This is the last post in a 3-part series about Functional Medicine. You can read the first two posts here and here.
These days, running ragged (as my mom would say) is pretty much the norm. It seems like the most common responses now to the age-old greeting 'How are you?' are 'Oh, tired, you know' or 'So busy!'. We wear our worn-out bodies almost like a badge of honor, attributing it to the number of kids we have or the stress and demands of our jobs.
Most of us are exhausted, or stressed, or anxious, or depressed, or all of the above. And that's if you're lucky. The less fortunate are being debilitated by many chronic symptoms, forced to actually leave their jobs, or forego activities, errands, and kids sporting events because they can't get off the couch or out of bed. We go to the doctor and are given an anti-depressant, or sleeping pill, or simply told 'This is just what happens as we age'. We are dead people walking, and I don't mean in fun zombie costumes a la Walking Dead (although, if I had to be an extra in a TV show...).
Anyway, if I sound like I'm up on my soap box - well, yeah I guess I kinda am! The number of years we have in this life is not guaranteed. The quality of life in those years is what matters, and what we can have more influence over, now. If you are suffering from any of the below symptoms, it's possible there's an actual underlying or root cause behind it - and I don't mean your 2 year old:
- Chronic fatigue/deep exhaustion
- Foggy thinking/brain fog
- Insomnia/trouble sleeping
- Anxiety or depression
- Acne and other skin conditions
- Chronic malaise/feeling "yuck"
Now, if you're getting woken up multiple times a night by a snoring husband or insomniac dog or you have a newborn - well, you might really just be tired because you're not sleeping well, simple as that! Sleep is numero uno in my book, and some of the first questions I ask all my patients are: how much sleep do you get per night, and do you wake up feeling rested? But if you are getting pretty good sleep, and you still have some of these symptoms, chances are there is something else going on.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Healing is possible, if you know where to look.
I've gone into detail in previous posts about why these chronic symptoms aren't usually addressed or treated by a standard doctor: you can read them here and here. Because of this phenomenon, millions of people are suffering in silence, forced to just cope with their symptoms or worse, forced to leave their normal day-to-day lives behind, including work, social engagements, and exercise, because they simply cannot function. But it doesn't have to be that way. Healing is possible, if you know where to look.
What Went Wrong
Chronic disease rates have skyrocketed in recent years. It is estimated that by 2025, 49% - approximately half - of Americans will have at least one chronic illness. And those estimates may be low, as they likely take into account only known chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Countless others are suffering from the chronic symptoms I listed at the top, and their condition might not have a name or fit into a neat, clean little collection of symptoms and treatment options. Many times these people are "diagnosed" with things like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or Fibromyalgia. Getting these diagnoses usually does little to help someone, as there are no widely adopted and effective medications or treatments available for these "mystery illnesses".
You might be thinking, "ok what the hell happened that so many of us are sick?!" - well, that's a darn good question and one that many people in the functional medicine world work on answering every day.
Basically, the world we live in today is not what it once was. Some of the most important things that have changed to have a negative impact on our health are:
- Our plant-based food is less nutrient dense (between 20-80% less, according to studies) than it used to be
- Our soil is depleted of all of the good bacteria and minerals (like magnesium), contributing to food being less nutrient dense and also setting us up to have an imbalance of gut bacteria
- Environmental toxins: there are over 80,000 man-made chemicals in our air, groundwater, and food that the human race wasn't exposed to even 300 years ago, and that our bodies were never intended to have to process and eliminate
- Another component of this issue is that GMO (genetically modified) foods are now ubiquitous in our food supply (they were first introduced only in 1997!), and are created to withstand insanely high amounts of toxic pesticides, many of which are known carcinogens, like glyphosate (Round-UP).
- Also falling into this category are increased toxins in our homes: BPA plastics everywhere, toxic cleaning supplies, and even endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and parabens, among others, in our beauty and body-care products
- Stress: we live in a fast-paced world that sets us up to be always on-the-go, always plugged-in, always competing and comparing. We've put rest at the bottom of our to-do list, when in reality we were designed to take breaks and rest. God himself rested on the 7th day after creating the world to model this for us!
- Standard American Diet: the majority of Americans subsist on packaged food and other nutrient-devoid grub that is high in carbs, added sugars and trans fats, and low in micro-nutrients and healthy fats, the things we need to survive and thrive
I know. Talk about zombie-apocalypse-doomsday-esque news. Sometimes I just want to curl up with a Hallmark Channel movie, some wine, and zone-out in warm and fuzzy denial-land for awhile. (This is not a joke - I do occasionally like a good Hallmark Channel movie. If you've never tried them, they are seriously under-rated for their therapeutic benefits).
Genes and Their Two-Pronged Role in Our Health
The one serious question you may have is, 'Ok, so if this is stuff that pretty much everyone (unless you happen to live in a remote island somewhere and grow your own food) is exposed to, why isn't everyone sick or suffering from these symptoms?'. So glad you asked.
The answer is a principal called "bio-individuality". Huh?! Basically, it's the concept that everyone is different - on the inside too.
We were all taught in grade school (and recently re-taught if you happen to have had a toddler in the past 6 years, thanks to Daniel Tiger) that people may look different on the outside, but that we are the same on the inside. Well, that's kinda NOT TRUE as you now know. Yes, we may all have similar emotions and feelings on the inside (Daniel Tiger tells us "It helps, to say what you're feeling!" and I agree with him totally - and apologize profusely if you have no idea who Daniel Tiger is), but biologically speaking, we can be very very different on the inside.
Our genes, and the environmental expression of those genes (called 'epigenetics') which are based on "inputs" from our surroundings, determine many physical processes in our bodies. Genes and epigenetics explain everything from why you have allergies and your best friend doesn't, to why your cousin's son was diagnosed with autism and yours wasn't. It's also why certain conditions, like autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto's hypothyroidism or Crohn's Disease, tend to run in families.
And what you may not know is that even our detox pathways can be determined in large part by our genetics. If you inherited crappy detoxification capabilities (thanks, Mom & Dad ;)), then you may have to work that much harder to make sure your body doesn't get bogged down by toxins.
This is maybe the most frustrating thing that people suffering from chronic (and unexplained) health conditions face: they may have a "healthier" lifestyle than the person next to them who feels like a million bucks. And it stinks. And it's not fair. But that's the reality of bio-individuality, and our genes.
The bad news? You can't change your genes. The good news? You can change your epigenetics, or gene expression.
Changing Gene Expression by Unraveling and Addressing the Causes of Your Chronic Symptoms
How exactly do you get better and start to heal these chronic symptoms? This answer is different for everyone (again, bio-individuality). It all comes down to drilling down (via experimentation, and good functional medicine testing - i.e., SCIENCE) to what your root causes may be.
For some, these root causes may be as simple as a diet change, for instance, if they are eating foods they are allergic to (you would be surprised how many people have a dairy or egg allergy and don't know it!) or if they are gluten sensitive. For others, it's much more complicated and there can be many root causes. Some of the most common ones are:
- Heavy Metal Toxicity (from metals in our air, groundwater, consumer products, cigarettes, etc)
- Mold toxicity (if you live or work in a water damaged building and suffer from some of the symptoms I listed at the beginning of this article, this might be a first place you turn)
- Childhood trauma or traumatic live event that hasn't been healed/worked through
- Chronic stress
- Lymes Disease
- any or all of the above and more!
Unraveling these root causes usually involves the help of a functional medicine practitioner. If you want to know how to find one, I covered that in my last post here. Once you know what yours are, the healing can begin, and you can actually change your gene expression!
The Scoop on Some of What I've Done to Heal My Chronic Condition
Healing is also usually best done in the care of a knowledgeable practitioner. But if you want to get a head start, today I'm letting you in on 18(!!!) of the healthy habits I have incorporated over the years into my routine that have lessened my symptoms - and they are universally healthy practices to try and safe for all adults. These practices can help those with things like autoimmune conditions, IBS symptoms, chronic headaches, anxiety, adrenal fatigue, and plain-old fatigue and exhaustion, as well as countless other symptoms. Here are my best tried-and-true tips:
- Sleep at least 7 (preferably 8+) hours/night
- Cut out gluten from your diet (more on my blog post here)
- Cut out (most or all) dairy from your diet (to be real I do eat cheese a couple times a week usually)
- Cut out all artificial sweeteners
- Keep added sugar to <26g/day for women, 32g/day for men (except on birthdays :))
- Juice vegetables (more on my post here) (to be real again, this used to be one of my daily habits that has taken a serious hit since having a kid, but, I still highly recommend it!)
- Buy organic produce (from the Dirty Dozen list), meat, eggs, and wild caught fish
- Eat superfoods
- Bone broth or Collagen powder
- Dry brush (more on my post here)
- Daily meditation and/or prayer
- Spending time in nature
- Quality supplements
- Eliminate as much plastic as you can in the kitchen (glass, stoneware, cast iron, stainless steel are better)
- Get rid of artificial scents (in your car, home - hello NO febreeze or Glade plug-ins, sorry "salty sea breeze" lovers)
- Clean up your beauty routine (more on that in my blog posts here and here)
- And more...follow this little ole' blog for more tips!
So there ya have it. You're healed! Haha kidding, kidding. I didn't include a lot of explanation in the above tips and tricks, because I could write a separate blog post about each one (and many of them, I already have!!). And many of these things are easier said than done, I know guys. But stick with me and just take it one step, one change, and one day at a time. Rome wasn't build in a day, and routines aren't changed over night.
Are you suffering from any chronic symptoms that are unexplained? Have you found anything that has helped? Maybe you're with the millions of other folks out there who are stumped - and that's ok. I want to hear from you either way. Leave a comment below, or send me a personal message on Facebook. And if you want more radiant tips, sign up for my newsletter.
Thanks always for being here! I hope your day is as beautiful as you!