Something I notice in clinic is how many people say to me “I just don’t feel quite right. I’ve been to the GP and they have even run some blood tests, but everything came back normal and says I’m fine. I tell my friends and they tell me it is nothing to worry about, I’ve probably just been working too hard or not eating well enough. But I just don’t feel like myself.”
I actually see this A LOT in clinic. Many of my clients don’t feel that their health concerns are taken seriously by those around them.
The symptoms vary, but the result is the same: you don’t feel well, and just can’t quite pinpoint the cause.
These symptoms can manifest as:
Something that makes naturopathy, functional medicine and integrative healthcare a more holistic approach is the inclusion of a range of laboratory testing methods know as Functional Pathology. These tests often take a deeper look than the standard blood tests available under Medicare, and are performed along with the practitioner taking a very comprehensive case history of the client, which looks at medical history, symptoms, environmental and genetic factors, lifestyle, work, social and family support, diet and mind health. Combined with Functional Pathology testing (if appropriate), this helps the practitioner to get a very detailed picture of what is going on.
What is Functional Pathology?
A range of Functional Pathology tests are now available to the naturopath to check nutritional status, hormone balance, toxicity, microbiome, DNA, food intolerances, digestive function, or even the ability to metabolise certain substances. These are often cutting edge, science-based evaluation tests, and not always available through conventional laboratories. These tests investigate the underlying cause of what is going on.
Just like conventional pathology, Functional Pathology requires urine, blood or a plasma sample, with some tests also using newer methods to analyse saliva and hair.
An example of a functional pathology test is an Adrenal Profile, which will look at the levels of certain hormones (in this case cortisol and DHEA) present in saliva at several times during the day to determine whether the adrenal glands may be working too hard in an individual (due to ongoing stress) which may be causing mood changes, weight gain around the tummy, depression, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia or poor memory.
How much do the tests cost?
The cost varies – depending on the particular test, complexity and laboratory testing methods used, they are priced between $50 - $600. A simple nutritional test looking at blood levels of a certain nutrient is generally low cost, while more comprehensive DNA analysis (which looks at over 100 gene SNPs) may be $400. A food intolerance test will cost between about $270 - $400 depending on the number of foods and allergens investigated.
If you are on a budget and can’t stretch to getting tests done, a good naturopath can also assess your health by taking a good case history – in fact many of these tests were not around when I did my training, which meant our study was focused on taking a comprehensive medical history to determine the underlying cause of symptoms. So while Functional Pathology is a fantastic tool available to us, a good case history is the most important part of working with you to address your health.
An important note here – I have seen recently quite a few coupon deals for food intolerance tests and DNA or microbiome analysis. Often these tests originate from an overseas laboratory which may not have the same standards as Australian labs. I’ve researched these and have found that they are either not clinically relevant or comprehensive enough to provide any real insight. They also don’t take into account your individual health needs, or provide you with a realistic and effective treatment plan.
If you are ever in doubt, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss further.
How can I access Functional Pathology testing?
The first step is to book in to an appointment with a naturopath (like me!), integrative (holistic) GP or functional medicine practitioner. They will assess your health and work with you to determine the most appropriate test for you, and then will help to come up with a treatment plan to address the test results. This might involve dietary changes, supplements and lifestyle advice.
Ask for a healthcare practitioner that regularly undertakes further education and training in Functional Pathology to keep up to date with the newer tests which are becoming available each year.
Would you like a Naturopathy consultation? Book an appointment for an online or phone consultation with Josie here.
Learn more about Naturopathy here.
Learn more about the different Functional Pathology tests available here.
Bianca* aged 37, came to see me about her insomnia and subsequent fatigue. She also wanted to quit smoking and reduce her drinking - she was enjoying 3-4 glasses of wine every evening.
She described herself as always being an anxious person, and also had been diagnosed with depression previously. Bianca had seen psychologists and psychiatrists frequently in the past, and at times had been on various antidepressants.
In her 20's, she had been, in her own words, " a bit rock and roll" - binge drinking and regularly taking recreational drugs - which she now felt she had been using to deal with her anxiety and depression.
She never felt completely well. Always tired and she had trouble thinking clearly.
Most nights she had trouble getting to sleep - sometimes she didn't fall asleep until about 3am, and then struggled to get up in the morning. As a result, she was often late for work, and on weekends wouldn't get up until the afternoon.
Bianca was worried about her current mood swings. She noticed that recently she had started lashing out with anger - "explosive rage" she called it. And her libido was low.
After taking her case history, I suspected that she may have Pyrrole disorder -the main biochemical features of this disorder are a severe zinc and B6 deficiency (amongst other nutrients).
A urine test to detect the disorder was organised, and 2 weeks later we had indeed confirmation from the laboratory that Bianca likely had Pyrrole disorder, which meant here body had trouble storing zinc, B6 and other nutrients - vital for mental health and hormonal health.
The next step was to supplement. When dealing with mineral and vitamin deficiencies, it is important to supplement very carefully, as reintroducing too much can cause side effects. So, an individual supplement regime was put together, gently introducing vitamins and minerals to Bianca over a period of time.
In addition to this, I also put together a herbal mix to support the nervous system.
After a month, Bianca came in to my clinic to tell me that she was able to fall asleep more easily, and sleep soundly. She felt better able to manage her mood and angry feelings during the day. What's more she had started to reduce the number of cigarettes she had daily - she noticed that she just didn't think about smoking as much anymore (addictive behaviour has been linked to Pyrrole disorders).
Two months later she reported her energy had improved significantly, and she has the motivation and energy to move from part time to full time work. She was sleeping really well, and found it easier to get up in the morning.
She also noticed that her skin had improved (she suffered from eczema) and her menstrual cycles were more regular and with less incidence of PMS - an example of how when we address the root cause of one thing, we end up improving other health conditions.
Three months later, and Bianca now feels that her energy has gone from 3/10 to 9/10 on average. She has given up smoking, and now only drinks on weekends, just having one drink at a dinner out.
This is a great example of how correcting a nutrient deficiency can have effects in many parts of the mind and body.
I blame the smartphone.
We are so used to having everything instantly that we have forgotten how to wait.
We want everything right now. Whether it is a piece of information, our coffee order, or a response from someone; we have little patience if something is taking longer than we think it should. Even Facebook will rate a business's page based on how quickly that business responds to messages. We want everything now!
On top of that, we are always on the go. In fact 24 hours, 7 days a week. We keep ourselves busy, busy, busy and rarely take the downtime to do nothing. And if we do, we feel bad that we aren't doing something.
We are incredibly impatient when it comes to our health too. We feel sick and want something that will fix it right now.
The thing is, our bodies don't realise that we are living in the 21st century. Our adrenal glands struggle to pump out the large quantities of noradrenalin we demand it to get up and start everyday.
Our over-anxious minds struggle to slow down so we can rest properly. I mean blissed out, completely relaxed rest.
We start to burn out with all the caffeine and sugar we feed it to keep going, and then our livers don't get a rest from the alcohol we drink to try and slow down.
Have a cold? Then we take something to "soldier on".
Many cultures of ancient times valued and appreciated the body's need for downtime. These cultures understood the moon cycles (often linked to menstrual cycles) and that during menstruation women needed to retreat and be introverted. They understood and respected the seasons of the year and that in winter we needed to slow down and sleep more. If only our workplaces respected this as well!
Many cultures also knew that we need significant rest after traumatic events - for example mourning periods lasted for months and years. Today we get 2 or 3 days of bereavement leave.
The impact that big life events has on us are also not marked as they once were. Whether we have started or ended a relationship, moved house, had a new baby or started a new job, we are expected to keep going at the same pace as always.
The thing is, in nature, things take time.
You can't just plant a seed in the ground and expect a fully-grown tree to spring up straight away. You need to water it, give it the right nutrients, have cycles of warmth and coldness, light and dark. And wait.
It is the same with achieving long term health. You have to give yourself time. The right nutrients. Periods of rest. Periods of activity. And be patient.
For true wellness - on a physical, mental and emotional level, we simply can't bypass the laws of nature. Sure, we can obtain a quick fix or band-aid solution, but for long term good health, we have to work in with the cycles and laws of nature.
Nearly every one of my clients are overworked and struggling to keep pace with the expectations of society. Every single one. Too much depending on adrenalin. Too much fast food. Too many quick fixes. Not enough self care and nurturing.
It is often the cause of so many health conditions.
I've been there too. I get it. It is incredibly hard to take the time to heal ourselves properly.
Society just doesn't make it easy for us to slow down.
But sometimes, we just have to.
The only way though to change things is to put your health first. You have to prioritise it.
Sometimes that means making difficult decisions such as taking time off work. Asking for space. Making time to cook from scratch. Making more time for exercise. Most importantly, more time for rest.
And, I'll say it again, it simply has to be done. You can't hurry biology or nature. Our body's have evolved with a slower pace of life over thousands of years. Which is why we are now burning out as things speed up so quickly.
Let's be more gentle on ourselves. More gentle on each other. And more patient.
Jackie*, a 37 year old accountant, came to see me in my Sydney clinic, wanting help with low energy, low motivation and difficulty concentrating at work. She told me that she would try to eat well during the day, but at night would eat compulsively. She craved chocolate and salty foods especially.
She had had a child 6 years ago, and in that time had gained almost 30 kgs and now weighed 102 kg, which made exercising difficult.
She had tried different diets, including shakes and then a low-calorie, home delivery meal program, but it left her feeling unsatisfied.
During the day she was very tired, but then would have trouble sleeping at night. She was plagued by regular headaches and had also developed eczema on her hands, inside the elbows and behind the knees.
A recent course of antibiotics had complicated things by causing bloating in the abdomen and reflux.
Her mood was very low, and she felt “heavy and stuck”. She found that she was not coping with stress very well.
We undertook some tests which showed that Jackie’s cortisol was elevated, and she also had an imbalance of several key nutrients.
WHAT WE DID
I first started Jackie on a six week nutritional detox program with specific strains of probiotics to support the liver function and establish a healthy flora balance in the gastrointestinal tract. We cut out many processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars, and started on a “cleaner” way of eating.
At the same time, I prescribed a herbal medicine to help support the nervous system, energy production, stress response and low mood; a high quality fish oil; and also a herbal and magnesium sleep formula.
By week two, Jackie reported a significant improvement in both mood and energy levels along. By week four, she told me her concentration had started to improve, and her bloating reduced. She felt that she now had the energy to start going for a regular 30 minute gentle walk each day.
After 6 weeks, her eczema had improved significantly, and Jackie noticed she didn’t get a headache as much, in fact she couldn’t remember when she had last had one. Even though we hadn’t yet started focusing on weight loss, she lost 4.5 kgs in those 6 weeks, and was thrilled with this.
She was keen to continue with weight loss as an objective, so we commenced on an efficient weight loss protocol with the aim to improve leptin sensitivity (the hormone which regulates appetite) and also discover if there were any particular foods causing inflammation.
By week 10, she had lost a total of 11 kgs. Jackie noticed that she could think more clearly and had a lot more energy and so had joined a gym, where she especially loved the aqua-aerobics classes. She had noticed that she was able to deal with challenges at work which previously used to stress her out.
Jackie had started to enjoy cooking and eating wholesome foods, and had cut out some specific foods which she noticed gave her a headache and skin rashes - a sign of inflammation in the body which can contribute to weight gain.
By week 14, she had lost a total of 15.5 kgs, and her energy had improved so much that she wanted to start training for a 5 day hike in New Zealand, something which had been on her dream list for a long time.
At this point, I moved from Sydney to Coffs Harbour, but I asked Jackie to promise to tell me when she achieved her hike.
Jackie’s case shows how strategic detoxification and weight loss can have so many positive effects on the mind and body. Jackie did all the hard work, but I was proud to be involved with such a positive change.
UPDATE: 3 Years Later
I received an email from Jackie recently who reported that she had spent her 40th birthday in New Zealand, where she completed a 10 day hike (her third long hike!).
She now weighed 72kgs, which was less than before she had her daughter. She had been offered a partnership in her accountancy firm, and she also cheekily shared that her libido had improved.
Her next goal was to start sailing, and to take the family sailing around the world for a year. I can’t wait to hear from her when she achieves this.
Thank you Jackie for letting me share your story today.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist