This interview is an excerpt from Kevin Gianni’s The Healthiest Year of Your Life Program which can be found at http://www.thehealthiestyear of your life.com. In this excerpt, Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. shares more on helping patients using the Functional Medicine Model and the challenges and benefits of detoxification.
The Healthiest Year of Your Life Excerpt with Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., a best-selling author, respected medical consultant and a leader in the field of functional medicine.
Kevin: So how do you approach it? If a patient comes in, how do you figure out between those seven things what it could be or what the combination is?
Mark: That’s a great question. We learn in medical school what we’ll call, the differential diagnosis and that means that we try to narrow down the information to a specific diagnosis and anything that doesn’t match that, we ignore. In other words, if you come to me and you say, “You know, Dr. Hyman I have joint pain.” I’m going to look at your joints. You say, “I also have irritable bowel.” “Well, go see the gastroenterologist.” “I have this rash.” I say, “Well, go see the dermatologist.” “And I get these headaches.” “Well, go see the neurologist.” But in my world, the headaches, the rash, irritable bowel and arthritis are all part of the same problem. It’s not that this person happened to get all these conditions simultaneously.
It’s that they have some underlying roots to all these things. So I do is an inclusive history, a 22 page questionnaire that allows me to understand everything about them, from whether they have root canals, to how many fillings they have, to whether they have itchy scalp, to whether they have foreign travel. Through this, a picture emerges and I can tell whether there is a predominance of inflammatory problems, or hormonal problems, or whether it’s probably digestive, or whether there’s major detoxification issues, or whether there are major energy issues.
So I use of those seven frameworks to think about problems. Now, they’re all related. They’re not separate, but I take that information at the end of the day and I say, okay, well it seems like this is where we need to start.
So for any of these systems, I have to ask two questions and it’s very simple actually. Functional medicine is really only about two questions. One is, what do you need to get rid of that’s making you sick. Is it a toxin, an allergen, an infection? Is it poor diet, or stress? There’s only five things. Sometimes it’s tricky, because people have multiple things. So you have to deal with all of them.
The second thing we ask is, what does the body need to thrive? What are you missing for your body to function optimally? We need the right quality food. We need the right nutrients in the right amounts, depending on our genetic needs. We need the right amount of light, air and water. We need exercise. We need sleep and rest. We need rhythm; daily, regular rhythms because we’re circadian beings that function according to biological rhythms and also, we need connection, community, love, meaning, purpose, all these things that make us thrive. We need all those things. So we have to figure out what are they missing, what’s bugging them and we need to fix those two things everywhere around the whole system of the body and we need to do it all at the same time, more or less. So you take away the bad stuff and you put in the good stuff and the body does the rest.
Kevin: What are some most prevalent factors of those seven? What do you see the most of?
Mark: Well, I think you know there’s a lot of ways to get entry into the whole system and the reality is that when you work on any one system it works all the other systems. So in a way you get to where the most important touch points are for people and what I’ve experienced is there are two major touch points. One is its inflammation, because we’re all on fire and two, detoxification, because we’re all toxic.
So what I do in my practice is I engage people in a lifestyle that is both anti-inflammatory and detoxifying and I do it through diet, through supplements, through various lifestyle treatments, such as saunas, cleansing programs and detoxification and exercise and stress reduction and mind-body therapies, all of which help fix these two major issues and then usually 90% of things go away, maybe 80%..
Kevin: When you had the mercury issue in your body, how did you find out about it and did you go through a specific protocol for that?
Mark: Very good question. What I found out about it was I developed chronic fatigue and I was sick for about a year. I finally came across a naturopath, who suggested to me that in cases of chronic fatigue there was often mercury issues. So I actually got my hair analysis done, which showed a very high level of mercury. I followed that up with a test, called a chelation challenge test. So I collected my urine after I took this chelating agent. Normally your level should be less than three. It shouldn’t really be any, but less than three is considered okay. Mine was 187.
Kevin: Oh, my goodness.
Mark: Most people are in the 50 to 100, range 30 to 50 range and very few over 100. There are maybe a handful of them are over 200. So I realized that I was quite sick. Then I began to search and read and study and talk to people and look at the research, which there hardly was any. It was the Wild West. There really was no clear, recommended protocol. They’re still really isn’t. I’d certainly tried and experienced almost everything, including oral chelating agents, intravenous chelation, high-dose vitamin C, saunas, which I think are extraordinarily helpful, infrared saunas in particular and over time I really was able to drop my mercury load down significantly to pretty much negligible. I did that through very deliberate processes of detoxification and so I not only learned on my patients, but I learned on myself, as well.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, a lot of people on this call have an incredible interest in cleansing, Detoxification and fasting. So what kind of protocol or how should someone recognize or figure out what sort of issues they are dealing with and then go on to a detoxification program?
Mark: Well, that’s a great question. I think we can assume, based on living in the 21st century, that all of us have a certain load of petrochemical, industrial toxins. There was a study from the Environmental Working Group on 10 fetal cord blood samples. This is blood that comes from the umbilical cord of infants who are just born. So they have not even been in the world, but it’s their blood. They found over 260 toxic chemicals. 210 were neurotoxic and they found things such as phthalates, which is from plasticizers, flame retardants, pesticides, heavy metals and so on and so all of us we have to assume are subject to enormous loads of petrochemical toxins. Most of us seem to tolerate them more or less, but on the flip side of that is the question, how many of our other illnesses are related to this. We’ve seen an epidemic, for example, of allergic and autoimmune diseases. There’s a hypothesis out of Johns Hopkins coming out now, that environmental toxins are connected and perhaps they are a very important cause of autoimmune disease, which I do believe and see in my practice.
So the first thing, you have to assume that everybody needs to be that detoxified some way and there’s really no reason to test for petrochemical toxins, although we can, because you have to assume everybody has them.
Second, is heavy metals and I think this is an area where we can test and should test and I believe that heavy metal mercury screening tests should be probably the most important way we assess for chronic toxicity, particularly chronic illness, whether it’s depression, or Alzheimer’s, or chronic fatigue, or heart disease. We saw, in the last few days, articles in the New York Times talking about mercury in fish in New York City and sushi. Just having one sushi meal every three weeks is enough to make you toxic.
Then there’s the issue of dental amalgams, which is a whole can of worms and dental fillings with silver fillings. They’re not really silver. They’re mostly mercury, which do vaporize and get absorbed and have also heavy metal issues. So I think heavy metal testing is very important and this should really be done or doctor supervision. Once you’ve done that, then there are very simple ways that you can use to help detoxify. I think, everything needs to be customized. There’s no one-size-fits-all.
In fact, I saw a case yesterday of a woman, who was very healthy, was a marathon runner. She was very fit. She’ thought, well, “I’m going on a cleansing program.” She followed a book, which talked about using greens and juices and she did it and got extraordinarily sick. In fact, she didn’t go to the bathroom for the whole time.
Mark: She didn’t have a bowel movement. So this is part of the problem. She went unsupervised and it probably would’ve been okay if she had eliminated, but she actually developed chronic fatigue syndrome after, from being perfectly healthy. So I tell you to be careful with it when you do extreme fasting. My preference is more gentle typeof fasting, which I wrote about in The Ultra Simple Diet, which is an anti-inflammatory detox program that simply takes away all the garbage. So you get rid of alcohol, sugar, caffeine, processed food, junk food. Then you add in and you also get rid of the common food allergens, because those create tremendous inflammation: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, yeast and a number of other things.
Then you just eat whole, fresh food along with a vegetable broth and some detoxifying rice proteins and the reason I recommend that is we do need amino acids to detoxify. Our liver has some very clear systems that it uses to get rid of garbage, including amino acids. So if you’re not eating amino acids, you’re going to be breaking down your own muscle and tissue to get amino acids, because you body needs them. I recommend supplementing with amino acids that in the form of a form of a rice protein, which is hypoallergenic, but you can use other proteins or whey proteins if you’re not allergic to dairy, to help boost your own detoxification systems, as well as other nutritional and herbal support, it helps the liver maximize its function. I also recommend really being attentive to bowel function. As you can see from this patient who got very sick, you have to bathroom every day, once or twice a day.
I had a workshop last week and there was a woman there who was overweight and had many, many chronic symptoms and her symptom score was 111 on our quiz, The Health Risk Assessment.. Now, anything over 20 is sick. Over 100 is really bad. In five days, her score came from 111 to 30 and she lost eight pounds. So the benefits of this are fantastic. You’re eating plenty of food that helps you detoxify like lots of garlic, lcruciferous vegetables, green tea, which can be decaffeinated. I recommend things like watercress, cilantro, artichoke, burdock, pomegranate, all of which have very powerful detoxifying effects on the body.