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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Functional Medicine and Whole Body Health

Oct 31, 2016 01:40PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Dr. Pamela Hughes

 L ocal functional medicine practitioners—from chiropractors, medical doctors and advanced nurse practitioners to acupuncturists, nutritionists and mental health professionals—are in agreement that the health of the entire body, including the brain, cognitive abilities and moods, begins with the condition of our gut and its microbiome.

To stay up to date on lifestyle medicine that continues to evolve as more functional medicine practitioners report positive patient outcomes from prevention and wellness rather than pathology and sick care, local adherents rely on personal research and newsletters from organizations such as the Environmental Working Group, Institute for Functional Medicine,, PubMed and Functional Forum.

By establishing more patient-focused relationships that grow naturally out of  feedback from a comprehensive analysis of patients’ medical history and life experiences, this new set of standards for patient care affirms a continuum of whole body health, wellness and optimal living that includes mental health.

In functional medicine, it takes time to put together the puzzle pieces of cognitive decline: nutrition, diet, stress, work and personal environments, sleep, toxins, supplementation and exercise as well as the impact of medications, inflammation and gut health.

Dee Harris, a functional medicine diagnostician, registered dietician and owner of D-Signed Nutrition, in Bonita Springs, notes that patients have been responding positively to lifestyle medicine that gives them a sense of self-empowerment regarding the important role that they play in restoring their health. “Realizing how their diet affects their entire body, from autoimmune response to weight and mood management, is the most important thing we can help patients to understand. When they get that their condition, which took years to develop as a result of poor diet, vitamin deficiencies and a sedentary lifestyle takes time to restore, then they understand why there are no quick fixes,” advises Harris.

“Finding the right balance between vitamin supplements, nutrients and existing medications can help to alleviate stresses on the body and mind, relieve chronic aches or pains and improve the balance of hormones and blood sugar levels, which all affect thoughts and moods,” says Harris.

The results of University of California, Los Angeles, Alzheimer’s researcher Dale Bredesen caught the attention of Dr. Pamela Hughes. “This personalized, 36-point plan, including a high-fat/low-carb diet, intermittent fasting, a strict sleep schedule, select dietary supplements and other lifestyle changes that yielded unprecedented results is good to share with patients when informing them about the brain/gut connection and how their lifestyle choices are impacting their brain health,” advises the owner of Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, in Naples.

Hughes has personally observed significant improvement in stroke patients for which she prescribed time in the center’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber, a nutrient-dense, clean diet, a brain support supplement and exercise. “I see a noticeable difference in these patients, as well as in 50-year olds with memory impairment,” she says.

After Hughes read two eye-opening books, Mental Resilience: The Power of Clarity: How to Develop the Focus of a Warrior and the Peace of a Monk and Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, she began recommending them to patients as resources for managing stress, which has a significant impact on the brain and cardiovascular system. “The brain needs to rest, and these books explain the benefits of mental calm and focus. I also encourage patients to do crossword puzzles and brain games such as Luminosity, which tracks their progress,” notes Hughes.

“The mind was not designed for the onslaught of voluminous information we burden it with today,” says Terri Evans, DOM, and owner of TAE Healthy Aging, in Naples. She notes that with the emphasis on intellect and developing memory skill, the cognitive skill of creative reasoning has been ignored, and therefore atrophied. “Our ability to memorize is only one aspect of what the mind is capable of.  Creating something new out of memorized information or using it for problem solving is an integral part of our human evolution. With the decline in creative reasoning, we have seen an increase in memory loss,” says Evans.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, patients that present with depression in its beginning stages generally have stagnation in their energetic field. “This can eventually create biochemical changes that manifest in physical changes. Mucous-forming foods like gluten and dairy can also create stagnation, leaving the individual feeling heavy. Acupuncture moves stagnant energy, which is why it is beneficial in the treatment of depression. Addressing diet and lifestyle habits that contribute to the stagnation is an important aspect of Evans’ treatment plan.

For severe depression in individuals that do not respond to medication, Dr. Robert Gilliland, owner of Southwest Florida Natural Health, in Bonita Springs, recommends pulsed electromagnetic frequency therapy (PEMF). “Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for severe depression, it also improves cognitive health by increasing micro-circulation and cellular energy in all cells, including brain cells,” says Gilliland who has seen results in his patients.

Wendy Law, co-founder of Yollo Wellness, in Fort Myers, can cite numerous examples of clients that have recovered from depression, brain fog and lethargy with the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. “Saturating the brain with oxygen relieves stress, anxiety, and reduces blood pressure,” says Law, who jokes that she often has to first convince clients to trade their dependency on candy bars for energy. “We call the chamber the happy pill, because of its remarkable results in a short time,” says Law.

Evie Breedlove Mangora, founder of Inner Essence Health, practices out of Wellbridges, in Bonita Springs. She previously practiced traditional primary care medicine in Michigan, working with patients that had high anxiety and depression. “Medications and dosage were a trial-and-error process, which is why I was excited to learn about functional medicine and the role that low-grade gut inflammation plays in all chronic disease, including depression,” says Mangora, who recalls that her medical education included little about nutrition. We were given a list of health issues and matching possibilities for prescriptions. Patients tried them and then returned in three months to report the results.

“No one could have predicted 10 years ago that medical science would discover the gut and brain connection, how we can use genetics in preventive medicine or how much damage antibiotics have done to our gut,” says Deborah Post, founder of Wellbridges. She encourages health professionals to find more ways of educating the public about the role they play in their health, as well as the necessity of taking probiotics and how toxins in food and the environment interfere with communication between gut and brain.

Kimberly Rodgers, owner of Monarch Therapy, in Naples, works with patients suffering from depression and anxiety, which is often the result of difficulty in adjusting to life changes such as loss of a loved one, divorce, physical relocation and family illness. Rodgers uses a comprehensive assessment to look at their big picture, including dietary information, which is why she has a health coach on staff.

“Dietary changes are huge transitions for patients who are without coping skills and accustomed to eating comfort foods, fast food, drinking coffee and consuming sugary snacks throughout the day,” explains Rodgers.

Individuals seeking a quick prescriptive fix move on when Rodgers advises that it’s not offered. Clients that make the greatest progress are those willing to make adjustments in all areas of their life—self-care, diet, exercise, interactions with family and friends, and finding purpose and fulfillment. Severe cases such as anorexia, bulimia and diabetes are referred out to a nutritionist.

David Martin, DOM, and Deborah Martin, medicinal food consultant, owners of Lotus Blossom Clinic, in Fort Myers have a friendly and inviting method for teaching individuals to understand food as medicine. Their Food Healing Classes (learning and tasting events), and occasional cooking classes include Making Probiotic Foods with 90 Billion Critters. “We are certified in and teach from a food healing system called Conquering Any Disease. Alzheimer’s and depression have food-healing protocols in this system,” says Deborah.

Dr. David Perlmutter’s latest focus is on an impressive new term, “psychobiotics”, which he defines as living organisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produce a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness. The author of Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect advises that the reason scientists have developed this terminology is because new research clearly demonstrates that certain probiotic organisms have a dramatic effect on regulating mood.

His important take-home message from this research is that we should do everything we can to preserve and protect our gut bacteria by reassessing our food and medication choices, as well as various lifestyle factors. It makes sense that if we compromise the levels of these and other probiotic bacterial species within us, it may well pave the way for debilitating mood disorders.

Local Resources

D-Signed Nutrition, 3531 Bonita Bay Blvd., Ste. 300 Bonita Springs. 239-676-5249.

Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, 800 Goodlette Rd., Naples, 239-649-7400.

Inner Essence Health, 239-777-4647.

Lotus Blossom Clinic, 6710 Winkler Rd., Ste. 2, Ft. Myers, 239-277-1399,

Monarch Therapy, 843 Myrtle Terr., Naples, 12264 Tamiami Tr. E., Ste. 202, Naples. 239-231-3208.

Southwest Florida Natural Health, 27499 Riverview Center, Ste. 255, Bonita Springs,

TAE Healthy Aging Center, 11983 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 100A, Naples. 239-430-6800.

Wellbridges, 9200 Bonita Beach Rd., Ste. 113, Bonita Springs, 239-481-5600.

Yollo Wellness, 3033 Winkler Ave., Ft. Myers. 239-275-0039.

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