Functional medicine – which prioritizes nutrition – has emerged over the last decade or two as an answer to frustrations many of us feel with “mainstream” medicine.
If you’ve taken your kids (or yourself) to the doctor and come away frustrated or uncertain, or if you’ve had a chronic health problem that your doctor couldn’t fix, then you know why functional medicine is here.
Our health care system squeezes doctors into insurance models that require them to see dozens of patients a week, or even daily. In this model, doctors can only diagnose and treat what health insurers pay for. If your doctor steps outside that model of pre-approved diagnosis codes and treatments, he doesn’t get paid. Ever feel rushed out of an appointment? That’s because the health insurer determines how long your doctor is paid to speak with you for any diagnosis, and what is suitable for treatment.
If your doctor spends time discussing how food, nutrition, or supplements can help you, there is no insurance code for that. Your doctor won’t get paid to investigate that for you or talk with you about it, when they take insurance. These tools work, but are excluded from care because they don’t make profits on the stratospheric scale that patentable drugs do.
Functional medicine doctors step away from this system. They refuse insurance not because they’re greedy, but because they want to direct your care based on their training – not based on what a health insurance claim review person thinks. This frees them to look at you as an individual case, without the punitive system of insurance that may not pay. They can spend as much time with you as they like, and are free to suggest foods, nutrients, herbs or tools besides drugs that can help. They may also use prescription drugs, but will not exclusively use them, as mainstream doctors do.
I used to work for a health insurer. I was astounded to learn that the people who review claims – and decide your fate – may have virtually no training in health sciences. Why would they know more than your doctor, about what is best for you?
The downside of seeing a functional medicine practitioner is out of pocket expense. If you paid your insurance-covered doctor for an hour of his or her time, what do you think it would cost? Hundreds of dollars, perhaps over a thousand dollars, depending on the specialist or nature of the visit. Functional medicine doctors routinely charge as much as attorneys do – $300-$600 hourly or more. You can still submit their invoices to your insurance as long as codes are on them, and some functional medicine doctors will provide coded invoices. You may get some coverage this way. But many families find that a functional medicine perspective is crucial, so they pay for it if possible.
Autism is one diagnosis that leaves children suffering horribly, when functional medicine is left out. Insurers code autism one way – 299.00 is the code for it – and the only services this code triggers are psychiatric. Your insurance will cover psychiatric medications for this code, maybe a brain scan, or perhaps some behavior therapy services, depending on your state laws. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get some speech and language therapy paid for and some occupational therapy. No other treatments for code 299.00 are paid for, period. Nothing relating to the child’s actual physical health is acknowledged. Insurers benefit by keeping autism narrowly categorized as a psychiatric disorder. This way, they don’t have to pay for anything else.
Kids with autism typically have multiple, complex physiological challenges that impact sleep, eating, eliminations, growth pattern, illnesses or allergies, and more. You can take your child to one specialist after another (neurologist, gastroenterologist, allergist, and so on) under your insurance, and each will have their own prescription drugs and procedures. None of these treatments will be coordinated with the others. Your child will be dependent on many drugs and his autism features are not likely to shift much.
A functional medicine approach looks at the whole child. Lab tests to check allergies, immune function, gut function, toxic burden, and neurotransmitter function are usual. These are lab tests that your insurance may only cover if administered by different specialists, or may not cover at all. But they let a functional medicine MD see the whole picture. A care plan is made that allows your child to thrive. Not just be free from illness, but thrive. Development can explode, new language may drop in abruptly, learning may flourish, and your child can begin functioning in ways you never thought possible. Once the brain is freed from inflammation and toxicity, and nutrients flush cells that have lacked them for months or years, big shifts happen. This is functional medicine – it makes you function at your best.
Functional nutrition is the focus of my practice. I’m honored to know and work with Jill Carnahan MD as my authorizing physician on lab testing that I use in my practice, so your child can access many of the same tools with me as are possible with a functional medicine physician – at lower cost for hourly consult fees ($200 instead of $300 and up per hour). Have you added this piece in for your child yet? It can resolve many problems, and lay groundwork for higher level care with a functional medicine physician. It may help your child soar. If your child has had not had success with usual in-network health resources, this may be the charm. Learn more at my blog for topics, strategies, and solutions from functional nutrition, or set up an appointment today. Explore at the Institute For Functional Medicine.
If your baby or toddler is using reflux medicine, maybe it’s time to quit. Here’s why, and how.
This is one of my least favorite findings in a little one’s history. Why? Because the longer reflux medicines are used, the weaker a child’s digestion becomes. The weaker your baby’s digestion becomes, the harder it is to absorb food and nutrients. This creates a domino effect of trouble! Just click through this FDA powerpoint presentation to the Pediatric Advisory Committee to see what I mean. From fractures to fecal impactions, it’s not pretty.
Most parents report to me that reflux medicine seems to help a little at first, especially for quelling colic and crying. But soon, the benefit fades.
Then the baby becomes more picky, appetite more sluggish, stools more constipated and slow, belly more bloated. Feeding gets harder, not easier – and the reflux medicine dose goes up. After a few months, we have a fussy eater who is having tantrums about feeding, who is dependent on Miralax to have bowel movements, and growth pattern has slowed down. After a few years on reflux medicines, it’s common for me to be looking at a stunted child who is barely getting taller; who is epically picky, cranky, or anxious; who is struggling to learn, behave, or develop normally; and who is so stuck on Miralax even at ever increasing doses, it doesn’t work so well anymore.
The whole point of these medicines is to weaken stomach acid – presumably because too much acid is irritating the esophagus. Reflux medicines (“proton pump inhibitors” or PPIs) are the second most prescribed drug for infants and children, behind antibiotics. Does your baby even need it?
These medicines were created and approved for use in adults who may actually have too much acid gurgling up from the stomach into the esophagus. But this may not be what is happening in a baby or toddler’s digestion. Reflux medicines are not FDA approved for use in infants (kids under a year old) but are routinely prescribed anyway. Even if actual reflux was the issue, the only way to know for sure is to put the baby through an invasive procedure with something called a pH probe. A probe is stuck down the baby’s throat in “dip-stick” fashion so that a reading on the stomach’s acidity can be taken. Infants may need sedation and hospitalization to get through this procedure. Obviously, it’s all too easy for your pediatrician to hand you a prescription instead and say “try this”.
Before you try that, you should know that there are many drug-free options that work well, and leave your child’s digestion in tact. Try these instead – because reflux medicines have been found to have these negative side effects:
Yuck! Imagine all this going on in a tiny infant’s gut, which is just getting started in learning to digest and absorb food.
Basically, these medicines weaken stomach acid – and thus, make the stomach less capable of digesting anything. The ability to digest and absorb food is gradually weakened. Effects from using these for more than a few weeks? Examples from my own practice include linear growth grinding to a halt (kids can’t grow taller), delayed bone age (kids’ bones are not growing normally), and fractures of hip, wrists, or spine – in kids. Other nutrients become harder to absorb too, especially vitamin B12. Anxiety becomes prominent – and this is not surprising, as we learn more about how gut bacteria are linked to mood and anxiety.
But that’s not all. Changing the acid level of a human digestive tract means you change which microbes can grow there. The microbes we carry in our intestines do a lot for us. They help us digest food, communicate with our immune systems, and help fight off invading infectious microbes that can make us sick. Using reflux medicines favors microbes that are not ideal – such as Clostridia difficile (linked to seizures and autism like features in tests on rats) and fungal infections (Candida or other yeast species). These definitely do not help your baby or child. A healthy gut has a pH that will favor helpful species, like Lactobacillus strains or Bifido strains.
So what to do? Try these steps – and learn more detail in my book Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free. The first chapter is all about babies, from feeding to colic to sleep, reflux, and more.
1) If you’re breastfeeding, trial a diet without the usual suspects. Remove dairy, gluten, nuts, eggs, or soy. Some babies fare better when brassicas are removed (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts). Don’t remove all these foods at once. Experiment with rotations. Always put back in a strong, nutritious replacement for any food you take out. Use ample organic fats including eggs, ghee, meats and poultry, legumes, and vegetables. You may need to use alternate protein supplements to keep you strong and energized while your own diet is restricted. A gentle whey protein like ImmunoPro Whey may be well tolerated for you. Or, you may need a collagen protein support. You can find these in my practice supplement dispensary here.
2) Change up the feeding routine. Cow’s milk, pea or rice protein concentrates, and soy proteins are not what your baby was built to digest. So, if you’re using a formula based on those proteins, change it. This alone may ease reflux symptoms. Use a partly digested (“hydrolyzed”) formula instead. This one is organic, with lactose as the carbohydrate (just like breast milk), and hydrolyzed whey protein instead of whole cow’s milk protein – very gentle! Formulas like Nutramigen or Alimentum are made with hydrolyzed casein protein and may work too. These aren’t organic and may contain GMO ingredients, but may be better tolerated than a standard whole milk protein infant formula. For toddlers, plant based options exist. I don’t like using pea or rice protein concentrates in my practice – these seem tough on baby and toddler bellies in my experience. If almond is safe, give this organic option a try. Your baby may also do just fine with a goat milk formula option (which I’ve only found here so far – see all their options for ages and stages), or even a camel milk formula recipe (not commercially available …yet!).
3) Switch to organic, GMO-free formula and foods as much as you can. GMO ingredients in conventional formula and foods are injurious to your baby’s gut biome. Read here for why I tell my patients to avoid GMO foods. More scientists are expressing concern that GMO foods alone may be triggering autism in our children. This simple step can help your baby’s gut.
4) Use probiotics. Lactobacillus retueri is a strain that has been shown to reduce colicky symptoms and crying. Bifido bacteria are crucial for healthy gut biome development, as are other Lactobacillus strains. Consider starting with a simple product like ProBiota HistaminX probiotic. To order, tap my practice supplement dispensary here, set up an account, and order. You can also start with a product that only contains Lactobacillus called Primadophilus L. reuteri, also available in my dispensary.
5) Use an herbal tincture designed for babies and toddlers, in a glycerite base, that supports digestion. These are often called “digestive bitters” – there are many brands – and they can gently support normal stomach acid secretion and digestion. Here’s an example of one of my favorites. For a baby under one year, 1/8-1/4 teaspoon is plenty before or just after a feeding.
6) Put Epsom salts in your baby or toddler’s bath at night. This is calming, and delivers both magnesium and sulfur via absorption through skin. Sulfur is a key mineral for many digestive functions. Dissolve one half cup in the bath and soak for twenty minutes.
7) Clear fungal infections. If your baby had thrush, he may need some stronger medicine to clear any lingering fungal load from the digestive tract. Fungal infections alone can alter the acidity of the digestive tract, and keep it sub-optimal – thus causing more reflux! See my blog on fungal infections and how these affect the GI tract.
These are so easy to do. Use these steps to prevent ever getting on a reflux med, and to help your baby or toddler wean off. Let me know how it goes!
Toxins in our food and water have major impacts for the health of kids nationwide. But these toxins aren’t well regulated or controlled. Since 1990, these have increased dramatically in our air, water, and food. Children are especially vulnerable. Are their immune systems able to handle it? If the health of children in the US is a barometer, the answer is no. More children in the US are now chronically ill or have a disability, than children who are well.
In the clip below, a concerned Nebraska farmer challenges stone-faced fracking lobbyists to drink the water that they tell residents is safe. (What exactly is fracking? Learn more here). Here in Colorado, where I live, we’ve heard the same mantra – most famously, from our goofily named former governor Hickenlooper, who claims to have sipped fracking fluid in a closed meeting with Halliburton officials (this has earned him the nickname “Frackenlooper“). Even the Washington Post went so far as to assert that because fracking fluid and ice cream, toothpaste, and laxatives have some of the same ingredients, it must be safe to drink fracking fluid.
What is fracking fluid? It’s a chemical mixture blasted into shale rock to force out the oil and gas locked inside it. It uses a lot of water, and this is one of the problems with fracking: In areas where water is scarce but shale oil may be found, it not only wastes an awful lot of water, it also contaminates clean ground water. Fracturing shale rock can cause oil and gas in it to escape into ground water (Colorado alone has thousands of unmonitored wells that may be leaking into groundwater, like this one). Fracking fluid is about 90% water, plus some sand, plus proprietary blend of chemicals that include potent acids (to dissolve rock), volatile organic compounds like benzene or toluene (known carcinogens), ethylene glycol (fatal in doses as small as 4 ounces), and many others. Oil and gas companies are not required to disclose exactly what is in the fluids they use, recipes for which may vary by location. Fracking activity is exempt from federal laws that set clean water standards (thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole)”, which allows the oil and gas industry operating in your area to legally and freely contaminate your water supply.
So far, there aren’t any industry takers on publicly drinking the stuff. Unwitting citizens don’t have a choice but to sip, shower, and drink it every day, because that’s all that comes out of the tap. Those whose water has been poisoned by fracking can get a lawyer – but don’t have much recourse otherwise. Here in Colorado, because of arcane and dated mining laws written in the 1800s, it is legal for an oil and gas company to frack right underneath homes, schools, or any other place they please, with impunity for toxic effects on people, animals, crops, or water. Local governments in Colorado quickly and willingly cowered to industry pressure in recent years, effectively removing any legal barriers to resource extraction in our towns by outside corporate interests. Setbacks to keep fracking wells at least a few hundred feet away from a home or a school may not be enough, as suggested by a recent study that found more birth defects, still births, and low birth weight babies born to women who lived in the vicinity of fracking activity.
Watch the silence as these pro-frackers are offered a glass of their own elixir:
A similar challenge in recent years was placed before Monsanto spokesperson Patrick Moore, in an interview with a French television journalist. Mr. Moore makes the off-hand comment that it’s safe to drink “a whole quart” of RoundUp, the glyphosate pesticide that GMO crops need by the ton (they actually need more RoundUp than non-GMO crops, despite promises years ago that one of the many “miracles” of GMO foods was going to be that they would reduce pesticide use. Didn’t happen). Monsanto owns both RoundUp and patents on several GMO seed crops, and obviously wants to continue selling both. But when challenged to make good on his claim that RoundUp is safe to consume by the quart, Mr. Moore loses his cool, insults the journalist, and ends the interview. Since then, Monsanto has been snared in multiple law suits, and was ordered to pay millions to a school groundskeeper who contracted cancer after regularly spraying its grounds with RoundUp.
Here in the US we have 21 states actively fracking with no meaningful safety oversight. We have twenty years of GMO crops freely grown and consumed in the US (but not in other developed nations) without so much as a labeling law, never mind safety studies (click here to learn why I tell my patient families to avoid GMO foods). There’s no doubt that this has already put a generation of children at risk. It’s also no wonder that our children are more sick and disabled than ever in our history as a nation. What kind of future can our country have, when corporate rights supersede our children’s rights?
But that’s not all our kids face when it comes to insurmountable, unavoidable toxic exposures. Vaccines are so full of toxins, our Supreme Court ruled them to be “unavoidably unsafe” with a sort of “too bad, so sad” decision in 2011. Devastated by vaccine injuries and left with life long disability including autism, Hanah Poling received a payment from the US Department of Health and Human Services Vaccine Injury Compensation Program of 1.5 million dollars as compensation for her injury (a lot less than usual medical malpractice awards, by the way). Her parents (a neurologist who has received National Institutes of Health grant funding in his career, and a nurse) went on to pursue a civil case based on the fact that the product that injured their daughter was unsafe. But the Supreme Court disagreed. It basically said, yes, vaccines are unsafe at times, and families just have to take that risk, so… shrug.
Paul Offit, academic (non-practicing) pediatrician who has made millions on vaccine patents, stated that it’s safe to give babies ten thousand vaccines at once many years ago. A lot of people challenged him to be first in line on this. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to Offit’s outrageous claim. So far, he has followed the trend of his peers in other industries: He has declined to drink his own Kool-Aid.
We have industries operating outside of a regulatory context in such a way as to expose our children to an unprecedented flow of toxic substances. We have over a million children with autism in the US today. Did toxins play a role? Are these toxins ok because they are given in such minute doses over time? Watch the film Trace Amounts to see why this may not be the case. Or listen to MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff explain why she believes glyphosate causes autism. Our kids have more cancer, diabetes, allergies, asthma, disability, and chronic illness than ever before. Until our elected officials can stand up to corporate interests for change, it’s up to parents to protect our children, with the cleanest, most toxin-free food, water, and health care we can afford. Visit Moms Across America and Fearless Parent for resources and info on keeping your kids as healthy as possible.