The Power of Functional Medicine

The Power of Functional Medicine

If you live with a teenager, then you’ll know that life can be challenging at times.

But sometimes it may be a mistake to blame all the issues of teenage years, such as mood changes, on ‘teenage hormones’. Sometimes there can be different reasons for the teenage mood rollercoaster, which if identified and addressed, could lead to an amazing improvement in quality of life, both for the teenager and for their parents.

A friend of mine was going through a difficult time with her 15 year old son.

In the space of less than a year, the usual teenage grumpiness had developed into much more problematic behaviour. From being occasionally bad-tempered and moody, which one would expect in teenage years, he was now almost constantly angry and irritable. Normal conversations were a thing of the past. If he wasn’t allowed to do something he wanted, this usually resulted in an explosion of anger and disappearance for several hours, sometimes late at night. His attitude at home and his relationship with his mother had sunk to a very low point.

His defiance of authority had also amplified and he was getting into trouble at school for his attitude towards his teachers, as well as a lack of focus and engagement in class. Numerous meetings took place with his teachers, and it had reached the point where things had become serious at school. He was at risk of expulsion if he didn’t improve his attitude.

On the rare occasions when his mother was able to hold a short conversation with him, he would express that he felt ‘awful’. He was convinced he had some sort of mood disorder.

Where To Turn?

She’d taken him to see their family doctor, who had organised a few blood tests. He had a slightly low vitamin D level, but nothing major showed up on the tests. There was talk at school about referring him to a psychologist.

Friends suggested that he’d grow out of it. ‘It’s just his hormones, he’ll get better with time.’

But his mother felt there was something else going on. Something as yet unidentified. She approached me for advice. I strongly suspected nutritional deficiencies to be the cause of her son’s behavioural problems, and advised a functional nutritional blood and urine test that would identify any deficiencies or imbalances in nutrient levels.

Sure enough, the test revealed that he was deficient in several important vitamins and minerals, and the key symptoms of some of the deficiencies were…irritability, mood swings, poor attention span – all the problems he was experiencing.

His mother was elated to finally have the underlying reason for her son’s behaviour problems identified, but disappointed at the same time, having believed she was providing him with a healthy and well balanced diet. Further functional testing, however, revealed that he had a genetic variation causing a problem with a process called methylation. Methylation is a chemical process that occurs in every cell of the human body and is essential for critical cellular processes such as detoxification. Efficient methylation relies on several factors, including an adequate supply of B vitamins. My friend’s son was what is known as a ‘slow methylator’, which meant, amongst other things, that his body required a higher amount of some vitamins in order to enable efficient methylation to take place. So, no matter how healthy his diet was, and whilst it remained important to continue, he required a higher intake of certain vitamins and minerals than other people in order to support cellular function, because of his genetic makeup.

Finally…The Solution

The solution was to support his methylation and cellular processes by supplementing with the vitamins and minerals that were deficient according to his nutritional test. This is known as ‘targeted supplementation’ and is prescribed according to the individual’s specific nutritional profile and requirements.

There was an added bonus to knowing the result of this genetic test. Inefficient methylation can have several implications for future health.  For example, problems with toxicity could become an issue, as his body was not equipped to adequately remove toxins without extra methylation support, hence the added benefit of targeted nutritional supplements.

In addition, slow methylation can mean that an individual could be at a higher risk of experiencing side effects with medications, since the cells are less efficient in excreting any toxic metabolites of the medications.

Furthermore, micronutrient deficiencies can be a risk factor for developing disease later in life, therefore addressing this risk factor at this early stage, meant that the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life as a result of nutritional deficiency, was also likely to be lower.

Once we identified the root cause of his behaviour and mood problem, and the reason for it, I advised some nutritional supplements to boost the levels of the nutrients his body was lacking.

The Result?

Within three weeks of starting the nutritional supplements, both he and his mother started to notice an improvement in his mood. The constantly high level of anger had receded significantly, and his disposition was far more relaxed. The dramatic mood swings disappeared. By four weeks, he was smiling and having conversations with his mother. His sense of humour had returned. His focus had improved and  even his teachers noticed he was doing better in school.

Four weeks.

If they had chosen to go down the conventional route, things would have been very different. Firstly, it’s very unlikely that the root cause of his problem – nutritional deficiencies – would have been identified. The kind of comprehensive testing offered by Functional Medicine laboratories is simply not available in hospital laboratories. He would probably have been referred for a mental health assessment. Perhaps a diagnosis of an early mental disorder would have ensued, followed by a trial of medication with a long list of potential side effects. All of that would likely have taken many months, and the underlying cause would probably never have been identified.

As my friend Maya Hammarsal put it: “How many other poor kids (and adults) are there out there who are blamed for such and such a behaviour or attitude – are said to have some intellectual disability, psychological problem or psychiatric condition – are thought to be stupid, mad or bad – are being treated with a whole range of pills – when actually it is a lack of nutrients that is causing the imbalance.”

I couldn’t agree more.

With a Functional Medicine approach, a teenager on the verge of being diagnosed with a mental disorder, was once again able to regain his natural personality, to participate fully in life and to really enjoy it, and his mother who had reached her wit’s end, regained the beautiful son she loved – all in the space of four weeks.

That’s the power of Functional Medicine.