Case Studies

Examples of Functional Medicine changing patients' lives

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Case Study: Sarah

Sarah is a 15-year-old teen with a history of migraines since puberty, in the context of long-standing asthma, seasonal allergies, skin rashes/eczema, and diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Sarah was delivered by C-section and admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit for a week. This meant that she did not receive the vaginal probiotic flora she would normally receive during birth, nor did she receive the probiotic inoculation form skin to skin contact with her mother in the first week after birth. Sarah was labeled 'failure to thrive' by her pediatrician and was not able to breastfeed. She remained colicky despite the use of infant formula. Growing up she also received frequent treatments of antibiotics for middle ear infections. This is significant because 80% of the immune system resides in the intestinal tract, and chronic antibiotic use depletes the good bacteria (probiotics), which in turn weakens the immune system.
 
Sarah attended the clinic with a very long list of prescription medications for asthma, allergies, and eczema. In traditional Western medicine, we often treat one symptom with medication, whereas in Functional Medicine we look for the underlying root causes and fundamental imbalances instead. In Sarah's case, all of her medical labels were actually connected. Special testing was done that looked at delayed food sensitivities along with immediate food allergies. The tests revealed that she had an allergy to dairy (specifically casein and whey proteins), which explains why she was intolerant of breast milk as well as cow's milk-based formula. This food allergy culminated in long-standing gut inflammation leading to poor digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients from food. Biochemistry testing also revealed that Sarah had low levels of magnesium, coenzyme Q-10, and omega three fatty acids.
 
As we dug below the surface we were able to find and treat the root causes of Sarah's symptoms and imbalances in the core nodes of the gut, brain, and immune system. Once these nutrients were replenished and the casein and whey removed from her diet, Sarah's migraines, anxiety, asthma, and eczema resolved over the course of six months.
 

Case Study: Matthew

Matthew is a 19 -year-old teen attending university who presented with cognitive decline, profound fatigue, memory impairment and failing grades. He had previously excelled academically, and his family doctor had prescribed anti-depressant therapy and believed that Matthew was experiencing an adjustment reaction to life at university.
 
In Functional Medicine, it is always 'food first!' Matthew was living away from home in an apartment and cooking for himself for the first time. After some digging, it became apparent that Matthew was eating tuna sandwiches for most meals, and testing found high levels of both mercury and aluminium in his system. He was also found to have low levels of vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. Alberta is a coal-burning province and mercury is released in the process, so Matthew would have inhaled mercury most of his life. His move to university resulted in daily ingestion of large quantities of mercy through tinned tuna. He also cooked using aluminium pots and pans and used a commercial aluminium-based deodorant on a daily basis.
 
Although many other teens may have had the same levels of exposure to these metals, it was found that Matthew had a genetic inability to eliminate these specific metals from his body which are then preferentially stored in the brain (both are neurotoxins). Aluminium typically accumulates in both the brain and bone tissue. Matthew's case was a great example of a patient where "Genes load the gun, and environment pulls the trigger."
 
Matthew received nutrient repletion and cooking lessons, was educated about aluminium-free deodorant and avoiding aluminium pots and pans and aluminium tin-foil and encouraged to eat the small smelly fish that are far lower in mercury (e.g. sardines, anchovies, and pollock). The mercury and aluminium in his system were then chelated (bound to a chelator like EDTA and expelled from the body). As the levels of these metals were normalised, Matthew's cognitive deficits were resolved, and he went on to graduate and launch a successful career.
 

Case Study: Katie

Katie, an eight-year-old female presented with severe dermatitis (skin inflammation) that covered her face, upper and lower limbs. She also experienced frequent secondary skin infections. Katie complained that her skin was very itchy and it often woke her up at night. Her scratching led to infections and multiple overnight hospital stays for IV antibiotics. Because of Katie's low self-esteem related to the severe unrelenting rashes, she developed social anxiety to the point that her mother had to home-school her.
 
Katie's mother noticed that her skin reactions were made worse after exposure to multiple antibiotics (starting very early in her life), and certain foods, including wheat and eggs. Her pediatrician and dermatologist had tried multiple topical and oral steroids, antihistamines, and oral antibiotics, with little improvement in Katie's condition.
 
When Katie attended clinic, special testing revealed that she had low levels of vitamin D, a factor associated with atopic dermatitis.
Food-specific IgG testing revealed multiple food sensitivities as well as an IgE food allergy to wheat; in other words, Katie had Celiac disease.
 
Once wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut (the gluten-containing grains) were pulled out of her diet and vitamin D supplemented, Katie's social anxiety improved, her skin healed over the following months, and she was able to return to school. This counterintuitive order of events is important: Celiac disease is a neuropsychiatric condition because the brain is inflamed when a child is allergic to wheat and is exposed to it frequently. That is why her social anxiety improved even before her skin finished healing. Katie remains in school with a good friendship and social support network.

Case Study: Shawn

Shawn, a 62-year-old senior partner in a law firm presented with chest pain, panic attacks, and memory impairment. Shawn worked 80-hour weeks and traveled globally for work for decades, without taking a single a sick day in his life. He attended clinic only because his memory impairment began to impact his ability to keep up his usual pace in the workplace. Shawn hid his panic attacks by using alcohol before big meetings and sublingual Ativans (benzodiazepines, which are muscle relaxants) that he got from his GP. He was also taking anti-hypertensives (blood pressure lowering medications) and statins for high cholesterol, and presented with low libido.
 
Traditional western medicine had 'chopped Shawn's body up' into specialties: Cardiology for the chest pain, Psychiatry for the panic attacks, and Neurology for the memory impairment. In contrast, Functional Medicine is based on Systems Biology and approaches a patient and their symptoms with the understanding that everything is connected.
 
In Shawn's situation, his statin therapy (Lipitor) had depleted his levels of a brain nutrient called coenzyme Q-10, and his fast-paced, hard-driving lifestyle had depleted his critical neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin.  Shawn's fast food nutrient-depleted diet had depleted his good brain fats (Omega-3), as well as his levels of vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and magnesium.
 
Once the nutrients and neurotransmitters were repleted, Shawn's panic attacks stopped, his chest pain resolved and his memory improved. Integral to his full-body healing was Shawn's relationship with his health coach and nutritionist. They helped him with prioritizing, stress management, food preparation, and achieving greater balance in his life. By giving Shawn testosterone therapy, his libido, heart, and brain health improved. The renewed vitality and charity of thinking allowed Shawn to renegotiate his life-path and spend more focus on philanthropy, traveling for enjoyment and mentoring his younger colleagues.

Case Study: Joan

Joan, a 48-year-old female presented with insomnia, fatigue, low libido, heart palpitations, and urinary incontinence. Joan was a big energy and led a big life: she had raised her four sons as well as working as a senior accountant. As Joan and her husband came to terms with a suddenly empty nest, Joan's low libido and incontinence suddenly became more of an issue for the couple: their life had slowed down and they wanted to reconnect to one another at every level, but Joan's poor health was getting in their way.
 
Joan and her husband Paul were an easy fix! Joan's urine and salivary hormone levels revealed all. Despite her blood levels appearing normal for her age, the more accurate urinary and salivary levels revealed marked depletions in progesterone (sleep), testosterone (libido), DHEA (energy), and estrogens (urinary incontinence and vaginal dryness. Once her symphony of hormones was back in balance, Joan and Paul were able to reconnect emotionally and physically. Joan and Paul got one another and their life back in full colour and on full volume: they have since happily traveled and trekked all over the world together.
 

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