Sandra Chaloux

| 07/05/2018

Functional Medicine -A Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Approach

Functional Medicine -A Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Approach

I’ve witnessed several people close to me recently with high anxiety due to their belief that their genes were dictating their fate. A friend ended up in the hospital thinking that he was having a heart attack because his father had heart trouble. (The good news is that his heart is fine.) Another friend was in tears at a party because she has the gene associated with Alzheimer’s and could no longer remember classical music that she once played.

It is easy to understand where these fears come from -since conventional wisdom has been that our health is 70% heredity and 30% everything else.

Now for the good news. We now know that genetic expression can change based on signals from the environment and lifestyle factors. According to Deepak Chopra, only 5 % of disease is related to gene mutations that are fully penetrant (expressive). Dr. Jeffrey Bland says that certain forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease constitute less than 5% of all diagnosed cases.

Chopra says that, “if you haven’t had the disease by the age of 50, then it’s probably not a fully penetrant gene — that means your health is largely influenced by your lifestyle. That includes sleep, stress management, meditation, exercise, breathing, yoga frequency, healthy emotions and the quality of food that you eat.”

In Dr. Jeffrey Bland’s book, The Disease Delusion, he describes functional medicine as a systems approach rather than isolated “silos” approach. Functional medicine practitioners explore the entire physiological network to find the place or places where genetic expression has been altered by environmental factors. The theory is that if you can find and address the process that is out of balance, you can finally heal chronic conditions. The goal being to find the proper match between your genetic uniqueness, lifestyle, and behavior so you can realize vitality and extend your life span. 

Dr. Bland says that first you have to identify the imbalances in your own physiology, and second, design a personalized program that will rid your body of its health problems and get you back on track.

Functional Medicine recognizes seven core physiological processes that affect all of the body organ systems. Imbalances can occur in any of them.

1. Assimilation and Elimination: This complex multi-state physiological process involves the organs and systems involved in digesting, absorbing, and using nutrients and then excreting the waste products. The process of breaking big food molecules down so the body can make proper use of them begins in the mouth and continues in the stomach and in the small and large intestines. It goes through several stages as important vitamins and minerals as well as other plant derived nutrients are released for absorption and assimilated throughout the body. The waste products from cellular activity then need to be eliminated either in the stool or in the urine passing through the kidneys. The slightest imbalance in any stage of this process can lead to disease. The digestive system is integrally linked with the immune system, the nervous system, and hormone-producing endocrine system. 

Triggers: Type A personalities are prone to gut issues, proton pump inhibitors, multiple antibiotics, parasites, yeast, IBS, dysbiosis, & Ebstein-Barr Virus.

Symptoms: Constipation, indigestion, gas & bloating, stomach & intestinal pain, gastric reflux, headaches, food sensitivities and allergies, bad breath, depression & mood swings, trouble keeping your weight under control, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, kidney stones

2. Detoxification:These processes occur in the liver, kidneys and intestinesWe are exposed to a range of toxic substances in the air, water, and food, often in the personal care products and household and from intestinal bacteria and viruses and cellular metabolism. Elimination of toxins occurs through the skin, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. Being unable to expel these toxins/wastes can lead to hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and neurological problems. Specific foods and their nutrients determine the effectiveness of your detoxification process. When a toxic load of substances builds up in the body, it poisons your metabolism. A program that includes steps to reduce exposure to toxins and the use of specific foods and nutrients to eliminate them can improve the detoxification function.

Triggers:NSAIDS or analgesics -especially daily use of acetaminophen, poor quality diet lacking in nutrients that influence the effectiveness of your detox process, too much alcohol, drugs, agricultural chemicals, food additives, household pollutants, exposure to lead, mercury, and cadmium

Symptoms: The most common symptoms of toxicity are related to the nervous system and immune system disfunction and include: sensitivities to fragrances & odors, food, medication, alcohol, caffeine, chemicals, smog or air pollutions, cigarette smoke; bad reaction to MSG in food, waking up in the morning feeling like you have been drugged, skin rashes, brain fog, tingling in your hands and feet, ringing in your ears, and unexplained muscle pain.

3. Defense:The immune function that protects us from infection (bacteria and viruses), cellular injury, and eliminates old and dead cells within the body. Elimination is another important job for the immune system without which accumulating debris can have a serious adverse effect.

Triggers: Environmental chemicals, some constituents in food such as gluten, frequent anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotic use, certain types of intestinal bacteria, multiple pharmaceuticals, Ebstein-Barr virus, Herpes virus, Candida albicans, Lyme disease, waterborne parasites like Entamoeba histolytica or cryptosporidium HIV, Cytomegalovirus, Clostridium

Symptoms: frequent cold and flu, sore joints made worse by modest exercise, skin rashes, sensitivity to the sun, swollen joints, weaker grip, chronic pain in your hands, wrists, ankles, or feet, muscle loss, chronic sinus infections, athlete’s foot, frequent urinary tract infections, chronic intestinal pain, periodontal disease, chronic leg or back pain

4. Cellular Communications: Our cells continually sense and respond to the environment and send messages throughout the body. These messages involve hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines, and other signaling molecules. Altered function anywhere along this system result in functional change in physiology, giving rise to numerous chronic disorders.

Triggers: stress, antidepressants, blood pressure medication, anti-inflammatory medications, processed food removes many of the phytonutrients needed for cellular communication, environmental toxins, and poor fitness levels.

Symptoms: depression, hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, rheumatoid arthritis, night sweats, joint pain & swelling, low energy in the morning, wired and tired, low libido, forgetful, difficult to get to or stay asleep, chronic infections (sinuses, tonsils, intestines, skin, or mouth), dementia, heart attack and stroke, ulcers, IBS, osteoporosis, muscle loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, low testosterone.

5. Cellular Transport: This is the circulatory system, pumped by the heart, through the lungs and the lymphatic system that constantly refreshes the blood. The good news is that changes in diet and lifestyle can prevent and reverse the chronic illnesses that result from imbalances in this system. The only way that things get moved through the lymphatic system is by the body’s own mechanical motion. Defective lymphatic flow due to inactivity can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Triggers: According to Dr. Blandstress is a major agent in cholesterol imbalance. Stress hormones mobilize cholesterol from the body and bring it into the blood to elevate LDL cholesterol. Your LDL cholesterol spikes in the blood as a signal of stress. Sedentary lifestyle

Symptoms: Cardiovascular disease, brain fog, difficulty focusing, high blood sugar/type 2 diabetes, difficulty digesting high-protein foods, feeling sleepy after meals, weight gain around the middle, high blood triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, muscle loss, high cholesterol, low albumin or hematocrit blood levels, reduced kidney function, vision loss.

6. Energy: The processes that convert food to energy on the molecular level. Energy is produced by our cells’ mitochondria by combining food molecules such as glucose, amino acids, fatty acids with oxygen to be broken down into energy and the waste products carbon dioxide, water, and urea. Disruption in mitochondrial function typically results in chronic health problems associated with pain and fatigue because we derive less energy from what we eat and the body has fewer resources to make hormones, build proteins, or repair DNA. Regular exercise (multiplies the number of mitochondria) and a healthy, plant-based diet can keep our mitochondrial function healthy.

Triggers: poor quality diet, heavy alcohol use, exposure to chemicals, lack of exercise 

Symptoms: fatigue, feeling unrested after 8 hours of sleep, muscle pain after even moderate activity, brain fog, excessively winded after walking up a flight of stairs, low energy and ambition, low tolerance to disturbances, frequent headaches, loss of sense of taste and smell, feeling older than your age, forgetting things, prolonged recovery time from a cold, accelerated aging.

7. Structure:The body’s physical structure affects its function and include: subcellular membranes, major organs, and the musculoskeletal system of bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons. Everything in your body is replaced on a regular basis -our red blood cells every three months, our bones every few years. Our structure is always changing. Nutrition and physical activity play key roles in our structural health. Proper structural alignment is important for good health.

Triggers: Obesity, exposure to toxins in food and water (contributes to obesity), processed foods, poor nutrition, lack of weight-bearing exercise.

Symptoms: Getting shorter, back problems, sore neck, memory problems, weight problems, cold all the time, reduced bone mass, digestive problems, inflammation, insulin resistance.

There are 4 factors that you can modify to affect the seven core physiological processes that determine your health: Diet, Lifestyle Behaviors, Environment, and Genetic Expression. A functional medicine practitioner can be your health detective to help you identify the imbalances in these 7 physiological process and create a personalized program to address the root cause of your chronic conditions. Functional medicine practitioners offer a variety of tests that are not available through conventional medicine practitioners.


Sources: The Disease Delusion by Dr. Jeffrey Bland

Deepak Chopra: You are Your Genetic Destiny


Sandra Chaloux is the founder of, the online source for holistic healthcare and lifestyle information.


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