Functional Medicine Offers Surprising Outcomes

Aug 11, 2015 at 09:08 am by steve

Farah Sulton, MD

A 55-year-old man with peripheral neuropathy taking three diabetes medications came to Farah Sultan, MD, a primary care physician in Birmingham, fed up and in pain. Within six weeks, his blood sugar had stabilized enough that he quit all his diabetes prescriptions along with his medications for blood pressure, pain, depression, and cholesterol.

The reason was functional medicine. “It’s based on an old philosophy, but the field as a formal branch of medicine is fairly new,” Sultan says. The phrase was coined about 15 years ago. “It’s the same principles we learned in medical school. But it uses scientific lab results to determine lifestyle changes that will help the body restore normal functioning without prescriptions.”

“We do testing to determine what the root cause is,” Sultan says. When blood tests show high blood sugar, conventional medicine would rely on medication to control it. “In functional medicine, we treat the insulin resistance by altering the diet and using organic, non-GMO [genetically modified organisms] supplements for a certain time period to regain normal biological function.”

The protocol begins with a 21-day detoxification. During that time, the patient eats no wheat gluten proteins, dairy, sugar, sweeteners, as well as a few other foods. The patient also takes a proprietary blend of supplements shown to help detoxify the liver and seal the tight junctions (TJs) between the cells that line the intestine. “Because when you have a leaky — or permeable — gut, then small food particles and other foreign bodies can directly enter the blood stream and cause inflammation and incitement of the immune system,” Sultan says.

Once the TJs are repaired, the body can better absorb nutrients. “The person may have been eating healthy foods but not have been able to absorb good nutrients if have they have a leaky gut,” Sultan says.

Labs are done throughout the detox, which allow medications to be adjusted. For instance, the diabetic man came off one of his medications within a week.

After the detox, additional tests help the physician pinpoint specific dietary guidelines needed by the patient. Epigenetic testing looks for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the MTHFR gene that control B12, folate and metabolism. “The SNPs tell us what’s going on in the genes, and the food sensitivities tell us how the immune system reacts,” Sultan says. “Then I combine those tests to make recommendations for my patient on what foods to eat every day, in moderation, or to avoid. Most people have some form of SNP going on.”

The food sensitivity testing is not the same as allergy testing, which is based on immediate hypersensitivity. “If you’re allergic to eggs, then you immediately break out in hives,” Sultan says. “But if you have a sensitivity, then maybe you get a little achy or have a headache or some inflammation in the gut.”

The diabetic man was put on an anti-inflammatory diet based on whole foods (no refined sugar, sweeteners or processed foods), fresh, plant-based foods and grass-fed organic meat with no antibiotics or hormones. “He also lost his craving for sugar because we balanced his hormones, like thyroid, insulin, cortisol, sex hormones, and also vitamin D — that’s now designated as a hormone,” Sultan says.

Another patient with a chronic condition sought out Sultan after finding no relief through traditional channels. She was a 42-year-old woman with psoriasis on her scalp and legs. “She had been to dermatologists and taken light therapy and psoralen, and had seen no improvement,” Sultan says.

Using the functional medicine approach, the woman’s scalp cleared up completely, though she was still left with a few spots on her legs. “But she was able to wear shorts for the first time in six years,” Sultan says. “She learned that her health started in her gut and that the body is like an onion that you peel away one layer at a time to find the root cause.”

The functional medicine portion of Sultan’s practice is growing steadily. Opened 18 months ago, she currently has about 100 patients following the protocol and gains about five more each month. About 30 percent are seeking relief for chronic conditions. The other 70 percent are seeking a permanent weight loss solution.

Only about five percent have fallen out, despite the radical change required in their diet and exercise routines. “They want to do what it takes to feel better. We see that difference in the labs from when they start and then 12 weeks down the road,” Sultan says. “And when you stick with it, it works.”

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