THE SCIENCE OF STRESS IN FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE 101 “Symptom suppression vs underlying cause”

Every second of every day there are thousands of metabolic functions that occur within systems-biology, all playing an important part in keeping the body in a state of good health or functional wellness. Even though every one of these functions play an important role both independently and collectively in the statement I’m about to make – the human body’s number one priority over anything else, and at any cost other than it’s demise is survival –

As dramatic as the word sounds – the definition or true meaning of ‘survival’ meant something very different in the past, back in early times, yet, because our modern world rarely requires the true evolutionary fight-or-flight ‘survival’ response to a stressor or stress signal, we deny our bodies their natural physical reaction to stress, so the body holds onto the stress chemistry it creates.

That being said, as I’ve explained to hundreds of patients that I’ve helped feel well again, over the years using Functional Medicine (FM); what must be understood is that whether you are being chased down the street by a person with a knife; reacting to a food that you are intolerant to; worrying about finances; staying awake late on a regular basis disrupting the healing force of our circadian rhythm; living with a serious disease such as cancer; narrowly escaping a fatal car accident; or being residence to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria; the brain still registers and responds to stress in exactly the same way, much like it always has; except the fact that we no longer follow up the initial reaction to that stress with vigorous physical activity (fighting or fleeing), results in our bodies ‘storing’ the stress response in body tissues as we continue to churn out high levels of stress hormones & catecholamines.

It’s this ‘storing’ of these chronically repeated stress signals that make the body think that it’s existence is constantly under threat which forces it to break down its functional tissues for fuel, sending blood glucose levels soaring whilst flooding the blood stream with unnecessary amounts excess stored fuel, most of which gets cleared from the blood and dumped into fat cells because it’s not physically required to flee. All at the expense of our adrenal (hormonal) & metabolic reserve where we divert, lose, or have a greater demand for/deplete vital health-preserving hormones/nutrients in the bodies attempt to ‘survive’ to maintain functional wellness.

As Dr. Hans Selye, dubbed “The Father of Stress” discovered many years ago during his extensive clinical research on the stress response mechanism is that too much of any stress signal results in maladaption at a biochemical level. The microbiome become disrupted, hormones become imbalanced and depleted as production is shut down, immune system function is weakened or inhibited, metabolism & digestive function is impaired, with a downward spiral of physiological dysfunction to follow that eventually lead to the various biological systems of the body to become compromised. Loss of vitality & immunity, closely precede illness and disease which are often the results of this breakdown in systems-biology. This essentially leads to lower tolerance to threats & insults that may have originated from the outside world that have or go on to alter the internal terrain/environment/function which lead to imbalances.

In the earlier stages when the stress response is called upon unnecessarily, time & time again, – before long we are living a lifestyle characterised by chronic stress and consistently elevated cortisol levels as the repeated activity disrupts the HPA axis and the system struggles to reset back to its set point. When the body senses a long term (chronic) threat or stress signal toward that it is perceiving as a survival, the system recalibrates & adapts in order to prevent its demise, even at the cost of the health & integrity of other functional tissues, nutrient reserves, metabolic functions, hormone production, detoxification etc. These commands come from the Hypothalamus & Pituitary control centres in the brain which have a direct connection with the gut, and the endocrine system on an axis which includes the adrenal glands (HPA), the thyroid (HPT), the liver (HPL), all biologically connected in a integrated negative feedback loop scenario/set up.

Whats ironic is that the brains of humans – classed as “higher animals” – meaning a more advanced species –  have become so “well-developed” that our bodies have learnt to respond to psychological or perceived stress with the very same hormonal cascade that happens with exposure to an ‘actual’ physical stressor or threat to our existence. In other words, just by the sheer thought or perception of a stressful event, even if that event is highly unlikely to actually occur, our endocrine system gets revved up and ready to race by flooding the host with circulating stress chemicals AKA hormones & other neurochemicals.

Ideally speaking, in healthy individuals active/circulating cortisol levels at the tissue receptor level should be dynamic and fluctuate within a functional range in response to stress and relaxation, yet should follow a 24 hour eb & flow, with its highest point being approximately 30 mins after waking, and then tapering off smoothly throughout the day, reaching its lowest point being in the evening. Just as chronically high cortisol is bad; chronically low cortisol is also bad but for slightly different reasons. When a person is chronically stuck at either end of the spectrum; hyper or hypo (much like thyroid conditions) – it’s a stage of the the body’s protective ‘survival’ mechanism. The more hypo (low/slow) – the further or deeper the body is in the survival mode process, whereas hyper (high/fast) is the body over-revving it’s biological engine, running in the red, trying to hold on for dear life – under the stress. Very much like an uneconomical sports car that burns through its fuel at a high rate, and gets pushed to the limit, having excessive strain/wear & tear forced upon its mechanical parts.

The hormone cortisol has a direct impact on regulating the immune system, how it imitates it’s attack, and how effective it is at doing it. Imbalances in hormonal function results in dysfunction of the branches of our immune system, making one branch more overactive than the other. When chronic, these imbalances often leads to immune system disorders such as autoimmunity, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancers, as well as many other conditions that i frequently help people deal with in FM practice.

Other than the interferon system & the microbiome, there are two main mechanisms of immunity within the adaptive immune system – humoral and cellular. For the most part, these branches should be in balance with each other. When dominance occurs in either of the two branches, the body is at greater risk of certain health conditions developing.

Humoral immunity is also called antibody-mediated immunity. With assistance from helper T-cells, B-cells will differentiate into plasma B-cells that can produce antibodies against a specific antigen. The humoral immune system deals with antigens from pathogens that are freely circulating, or outside the infected cells. Antibodies produced by the B-cells will bind to antigens, neutralizing them, or causing lysis (dissolution or destruction of cells by a lysin) or phagocytosis.

Cellular immunity occurs inside infected cells and is mediated by T-lymphocytes. The pathogen’s antigens are expressed on the cell surface or on an antigen-presenting cell. Helper T-cells release cytokines that help activated T-cells bind to the infected cells’ MHC-antigen complex and differentiate the T-cell into a cytotoxic T-cell. The infected cell then undergoes lysis.

Cortisol & some of its counter-regulatory hormones have a direct influence on the regulation of our innate/adaptive immune system. As an example, cortisol (and other hormones it interacts with) will prevent sIgA mucosal cells (our first line defence) from regenerating. To add context – this becomes highly problematic considering that 80-90% of our immune system lines/guards the delicate tissue interfaces of vulnerable entry points to the hosts systemic blood supply. This protects the insults & threats from the outside world from penetrating the systemic mainframe where they would have access to travel the highway of the body, coming into contact with our tissues, glands, organs, and cells.

A cortisol (circadian) rhythm that is responsive and variable is good – meaning low at night and low when relaxed, but high 30 minutes after waking, during acute stress, exercise or when trying to meet a deadline at work, but recovering to baseline levels quickly after. Hormone reserves including production should be robust to support the production of the hormonal cascade.

We do not want cortisol to be chronically anything (high or low or medium) but rather, we want a dynamic, highly responsive, fine-tuned pattern pattern of cortisol activity. This statement is not to be confused with the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) which is a clinical measurement giving a snapshot of the HPA axis & its response to perceived stress (such as waking) kind of like a mini stress test, assessing the robustness of the communication between the brain & the endocrine system. This encompasses or forms part of our circadian rhythm which is our cortisol rhythm throughout the day from moment we wake up, to the moment we prepare for bed.

Simply put; when the brain perceives a stressful event, it responds by stimulating the endocrine glands to release hormones, including both adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is responsible for the up feeling that causes excitement, whereas cortisol is responsible for modulating the way our bodies use various fuel sources in an emergency situation, and to regulate/promote inflammation. Cortisol is known as a glucocorticoid because it’s secreted by the adrenal cortex (thus corticoid, and because it increases levels of blood sugar or glucose thus glucocorticoid.

While on the topic of blood sugar – Individuals who suffer with hypoglycaemia & sensitive to magnesium supplementation tend to have low circulating cortisol and by taking magnesium it lowers or suppresses circulating cortisol which in turn lowers their blood sugar beyond their hormonal systems capabilities (namely the glucocorticoid ‘cortisol’) to manage blood glucose & keep it stable so the body freaks out by pumping out adrenaline to try to recover & stabilise the imbalances. Another stress on the system, and perpetual burden on the adrenal hormone cascade.

Chronic stress is defined by any kind of stress signal that is repetitive, ongoing or unresolved, with the sources of these signals being either internal or external. Sources of chronic stress can be as varied as emotional grief, radiation/EMF, food allergies & intolerances, lack of (or too much) exercise, substance abuse, parasites, pathogens and infections, injury or pain, staying up late frequently beyond the hours of midnight, chemical/toxin exposure, to name just a small cluster of stress signal inputs.

FM uses combinations of the most up-to-date cutting edge science & evidence-based clinical lab testing to determine the sources and impacts of chronic stress & dysfunction within systems-biology of the body. Once the functional hierarchy has been professionally evaluated & dots are connected, it is then that a strategy of targeted therapy can be devised – aiming at addressing the underlying causes, which, is a departure from the conventional/allopathic medicine of symptom-focused care that most people are used to, as opposed to preventative/functional medicine.

That all being said –  conventional medicine does have its place in being highly effective in acute/emergency situations, and in providing sophisticated diagnostics for isolating major dysfunctions such as heart, brain, and lung problems, malignancies, or emergency life-or-death acute situations; to name just a few; however, when it comes to general ‘functional’ wellness/disease prevention, evaluating the bodies interrelated systems, and identifying underlying cause, it’s weak, flawed & doesn’t come near FM in my opinion.

As most of you reading this may recognise from some of your own experiences; mainstream healthcare is primarily focused on the suppression of symptoms, the prescribing of pharmaceutical drugs & surgeries. Often distracting us from what’s really going on. Symptoms as we know are the outward expression of deeper, underlying dysfunctions & imbalances. Kind of like a warning light on your car dashboard informing you that something needs attention. Medical doctors, as well as many alternative health professionals, tend to provide this type of ‘symptom-focussed’ care. Sadly, It is entrenched in the minds of a large number of the population who expect quick symptomatic relief, or remedy, and often know no better than to ‘take a pill for their ill’, so to speak.

What makes things worse for people is that the USA is not only supported by health insurance companies, but also the pharmaceutical industry, who’s profitability is largely derived from the sales of drugs that suppress the symptoms. Long-term health improvements, which should be the driving force of any health care system is compromised by a system that thrives on short-term temporary fixes.

An alternative does exist however… something I refer to as “Functional wellness”….

Functional wellness combines the best of integrated care (functional medicine) with the lifestyle medicine/environmental awareness. Lifestyle factors may include diet, exercise, sleep, emotional stress etc. Environmental sources of stress like I mentioned earlier may include pathogens and parasites, chemicals, heavy metals, radiation or EMF, mold or offending foods to name just a few.

Healthcare professionals utilising FM critically analyse the core network of systems-biology, looking for dysfunctional patterns. Symptoms are addressed in a lot of cases, but only if treatment does not impede an accurate diagnosis or cause harmful side-effects. This model of healthcare may sometimes incorporate, or accompany elements of conventional medicine, but emphasises prevention & functional restoration, not suppression.

In contrast to conventional medical professionals trained to identify and stifle the symptoms of a disease – I refer to this approach as medical intervention – practitioners of FM use in-depth patient evaluations and highly advanced evidence-based laboratory testing to identify lifestyle factors as well as hidden physical factors that drive the chronic stress response. Hidden, unseen physical factors are referred to in medical jargon as subclinical; they occur beneath the surface of clinical observation. Subclinical imbalances can compromise health despite a number of cases having an absence of symptoms.

If you are like most people, you approach your health with an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it “attitude. You may only seek professional help only when experiencing intolerable symptoms, or when you’re afraid the symptoms might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition. You may gratefully accept your doctors diagnosis and recommendations for symptomatic care, and your symptoms may even respond favourably to prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or natural remedies. This care may seem like a good thing, after all, we all want to feel better. However, danger lies in suppressing symptoms while the underlying causes goes on diagnosed or unidentified. The disappearance of pain, a skin rash, fatigue, numbness or neuropathy in the extremities, heart palpitations, and other symptoms may only be temporarily. The fact that you no longer experience any symptoms after the treatment does not guarantee that they won’t return, neither does it mean the cause of the symptoms have been resolved.

For example, you visit your doctor or physician complaining of a stomachache or reflux. Your doctor recommends a treatment of antacid or PPI medication to quieten your symptoms. Your initial reflux may subside, but your health is on the decline as dysfunction still exists. Below the surface, outside the watch of their so-called ‘trained eye’, the unaddressed cause of your disease process progresses. Although the doctor treated your symptoms, they failed to probably diagnose the source, so the underlying cause has not been addressed. As a result, the functioning of critical systems upon which your health depends upon becomes increasingly compromised.

As mentioned earlier & something I’ve written about in earlier articles of mine is that symptoms are the outward expression that vital body systems are struggling with stress. In the absence of symptoms, you’re unaware that potentially dangerous changes in your health are occurring. This is what’s referred to as ‘sub-clinical’ that is often only identified using functional lab work & an experienced trained eye. Most people tend to wait until they feel ill before scheduling an appointment with their doctor or in more extreme cases visiting a hospital for urgent care.

Either of these two involves being briefly triaged (interviewed) by a nurse, medical assistant to gather information for the doctor, or the doctor themselves. The physicians aim is seeking to classify or to fit your symptoms neatly into a box labelled as a specific illness or disease. Based on the evaluation lasting typically no more than 10 to 15 minutes (involving no laboratory testing) your doctor makes a “diagnosis” of your condition. Once a diagnosis – in this case, a label – is applied to your symptoms, the doctor can begin “fixing” your problem. Using standard and customary medical protocols, the physician treats the symptoms and may recommend a follow-up visit to determine whether you have been “cured.” That’s it – You have just experienced a conventional medical intervention. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am!

In cases such as colds & flu, a conventional medical intervention can often get the job done. Symptomatic relief is sufficient because the body’s defences are usually strong enough to overcome occasional minor ailment. These short-lasting problems tend to respond well, unless the patient has compromised immunity. But what if your healthcare professional failed to adequately analyse your condition? Stomach pain could indicate a serious potentially cancer-causing bacterial infection like Helicobacter Pylori, stomach cancer, or even food poisoning. Would your treatment differ if the doctor has been able to scientifically diagnose exactly why your stomach hurts? Absolutely!

Someone I know, a doctor who specialised in preventative medicine nutrition experienced ongoing stomach upset. Eventually, his pain and discomfort became intolerable. Medical colleagues described the symptoms to acute indigestion. Conventional medical testing confirms he wasn’t producing enough hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid stimulates the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes and bile. Without enough of the substances, we cannot adequately digests carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. He supplemented his diet with digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid to supposedly “fix” The problem. The enzymes and supplements brought relief, but only temporarily. Further testing revealed that he had stomach cancer. This person died at the age of 34. What if, instead, the tests ran were to determine why he was in producing enough hydrochloric acid? What if the test had revealed the cause of his hydrochloric acid insufficiency? He may have had chance to kill the cancer and get a new lease of life. Many healthcare professionals treat without acute diagnosis. *They fail to analyse the behind the scenes (sub-clinical) stresses or dysfunctions that are driving the condition. Why does this happen? What are the reasons for the shortsighted diagnostic approach? There are many, but the a few major ones are:

  • Incomplete assessment of the patient
  • Lack of training/professional qualifications in functional medicine and in preventative health care
  • Refusal of insurance companies to reimburse for what they mistakenly label is non-essential services in countries such as the US

An incomplete diagnosis or identification results in inaccurate treatment, which in-turn prolongs pain and suffering, and can lead to further progression of the condition. In the worst case scenario, as with the story of the young doctor, an inadequate diagnosis resulted in an irreversible decline of health, tragically leading to death. In another scenario, a patient sees a doctor, complaining about her libido, fatigue, and memory lapses. Her MD implements a standard allopathic medical intervention. After reviewing the patients health history, discussing symptoms, and running a blood test, it was concluded that she has chronic fatigue. The doctor recommends treating her symptoms according to the standard medical protocol for that condition – typically antidepressants & maybe iron supplementation. This particular patient decides to get a second opinion from someone like myself who uses an FM model. Using functional lab testing, the FM clinician discovers that heavy metal toxicity, hormone imbalances, detoxification/methylation imbalances,  and parasitic infections are some major contributing factors towards her chronic fatigue. Of course, the treatment protocols for these two diagnoses are worlds apart the first doctor prescribed medication for symptoms associated with chronic fatigue. The FM clinician addresses the causes of the chronic fatigue by recommending a phased targeted treatment strategy aimed at addressing the underlying causes, using functional/lifestyle medicine. If you are this patient, which approach would you choose?

When you seek assistance from a qualified health professional, you are seeking an educated & experienced opinion from someone qualified to make clinical decisions & offer answers on what is going on in your body, and the solutions of how to address the issues. The purpose of a diagnosis or evaluation is to direct targeted treatment. But, can a treatment intervention be effective if the diagnosis is incomplete or in accurate? In the majority of cases I’d say no (especially in my world as so many things are sub-clinical) unless we are talking about simple head cold or similar ailment. With typically short-term ailments, symptomatic treatment might be all you need to feel well. By alleviating or eliminating symptoms, the body is freed of that stress and therefore bail able to self correct without further intervention. However, even in this case, you should ask yourself: Why did I get sick? So it might seem common, getting sick is not normal. Your immune system, designed to protect you from illness, could be weakened by chronic stress, subclinical stress you can’t see and your doctor neglect the diagnosis.

But where does health end and illness begin? Well ‘homeostasis’ is a good place to start. Homoeostasis is a term for something that I’ve referred to and written about in many of my previous articles, but I’ll touch upon again for the benefit of those that aren’t familiar with this term. Homoeostasis is a condition of dynamic equilibrium inside the body. The body is in a balance state of being in other words, healthy. The tissues receive an adequate in constant level of oxygen and nutrients at a cellular level and all systems function harmony. The nervous system is even-keeled, and all other physiological processes the finely tuned for vitality and resistance to disease. All is well in homoeostasis.

We often hear stories about people who were thought to be in excellent health but became sick “one day “and died soon thereafter. Is it actually possible that a person’s health can deteriorate so rapidly? Technically, no. In the majority of cases anyway. Health conditions usually develop over time; sometimes even decades; before obvious symptoms arise. During that developmental period, chronic stress on the body contributes to the breakdown, setting the stage for disease. The prevalence of cancer and other diseases evident that health professionals are failing to recognise and manage the earliest stages of disease. Functional wellness using FM is a solution to this problem.

Let’s consider what I called the five stages of disorder, beginning with a reminder of where you want to be in homoeostasis “imbalance “. It is important to understand that even the first day you disorder, your vitality and ability to resist the damage caused by chronic stress I compromise; however, the signs of this may not be obvious to you.

HOMEOSTASIS: A tendency towards equilibrium between the various independent systems of the body.

STAGE 1 – Deviation from homeostasis

This is the first stage of disorder. The natural response of the body to any stress is to attempt to return to homoeostasis. If this is not possible, compensation takes place and the body moves forward into the second stage of disorder. Deviation from homoeostasis can result from a multitude of stresses, including infections, allergies, and toxic exposures.

STAGE 2 – Pathophysiology

The functional changes that accompany a particular syndrome or disease. Although the body still attempts to return to homoeostasis, it remains in a state of compensation. Normal biochemical functions are disturbed and tissues and organs begin compensating. This is a potential tipping point for the disease process to kick into full gear.

STAGE 3 – Pathomorphology

Detrimental changes in the structure of your body Excelerator. Cells are dying and that symptoms may only be subtle or even non-existent. The main function is compromised and there is the generation of other functional systems. Even in this stage, the body still strives to revert to the previous phase. If unable to do so, it will degenerate with accelerated compensation and unmistakable symptoms will result.

STAGE 4 – Symtomatology

In this stage, the body is challenged by symptoms that result from physiological impairment. The body unsuccessfully attempted to return to the previous phase. His compensatory mechanisms are struggling and dysfunction persists. Lack of improvement further aggravates dysfunction. This is where conventional medicine generally comes into play and when you are feeling lousy.

STAGE 5 – Death

The final stage. This may sound dramatic but there comes a point where our biological machine cannot compensate any longer and it cannot sustain the life force. The cumulative effect of stress has subjected the body to suffer a permanent cessation of all vital functions. Heart attack, respiratory failure… such events are common in the transition from stage 4 to stage 5. Many are preventable tragedies. This is nothing sudden about them; they have been developing often unnoticed for years.

Understanding the stages of disorders help to distinguish medical intervention from FM. Medical intervention focuses on identifying or treating over symptoms that is, stage four! In contrast, FM focuses on identifying and correcting the sources of the bodies stress in stage one, two, and three at the very latest. With this approach, stress is causing health problems, more likely to cause them in the future, can be eliminated before manifesting as illness.

In obtaining meaningful clinical data, I myself rely upon the best evidence-based laboratory testing science has to offer that provides insights into a number of the bodies core body system such as the the neuroendocrine/hormonal system, the immune system, gastrointestinal system, the detoxification system, metabolic system, methylation & transsulfuration etc. I always evaluate a patients systems-biology whether they are very ill, seeking to prevent illness or just trying to optimise their fitness/functional wellness levels. These systems alone have a profound affect on the quality of a persons health. If one or more is compromised, the negative affects spillover to all other systems, creating a chain of events that perpetuate into a chronic stress response.

When I work with the patient, I first determine which of the person systems are healthy and make every attempt to avoid interfering with them, while supporting those that are performing some optimally,. Using laboratory data, I intervene only as much as is necessary so that it aligns with normal body function to help the body return to homoeostasis.

One key area is the hormonal system. Hormones have become quite a buzzword especially where weight loss and beauty are concerned. But hormones are far more important your health and these concerns represent. In simple terms, hormones are chemical messengers the travel through your bloodstream into tissues, where they turn on switches to the genetic machinery regulates everything from reproduction to emotions to your sense of well-being. Hormones can be thought of as the chemical force that animates you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Different glands and organs produce different hormones. For example, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin, whereas the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone. Other glands, such as the pituitary in the hypothalamus in the brain, secrete hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) that control how much estrogen & progesterone are produced by the ovaries. Some hormones are composed of large proteins and others of fatty substances derive from cholesterol. An extremely important class derived from cholesterol is the family of hormones termed steroids. Cholesterol is converted to the mother steroid hormone pregnenolone, which is further converted in the ovaries testes and adrenal glands to other hormones, as directed by signals from the brain.

The steroid family is broken down to 5 major categories:

  • Oestrogens (oestradiol, estriol, oestrone)
  • Progesterone
  • Androgens (DHEA, testosterone, androstenedione)
  • Glucocorticoids (cortisol, cortizone)
  • Mineral corticoids (aldosterone)

The steroid hormones are responsible for regulating thousands of different cellular functions needed for general sale maintenance and repair as well as reproduction, immune modulations, and brain function. Functional lab testing can assess the balance and output of these critical hormones. The resulting information can direct an intelligent diagnosis and plan therapy.

Next is the immune system. The human body is always prone to attack by microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses that cause a multitude of diseases, ranging from thrush and the common cold to pneumonia and poliomyelitis. The bodies first line of defence against attack is the skin the mucosal berries. Backing this up is a complex defence system to protect the body against most infections, even when they do penetrate the primary barriers. This system of defence is known as the immune system. The immune system neutralises & destroys microorganisms and the toxins created by them whenever they attack the body via the extensive lymphatic system.

The spleen, thymus gland, tonsils, bone marrow, and other organs or play a part in the function of the lymphatic system. The network of lymph vessels (capillaries and lymphatics) drains that clear body fluid name is lymph from the tissues into the bloodstream. Special white blood cells originate in the bone marrow, known as lymphocytes, along with antibodies (proteins that neutralise for an object), or primarily responsible for carrying out the works do you mean system. As mentioned, the bodies first line of defence is called the mucosal barrier. Mucus membranes are an integral part of the immune system. They form a protective barrier between the interior of the body and the outside environment.

The intestinal barrier is semi-permeable and allows nutrients into the body while protecting it from infectious agents, allergens, and other harmful substances. In addition to mucosal immunity I always like to assess cell mediated immunity in human immunity. Cell mediated immunity works by the activation of specialised cells called macrophages and natural killer cells, which destroy intracellular pathogens (disease causing microorganisms). Humeral immunity is the aspect of immunity that involves antibodies. Knowing the status of these immune components provide a comprehensive understanding of one’s ability to fight infectious agents, defend against toxic exposure such as chemicals and heavy metals, and kill aberrant cancer cells.

Moving on to the gastrointestinal system (GI) it’s important that we talk about this very important system. As humans we are made up of trillions of bacteria that are said to outnumber our human cells by 10:1 which highlights how important the microbiological environment/ecosystem is in our health & wellness. As you eat, food travels through your oesophagus (the passageway that connects your mouth to your stomach). In the stomach, acids and enzymes break down the food into small particles. These are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. After leaving your stomach these particles into the small intestines. This long tube slowly contracts expands to push the food along through it, while absorbing nutrients that your body uses for energy, growth, and repair. By the time the food reaches the end of the small intestine almost all of its nutrients have been absorbed. at this point, what’s left of the food is mostly water and indigestible waste. This material then enters the large in testing also known as the colon. Its main job is to remove water from the waste products as they pass through and then recycle this water back to the body. After travelling through this area, the waste is held at the end of the colon in the rectum. It will then leave your body through the anus as stool when you have a bowel movement. The GI system, which handles your nutritional requirements, also contains a vast mucosal barrier responsible for – in simple terms – keeping the bad out and the good in. at least 80% of our entire immune system resides in the GI tract making the integrity of the GI system a major focus of my clinical care. Assessing GI health is essential in all patient cases, regardless of conditions or symptoms. Inflammation caused by bacterial and parasitic infections, food intolerances, and other factors can severely damaged GI structures and consequently impair innumerable functional processes. GI inflammation alone can send the body into a 24/7 chronic stress response.

Another system that is impacted or contributes to the chronic stress response is the network of organs we know as the detoxification system which includes the methylation cycles. The health and functionality of the detox furcation system must always be considered in any diagnostic workup. It is comprised of the liver, kidneys, skin, and circulatory, lymphatic, digestive, and respire a tree systems. The body has an amazing capacity to process and dispose of toxins. However, like any waste disposal system, it has limitations; the consequences can be disastrous when its capacity to process toxins is hindered. Impaired detoxification deprives the entire body of clean blood supply and, consequently, every cell suffers as a result. Toxic material (often fat soluble toxins) & metabolic waste that the body is unable to process & excrete gets deposited in the fatty tissues of the body such as fat cells, the brain, liver etc, which builds up, slows metabolism, effects body-system function that results in being detrimental to our health. I always assess the status of the liver and kidneys as the primary organs of detoxification, to determine their ability to process waste products naturally generated in the body, as well as those generated by toxic exposures. One of the liver is primary function is filtering blood. Around 3 pints of blood passes through the liver every minute for detoxification. Filtration of toxins is absolutely critical, as the blood from the intestines contains high levels of toxic substances. Individuals with impaired mucosal immunity or intestinal hyper permeability also known as “leaky gut “, the levels of toxins that enter the body overloads the livers capacity to affectively remove them. This is another signal of stress to the body and as a result will end up re-absorbing the toxins and dumping them in other tissue storage sites.

When working properly, the liver clears 99% of the toxins during the first pass. However, when the liver is damaged (especially in hepatitis sufferers and alcoholics), or doesn’t have the necessary metabolic reserve to support the phases of the detoxification process – toxin processing is dramatically reduced, increasing chronic stress on all functional systems. Many of the toxic substances that into the body are fat soluble which means they dissolve only in fat-soluble solutions and not in water. This makes things difficult for the body to excrete. Toxins may be stored for years in fatty tissues, and are released during times of exercise, stress, or fasting. During the release of these toxins, symptoms such as headaches, impaired memory, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and heart palpitations can occur. And experienced FM clinician can help you navigate your way on the road to recovery through these sometimes difficult times.

When health issues are subclinical, how and when can I be identified? By routinely evaluating the health of the core functional body systems with laboratory testing. No matter what the condition, most health problems begin subclinically, without symptoms. Conditions as diverse as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), depression, insomnia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease all have their beginnings at the subclinical level. If the subclinical issues remain untreated, symptoms begin to appear. As disorder progresses, critical functions become increasingly compromised, further deteriorating health & functional wellness.

I’d say around 80% of the patients I work with are ones who are sick & suffering with sub optimal levels of health, and have been for some time. The other 20% are patients who already live very healthy and functional daily lives yet are all firm believers by the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure” – meaning that then invest in themselves staying on top of their game and work with a skilled & experienced FM clinician who can identify anything underlying or subclinical prevents anything serious affecting one’s health later on in life before it’s manifested. I work with a number of high-level executives that work in highly stressful conditions that are always on the go and have me help them stay on top of their functional wellness so that they can perform at high levels whilst maintaining health.

In any situation, what is absolutely critical is that an accurate diagnosis or identification is made to ensure that an accurate treatment intervention is made to have a positive health outcome. All too often, conventional medicine addresses health problems by masking underlying conditions. This approach is a logical and has little chance of success. It isn’t entirely fair to blame your doctor for this shortsighted approach. Patients expect doctors to help them feel better. This is understandable as no one wants to suffer. Faced with this expectation, many doctors readily treat symptoms to satisfy their patients demands to feel better quickly.

This sub-optimal treatment approach isn’t limited to one particular discipline or speciality. Many chiropractors, nutritionists, holistic healers, acupuncturists, nurse practitioners etc are guilty of the same practice. Regardless of training experience, a large percentage of health professionals treat only symptoms. They address symptoms using homoeopathy, herbs, natural therapies, and treatment modalities common to their speciality, but are still treating symptoms without uncovering the underlying cause of their patients ill health.

As a FM clinician my number one goal in improving patients functional wellness is by doing my best to clinically identify and correct subclinical (unseen or obscure) disorders before they manifest in symptoms and illness, and/or identify the underlying causes of health issues using a number of carefully selected evidence-based testing methods which enable me to connect the dots based, and design meaningful programmes based on a decade of experience.

Ultimately, we are the guardians of  our health, or at least responsible for the decisions to get the right professional assistance to help guide us on the right path. No one else can compensate or take blame for poor lifestyle choices. If you trade a responsible diet, sleep, exercise, and stress management for irresponsible habits, you’re sabotaging your health. Indoor and outdoor environmental pollutants, pesticides, and other toxins found in food and water add to the stress load. Most prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications have side-effects or indirectly effect other biochemical/metabolic pathways that had more stress. Over time, the chronic stress response compromises your core functional systems, shortening and reducing quality of life.

If you are looking for an experienced guide to help you navigate your way back to functional wellness then take action and book a 30 minute free consultation so we can see if we make the right partnership to go on that journey together.

Thank you for your attention.

*By Steve Hawes