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What is Functional Nutrition?
Functional nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. We are all unique, with our own genetic make-up, health history, lifestyle and emotional profile- therefore, we each require a customized strategy to achieve and sustain optimal health.
This is functional nutrition.
Every year I run a Functional Nutrition Certification Program. After years of applying functional medicine in my own practice, and seeing the phenomenal results my clients are experiencing, I am committed to sharing this knowledge with other practitioners. With our aging population combined with the increase in childhood diseases and rises in health challenges all the way through the life span, the need for this information, this practice, has become urgent.
The New Popular Kid In The Class: Functional Nutrition
Functional medicine and functional nutrition, terms often used interchangeably, are becoming highly recognized as an effective approach to healing a variety of health issues. With functional medicine doctors getting extensive media coverage, including appearing on high profile shows like Dr. Oz, publishing bestselling books and being recognized in medical journals, we are all waking up to the possibility of healing with a root cause approach.
To illustrate exactly what functional nutrition is, and how it works, I’d like to use a common scenario that I encounter on a weekly basis.
Functional Nutrition Case Study: “Digestive Upset”
The Health Challenge: A potential client contacts me and is interested in enlisting my services. Her main concern is long-standing general digestive upset. She describes her experience thus far, listing her many tests (stool analysis, x-ray, CT scan, MRI, scopes, blood work). She goes on to tell me that nothing was found, her tests all came back ‘normal’, and yet she continues to experience very real, physical symptoms that are impacting her day-to-day quality of life. The doctors were unable to offer her a solution.
The Big Question: This scenario is not unique to this client. These are some of the most common questions I hear from clients: Why do I have these symptoms? Why can no one tell me the origins of these symptoms? And why don’t their tests turn up anything?
The Modern Medical Approach: Medical testing is mostly looking for end-stage illnesses (in the case of digestive upset, this is often conditions like Crohn’s, colitis, celiac), or pathogenic organisms (like C. difficile, H. Pylori, or parasites). But when there are symptoms “under the radar” that don’t have a definite diagnosis, this is an indication of dysfunction.
Functional Nutrition invites us to dive deeper to determine the cause and address it from the root. Functional nutrition supports healing from a cellular level.
Imbalance Into Optional Function
Functional nutrition aims at addressing the imbalances in the body by restoring function through food, lifestyle and supplement interventions. We transform dysfunctioning bodily systems into optimal, functional health.
Dr. Howard Loomis says, “there are no new body processes at work in disease that were not there in health [.] In disease, there are only normal functions that are going too fast, or too slow, or are otherwise inappropriate – out of time with need”.
Functional nutrition is about figuring out what specifically is moving too fast or too slow, what is out of order, and then restoring balance to those processes.
In the case of my client with digestive upset, perhaps her transit time is too slow due to low stomach acid. This delayed transit time might then be allowing an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast colonies, resulting in her primary complaint of gas, bloating, and digestive upset. All of these symptoms would not be detectable by conventional medical testing, and a common diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is commonly given.
The Functional Nutrition Approach
The functional nutrition approach involves a series of steps to determine the most customized approach. One such approach for this client may go as follows:
- A comprehensive evaluation looking at medical history
- Organ system review
- Medication and supplement history
- Review of diet, lifestyle and exercise habits
- Review of conventional lab results (often the testing a client has already had done).
- Functional nutrition testing to gauge various nutrient levels and/or genetic markers to ensure there are no underlying deficiencies.
Once the data has been collected and analyzed, we move onto the customized program. In the case of our client with Digestive Upset, some of the recommendations may include:
- Clean up the diet, eliminating processed foods, gluten, and dairy.
- Educate the client on how to manage stress.
- Strategies to prepare the nervous system for mealtime.
- Specific supplement protocol some supplements that improve digestion of foods, restore good bacteria, and decrease digestive spasms.
Adjusting, Based on Client Response
We then see how the intervention pans out, and if the individual improves we know we’ve addressed some key contributing factors. If not, then there are more advanced functional medical tests that can be completed.
Functional nutrition is a dynamic process, which involves refinement of diet and lifestyle, to restore optimal health. It is a conversation that we have with our bodies, where an intervention is given, and then we listen to the body to see what it says back. If we like what we hear, we keep on doing that. If we don’t, then we make adjustments.
Unfortunately, the modern medical system isn’t set-up to accommodate this ongoing dialogue between patients and practitioners, with follow-up to gauge a patients response. The result I see too often in my clinic are individuals taking medications upon medications without getting the results that had been anticipated and no ‘next steps’ to take.
Mutual Commitment Equals Results
Your practitioner cannot heal you. The goal is always to work with someone who will listen, understands your symptoms, the language of your body, can look at your health history and find the story in there. It is your practitioner’s role on your health team to create a program that works for you, and that will move you up the slope of health. Your practitioner however, can’t do it on his or her own. You have to be the one doing the work.
When I work with clients, I am committed to working with them until we find the answers we’re looking for. And when my clients are committed to the journey, we see great results.
This is what functional nutrition can do.
If you are interested in empowering yourself or to deepen your own integrative health practice, learn more about becoming certified in functional nutrition.