The Role of a Functional Medicine Nutritionist

What is a Functional Medicine Dietitian

As a functional medicine dietitian, I translate scientific evidence about gut health and nutrition and put it into practice with my patients. This is a key task considering the plethora of misinformation out there regarding nutrition and gut health. As I comb through social media posts, the amount of nutrition misinformation that I see is staggering and a lot of this information is from people that have no formal education in health or nutrition. If you look deeper you will find that many of them only have an online certificate. A lot of this misinformation could be harmful to someone with a gut imbalance. The information may seem so simple that people think, ‘oh this couldn’t hurt, I’ll give it a try.’ But a simple cleanse, detox protocol or herbal remedy could put someone into a tailspin. I have seen this happen all too often.

Historically, trends in nutrition are a result of pseudoscience. Identifying good science takes a trained eye and just because a study is published in a peer-reviewed journal doesn’t make it good science. An understanding of how the study was designed and implemented is key. Another critical factor is knowing who funded the study. Industry funded studies are common in the U.S. and sometimes very difficult to identify. This is less of an issue in Europe as they have stricter rules regarding the funding of health and medicine related studies.

As a functional medicine dietician, I comb through research daily. I also stay informed on nutrition trends so when a patient asks me about them, which also happens daily, I can explain why this would or would not be good for their particular health issue. I would estimate that 80% of the time I am explaining why it would not be good for them.

There is no, ‘one diet for all’ or ’10 foods that will flatten your stomach’ or ‘one herb that will cure IBS’. Nutrition requires a very individualized approach and a methodical approach at that. I have never prescribed the exact same diet for more than two people. When nutrition is approached with this type of individuality, people heal.

In addition to diet, functional medicine nutritionists look at many aspects of a person’s lifestyle, including sleep patterns, digestion, sources of stress, medications/supplements, physical activity, energy level, source of joy, time spent in nature, environmental toxins and mood. Each one of these aspects has a profound effect on our health and have a cause and effect aspect on our bodies. Functional medicine dietitians are trained in the cause and effect of each of these and we are trained on how to address them with our patients.

Karen Graham, RDN

Functional Medicine Dietitian

Microbial Diversity- The single most important factor when it comes to our health

What is Microbial Diversity

Microbial diversity means having a wide range of microbes residing in our intestines/gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is inhabited by 500 different species of microbes that make up 100 trillion lifeforms. That is more than the 37.2 trillion human cells that we have. So we are actually more microbial than we are human.

Researchers have shown that maintaining those 500 species is not only what prevents us from developing diseases but it increases our longevity. So, by doing this, we are able to live well into our 90’s and be free of chronic disease. That’s because those microbes that make up our gut microbiome are like soldiers. They protect us from many forms of pathogens, including bad bacteria, viruses & fungus. They have other purposes as well. Some of these beneficial microbes extract nutrients from the food we eat so our body is able to absorb them. Some make immune cells that protect us against cancer.

The Unbalanced Microbiome

Disruption of the normal balance of these microbes is linked to a host of unwanted conditions such as obesity, Inflammatory bowel conditions (IBD), neurological conditions, micronutrient deficiencies & cancer. In addition to these conditions, low microbial diversity can cause fatigue,  constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, headaches, insomnia. So it can really drain our quality of life.

There are several things that can disrupt the diversity and cause those 500 species to die. Antibiotics are the number one cause. Antibiotics cannot distinguish between good bacteria and bad ones. They devastate the diversity. What remains are high amounts of antibiotic-resistant strains which causes a host of other problems.

Antibiotics are necessary at times and they can be the difference between life or death. But, according to the CDC, 50% of all antibiotics prescribed are prescribed for the wrong reason. Antibiotics cannot fight viruses nor fungus. When antibiotics are prescribed for the flu (virus), the only thing they accomplishing is destroying the diversity.

Diverse Food

Another thing that can destroy the diversity of the gut microbiome is a poor diet that is high in packaged, processed foods and low in a variety of fresh unprocessed foods, fruits, and vegetables. When you have 500 microbial species living in your gut, it is just like having 500 different types of pets that you have to feed and they all have a different diet. So having a variety in your diet is essential to keeping the diversity high and alive. If you eat the same food every day you will be starving off essential microbes that require different nutrients from us.

Take good care of your 500 pets; eat a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, always question your doctor if the antibiotic is necessary and you will reap the rewards of health and longevity.

Karen Graham, RDN

What is Functional Medicine

Functional medicine practitioners spend the time digging deep to find the cause of your symptoms and not just suppress them. We look at all aspects of your life including, eating patterns, sleep, bowel movements, stress, job, medications, supplements, physical activity, joy or lack of, etc. All of these aspects of one’s life influences your health in a significant way. Functional medicine dietitians address the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. When was the last time your doctor asked you, what brings you joy?

Our current healthcare system is designed to suppress symptoms rather than finding and fixing the cause of the symptom. This is the main reason our healthcare system is broken. This is the main reason why you have not experienced any relief from your condition despite seeing many specialists and doing all kinds of testing and medications.

Gut Health

90% of all chronic disease begins in the gut. This is not new information. This has been documented for thousands of years. Unfortunately, this has not been the focus in our healthcare system. Inflammation in the gut is the root cause of most chronic diseases. Functional medicine practitioners understand this, which is why we are so successful in reversing and preventing chronic disease.

Importance of Diet

Our diet plays a leading role in the health of our gut. Everything we eat or drink affects our gut health and our gut microbiome. The food we eat can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. This is why diet and nutrition is a main focus of functional medicine practitioners.

Functional medicine practitioners also focus on avoiding disease. So while we work to reverse the issues, we also educate our patients on the steps to take to prevent further suffering, something western medicine fails to do.

Karen Graham, RDN is a Scottsdale, AZ based functional medicine dietitian. She is a microbiome expert in how it relates to diet and chronic disease. Karen has been in private practice for 11 years. Learn more by attending our New Patient Workshop. These monthly workshops focus on bringing you up-to-date on the latest information regarding your health and how the gut microbiome plays a significant role. We are in the era of the gut microbiome and the information is changing at a rapid rate so the workshops are also updated on a monthly basis.