history.

Why lab testing is important in functional medicine

Functional medicine is based on peer-reviewed science and finds the root cause of your symptoms. There are a variety of factors that can lead to depression, fatigue, chronic pain, poor function, and other chronic health disorders.

Functional lab testing shows a trend toward disease

In conventional medicine, doctors use labs to screen for disease. Once a condition has become a disease, such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, the damage is significant.

Functional medicine uses lab testing to catch a health trend that is on the way to disease but that can still be slowed, halted, or reversed. For instance, lab markers that show elevated blood sugar, inflammation, and poor liver function allow you to easily reverse the march towards diabetes.

Another example is autoimmunity. A significant amount of tissue must be destroyed before conventional medicine can diagnose autoimmune disease. However, by testing for antibodies against tissue, the autoimmune progression can be slowed or stopped in its early stages.

Functional lab testing tracks progress

Although the first test is important for identifying health problems, subsequent testing is also crucial to let you know whether your protocol is working. If there is no improvement, it means you have not hit on the right protocol or discovered all the underlying causes.

Lab testing improves compliance and social support

Seeing the results of a lab test makes it easier to stick with a protocol. It also can encourage a disbelieving spouse, family member, or friend to support you. Many people think gluten sensitivity is just a fad, or that your symptoms aren’t real and you simply complain too much. Your lab results validate your symptoms and can help others be more supportive.

Ask my office about functional lab testing to help you get to the bottom of your chronic health condition.

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what is functional medicine copy

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.

By looking at root causes, you improve your energy, sleep, vitality, and even libido. This is why seeing a functional medicine 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 that 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. 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 overgrowths
  • 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.

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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 our office how functional medicine can help you regain your energy, vitality, and well-being.

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functional versus lab ranges

Did 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.”

Functional medicine uses a blood test for a return to health

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of symptoms instead of overriding them with drugs or surgery. One tool we use to accomplish this is to interpret blood tests using functional ranges, which outline the parameters of good health.

In contrast, the ranges most doctors use are based on a bell-curve analysis of all the people who visited that lab over a certain period of time, many of whom are very sick. These lab ranges have broadened over the last few decades as health of the American population has declined. As a result, more and more people with real health problems are told they’re fine because their lab results fall within these wide ranges.

Do you really want to evaluate your health in comparison to all the sick people who visited your lab, or do you want to look at a blood test for what constitutes good health?

Looking for blood test patterns 

Because functional medicine is based on an in-depth knowledge of human physiology and how various systems in the body work together, we also look at a blood test for patterns instead of just looking at individual markers. By doing this, we see how these different systems influence one another to cause a constellation of symptoms.

For instance, looking at different white blood cells reveals whether an immune reaction is chronic or acute, and whether a virus, a bacterial infection, allergies, or parasite may be causing it. Other patterns can help us identify fatty liver, leaky gut, different types of anemia, or even a possible autoimmune disorder.

Blood test for functional medicine is more thorough

A blood test for functional medicine also includes more markers that standard blood tests. For instance, many doctors only look at TSH, a basic thyroid marker, when running a blood test for hypothyroidism. In functional medicine, however, we know that Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, is responsible for 90 percent of hypothyroid cases in the United States. Therefore we also test thyroid antibodies to screen for autoimmunity along with other thyroid markers for more information.

A blood test for a functional medicine approach can also help us know what other tests may be necessary, such as a gastrointestinal panel or further testing for anemia.

Principles of functional medicine

Once the potential problems or risks have been assessed, the functional medicine practitioner uses a variety of science-backed, non-pharmaceutical approaches to restore health. These include:

  • Adjustments to the diet
  • Lifestyle changes (such as eating breakfast, proper sleep hygiene, physical activity, or reduction of stress)
  • The use of botanicals or nutritional compounds to improve physiological function
  • Other natural medicine approaches customized for the patient based on lab testing

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Move over vitamin C. When it comes to warding off the flu virus and colds, studies shows vitamin D trumps vitamin C. But are you getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and diet alone?Sneezing young woman

Studies link low vitamin D levels with flu virus

Compelling evidence links low vitamin D levels with illness.

One study showed vitamin D-deficient subjects were 36 percent more likely to report an upper respiratory infection than those with higher levels. That rate jumped significantly for those with asthma.

Another study found children taking vitamin D supplements suffered almost half as many incidences of the flu virus than the children not taking vitamin D.

Also, vitamin D levels were found to be lower in children who died of swine flu than in those who survived.

Vitamin D benefits go beyond fighting the flu

Vitamin D does so much more than fight the flu. Sufficient vitamin D lowers the risk of cancer, autoimmune disease, gum disease, heart disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and weak bones.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a corner stone to good health, however research shows many people do not get enough from sunlight and diet alone. In general, we spend most of our lives indoors, wear sunscreen when outside, and don’t eat a vitamin D-rich diet.

More than 40 percent of the population and 60 percent of children are estimated deficient. Blacks, Hispanics, and other populations with darker skin show the highest rates of deficiency. Living at a northern latitude, obesity, and aging also increase the risk for deficiency. One study found 60 percent of postmenopausal to be deficient in vitamin D.

Boosting your vitamin D levels

Supplementing with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and its cofactors will help you outpace the flu and prevent disease. A 25-hydroxy vitamin D test is the most accurate way to measure and monitor your levels, with optimal levels falling between 50–80 ng/mL. However if you suffer from an autoimmune disease or other chronic illness, your practitioner may recommend a more specific goal.

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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.

If a genetically predisposed woman goes into pregnancy with an existing immune imbalance, these natural immune shifts could be the tipping point for Hashimoto’s.

When pregnancy is one stressor too many

Pregnancy can also cause hypothyroid symptoms secondary to chronic stress. Stressors such as gut infections, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, and hormonal imbalances can depress the pituitary gland, which controls hormone function in the body. As a result the pituitary fails to signal thyroid activity.

For many women this manifests not only as low thyroid function, but also postpartum depression. Because so many women enter pregnancy dealing with multiple chronic stressors, the increased demands of pregnancy overwhelm the pituitary gland and depress thyroid function.

Balancing health pre-conception lowers risk for mother and baby

A woman should address health and immune imbalances before conceiving to reduce her risk of developing hypothyroidism.

Doing so also may lower the risk of her infant developing eczema, asthma, food allergies, and even autism, which has been found to be caused by an autoimmune disease in many. When the mother’s immune system is healthy and balanced, there’s a stronger possibility her baby’s will be too.

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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.

When dairy is a poor option

Many people today find dairy is not a viable option for them due to an intolerance to lactose, the sugar in milk, or casein, the milk protein. Consuming dairy when you are dairy intolerant will actually trigger inflammation and work against your bone-strengthening efforts. Many other foods are good sources of calcium, including canned salmon and sardines with the bones, ample homemade bone broth, greens, certain nuts and seeds, nettle and raspberry leaves, and more.

Not all calcium supplements are the same

Calcium supplements are another option, however not all calcium supplements are the same. Some forms are easier to absorb than others. Also, it’s important to take a calcium supplement with the necessary cofactors for appropriate assimilation. These include other minerals, vitamins D3 and K2, and omega-3 fatty acids. Talk with your practitioner to learn the best way to get enough calcium and ensure good bone quality.

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