Tag Archives: digestion

Mark Hyman on functional medicine; plus: diagram your way to health!

In this TEDMED 2010 Talk, Mark Hyman, MD describes functional medicine and how he came to embrace it after his health tanked following a perfect storm of stressors. Among other things, he had mercury poisoning from a year of living in China. (Here’s his TEDMED 2010 Conference bio.)

At about 8:23 he displays a diagram of how his health problems interacted and manifested themselves. Here’s a screenshot:

He starts in the center with what he thinks caused everything, then makes a separate circle for the resulting nutritional deficiencies and for the digestive, immune, hormone, energy/mitochondrial, and detoxification (liver and kidneys, I guess) symptoms that arose. I’m not sure what the dotted lines indicate. Maybe he was just doodling.

Although I once drew a diagram of how I think my various remaining nutritional deficiencies interact, I never thought to put all these elements together. Using Hyman’s model I herewith offer a theoretical breakdown of my multitudinous medical mysteries. I explored these aspects one by one over the past 12+ years, focusing most of my effort on nutritional deficiencies, and I’m still trying to figure it all out — the ones in red are unresolved. Hyman attacked them all at once and got better in a year. La de da.

Where he’s got conditions and symptoms lumped together on his diagram, I’ve tried to separate mine. I also put symptoms in more than one circle where I think they have more than one cause. I added a circle for the central nervous system.

The nutritional deficiencies can overlap with the other circles. For example, a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency will affect your mitochondria’s ability to, uh, mitochondriate, but it’s not the only thing that can affect them***.

As for functional medicine, although I love the idea and got an appointment with a local FM practice about two days after I first heard about it (long before I saw this video), I can’t recommend that group. I did find the director and the nutritional something-or-other with whom I spent several hours to be compassionate, knowledgeable people. We decided finally to start with working on neurotransmitters — that is, supplements of amino acids, their precursors — which had impressive results in just a few days. After a week, though, I developed splitting headaches, complete insomnia, and zombie brain. When I called the office for help, they took two weeks to reply even after repeated calls, and then all they had to suggest was that I might have a damaged liver and that acupuncture might help.

For some of the tests, the nutritional guy was not legally allowed to discuss or analyze them with me, and that fell to an MD who 1) suggested I needed Ritalin when I mentioned the brain fog, and 2) repeated the extremely outdated theory that a type of celiac disease is outgrown in late childhood.

Better luck to you in finding a decent functional medicine practice.

***Speaking of mitochondria, here’s another video from the TED empire, this one a TEDx Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls, who ended her disabling MS symptoms by addressing that end of things.

Seven fomenters of brain fog

Several factors combined together to cause me years of spaciness and difficulty concentrating. Highlights of this period included giving the wrong last name when called on in class and almost getting my head wedged between two floors of a department store while riding the escalator. Most of the causes were ferreted out after I went gluten-free, and now I can face a big project and a tight deadline without sweating it too much, given enough Pepsi.

The problem is that metabolizing an acre’s worth of high-fructose corn syrup when you’re 25 is one thing; now it’s quite another. I’m still looking for the final pieces to this puzzle.

The main causes were:

1. and 2. High histamine, caused at least in part by low iodine

I discovered this by accident when I was working day and night on a project while playing host to a cold. Out of desperation I started mainlining vitamin C — something like 1,000 mg an hour, all day. After two days of that I realized I was thinking a lot better than normal. After some research I discovered that vitamin C lowers histamine; that in some people histamine is too high all the time, and not always with allergy-like symptoms; and that histamine occurs naturally in food, some much more so than others. Now I finally had part of the answer as to why certain foods had recently started making me spacey: eggs, rice, large amounts of protein, kimchee.

The second part of the question was why I had it now, when I hadn’t before. An uncorrected, and thus steadily worsening, iodine deficiency would explain it. According to some experts, it is rampant now that we avoid (iodized) salt. Insufficient iodine will cause a rise in histidine, which the body converts into histamine.

Another theory is that I’m not making enough of a certain enzyme, amylase, that breaks down carbs. Which with a recovering celiac’s innards wouldn’t be surprising.

3. Leaky gut

A classic celiac legacy. A damaged gut can cause dairy to be only partially broken down, and it so happens that some of those only-partially-broken-down particles happen to be in the form of opioids, as in opium, which then escape into the bloodstream and make you loopy.

4. Iron deficiency

Common enough among all women, never mind celiacs. For various reasons though, it was never possible for me to get my levels up to ideal numbers.

5. Folate deficiency

Folic acid, a type of folate supplement, never did much for me so I never investigated it very far. When I learned that it’s not a very efficient form of folate, I tried the superior form (methylfolate) and discovered that large doses made a noticeable difference in my ability to concentrate. However, at a certain amount — which sadly is also the amount that makes my fingernails look REALLY GOOD — it then raises histamine, which leaves me back where I started it made me really spacey, which felt like elevated histamine. I am not clear on what that was — my understanding is that unmethylated folic acid can raise your histamine if you’re a poor methylator, but that methylfolate would not. I really don’t know.

6. SAD, which is probably vitamin D deficiency

If I don’t use my high-intensity lamp in the fall and winter, I turn into a zombie and eat everything in sight. And stop sleeping. And think thoughts that make me look around for Hank Williams.

7. Insufficient essential fatty acids (EFAs)

These helped for about a year, then made my insomnia worse. Now they give me scary headaches AND total insomnia.

Other suspects I’ve looked at in my brain fog investigation were candida, digestive enzymes, vitamin B12, zinc, and calcium and magnesium. The latter two, once I got levels up to normal, reduced jitteriness and listlessness, which made it easier to concentrate. The rest did not seem to be involved. YMMV.