what is functional medicine?

Functional medicine is a systems biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.


We are not taught about the importance of the gut as we grow up and go through school. Even doctors and mainstream medicine undermine the role of the gut in health. But think about this:


  • We obtain energy and the building blocks of energy from food and water
  • 80% of our immune system surrounds our gut and is part of the gut
  • The American culture promotes convenience, but for the gut to work best, we must be relaxed (“rest and digest” is the motto for the nervous system that controls the gut)


In functional medicine, we use a process that goes by the simple acronym of the ‘5Rs’: remove, replace, reinoculate, repair, and rebalance. With the guidance of the right practitioner, the 5R process can cause a significant improvement in symptoms and sometimes completely reverse the problem.


Functional medicine focuses on FUNCTION, and an improperly functioning gut can lead to a number of symptoms and conditions, including:


  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Allergies
  • Mood imbalances and memory issues
  • Joint pain
  • Persistent skin issues like eczema and acne
  • Some cancers
  • And obviously, IBS and inflammatory bowel disease


Addressing the health of the gut is often the first step towards resolving symptoms like those listed above.


The list below represents each “R” in the process. The first two typically must be done before moving onto the last three.


An entire 5-R Process takes three to six months to complete. The foundation of the process depends on lifestyle habits and can be a dramatic change from what many are used to.  No pill is going to be the answer – habits (especially nutrition habits) are essential to maintain a properly functioning gut.  


Please note, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all 5-R gut protocol.  The repair step, in particular, is where many practitioners (and patients) fall short. However, there are ways to use food as medicine for this step – dependent on a patient’s food preferences.


Remove things that negatively affect the environment of the gut (inflammatory foods, parasites or other “bad bugs,” chronic medication use that causes inflammation – including excessive supplement use, and more). Removing these things may involve medications or herbs, but always involves removing foods that cause inflammation.


Replace “upstream” digestive support, which may include digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile support. A stool test is the best way to determine which form of support may initially be needed, but sometimes a patient’s history can also be a good guide. For example, many patients with hypothyroidism have low stomach acid production.. Working with a practitioner to replace the acid may be the best first step.


Help resident bacteria (aka the “probiotics”) grow and stay around by taking probiotic foods/supplements in combination with prebiotics (probiotic “food”). Most probiotics only eat fiber in food (particularly in vegetables and legumes, which most of us do not eat enough of!). If you want them to say around, you have to feed them!


Help the lining of the gut repair itself by supplying healing the gut wall with various herbs and supplying key nutrients that can often be in short supply when the body is dealing with chronic symptoms. These nutrients include specific forms of zinc, antioxidants (e.g. vitamins A, C, and E), fish oil, immunoglobulins, and glutamine.


This entirely depends on habitual lifestyle choices – good sleep, moderate exercise, continued good nutritional choices and a daily stress management habit are all keys to maintaining good gut health. In particular, stress management is often forgotten, but the cortisol that is released during persistent stress causes the gut lining to be “thin” and susceptible to damage.


The gut or gastrointestinal tract (GI Tract) is the long tube that begins at the mouth and ends at the anal passage. It is responsible for processing food from the time it is first consumed until it is absorbed and released by the body as stool.


“Leaky Gut Syndrome” also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition that can disrupt your gut health and pave the path for a host of other medical conditions.

what is "leaky gut syndrome"

The leaky gut syndrome is a rapidly growing condition that people from the world over are experiencing of late. Although problems begin with your digestive system if you have the leaky gut syndrome, it affects other aspects of your health as well.


Your gut is lined by a wall, which is similar to a net with small holes in them. These small holes act as filters and enable the passage of certain substances only. It acts as a shield to keep out the bigger, harmful substances from entering your body.


When someone has a ‘leaky gut’, it means that the gut lining is damaged and cannot optimally function as a barrier any longer. The smaller holes become larger and allow harmful substances like gluten, bad bacteria, and undigested food particles to enter your system and cause considerable damage to health.

what causes "leaky gut syndrome"

There are 4 main reasons for leaky gut syndrome

  • Dysbiosis, or bacterial imbalance, is a leading cause of the leaky gut syndrome. It means an imbalance between helpful and harmful species of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.


  • Poor diet, comprising proteins found in unsprouted grains, sugar, genetically-modified foods (GMO), and dairy products.


  • Prolonged exposure to stress, which can weaken your immune system and inhibits your body’s ability to eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses, resulting in inflammation and leaky gut.


  • Toxin overload, that can lead to the leaky gut syndrome. We come across more than 80,000 chemicals and other toxic substances on a daily basis. However, the main culprits are antibiotics, pesticides, aspirin, and contaminated tap water.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome?

  • Digestive system changes like bloating, diarrhea, gas, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Seasonal allergies or asthmatic symptoms.
  • Hormonal imbalances like PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome).
  • Autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or Celiac disease.
  • Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.
  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Skin conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema.
  • Candida overgrowth, which is a fungal infection in humans.
  • Food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances.
  • A Weak or poor immune system.
  • Arthritis or joint pain.

foods to eat

Eating a diet rich in beneficial gut bacteria can help keep your gut health in check. An unhealthy amount of harmful bacteria is known to trigger conditions like chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.


The following foods are great for improving gut health:


  • Vegetables, roots, and tubers such as broccoli, carrots, brinjal, beetroots, spinach, ginger, mushrooms, potatoes, yams, and squash.
  • Fruits such as grapes, bananas, coconut, papaya, lemons and limes, pineapples, oranges, and strawberries.
  • Sprouted seeds like chia, flax, and sunflower.
  • Gluten-free grains like amaranth, brown rice, and gluten-free oats.
  • Healthy fats like avocado, coconut and almond oils.
  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and other omega-3 rich fish.
  • Meats and eggs.
  • Herbs and spices.
  • Cultured dairy products like buttermilk and Greek yoghurt.
  • Soups and beverages like bone broth, coconut milk, teas, and nut-based milk and products.
  • Raw nuts like peanuts and almonds.

foods to avoid

Just how eating the right foods is important for your gut health so is avoiding certain foods that can cause damage to your digestive system.


Foods you should avoid for a healthy gut are:


  • Wheat-based products like bread, pasta, wheat flour, and couscous
  • Gluten-rich grains like barley and oats
  • Processed meats and cold cuts
  • Baked products like cookies, pastries, and cakes
  • Snacks like crackers and granola bars
  • Junk food or fast food
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice creams
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Refined oil
  • Sauces and dressings with soy, hoisin, teriyaki and the likes
  • Alcohol and carbonated drinks