The ultimate guide to functional medicine

More than half of Australians and Americans are suffering from chronic health conditions, with the trend worsening. Functional medicine is the answer; modern healthcare reimagined. In this definitive guide to functional medicine, we’ll cover what functional medicine is, how it works, and why it’s the solution to the chronic disease crisis.

Table of contents

What is functional medicine?

Functional medicine is a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to healthcare that is personalised to each individual. It combines the holistic approach to health seen in traditional and alternative healthcare approaches with a modern understanding of biology, disease processes, testing, and medications to deliver effective health outcomes.

“Functional medicine is the best of both modern and traditional healthcare. It’s about figuring out the root cause of a health issue, and addressing it with strategies informed by science.”
- Jabe Brown
infographic two intersecting circles functional medicine unites conventional traditional healthcare

The functional medicine approach involves deep and broad investigation that considers a person’s whole health picture: diet and lifestyle factors, supported by comprehensive testing. It provides a unique roadmap for recovery for each person, with an emphasis on building long-term resilience.

It is now well understood that chronic diseases are caused by largely modifiable elements such as diet, lifestyle and environmental factors that switch on genes and promote disease. Functional medicine focuses not only on disease resolution, but prevention by reducing known risk factors that promote disease.

Functional medicine also recognises that health and disease are on a spectrum, and many conditions can be prevented, reversed, or put into remission. A functional medicine practitioner is trained to look for signs of dysfunction, a state that occurs before a condition fully manifests, and can recommend treatments to improve health and prevent disease, rather than relying on medications that mask symptoms.

infographic three emojis representing health dysfunction disease on a spectrum

This approach to chronic disease management can not only halt or reverse disease - it can also improve long-term health. Functional medicine is well placed to play a crucial role in influencing the trend of rapidly declining health and the growing burden on the healthcare system, which is predicted to worsen as the population ages.

Why do we need functional medicine?

Patient Izabella found herself visiting the doctor frequently after receiving her Hashimoto's diagnosis. She saw an endocrinologist to manage her thyroid hormone prescriptions, and a gastroenterologist for IBS-type symptoms such as diarrhoea and bloating. Izabella felt frustrated by the long wait times for specialist appointments, which often felt rushed. The prescription-based approach seemed to offer little in the way of dietary or lifestyle advice to manage her various complaints. Feeling alone and disempowered, Izabella felt caught up in a system where she didn't feel heard or valued as a person.

Izabella is not alone. Studies have revealed that many patients feel they are receiving suboptimal care, in a fragmented system that is poorly coordinated, leaving gaps in their care that lead to poor health outcomes.

Patients are looking for better evidence-based support for chronic conditions, being engaged more in their care that has a focus on prevention and health, with improved coordination and follow-ups to ensure continuity of their care. This is precisely what functional medicine sets out to achieve.

Who does functional medicine help?

Functional medicine can help people with chronic health conditions, including autoimmunity, neurological conditions, hormonal disorders, cardiovascular conditions, digestive issues, and skin disorders. It can also be used in acute settings such as viral infections like COVID-19.

Some health concerns elude diagnosis, yet with an in-depth understanding of human biology and pathophysiology, can be helped by following signs, symptoms and using clinical tools like functional testing to pinpoint and address potential root causes of dysfunction.​

The many chronic diseases or health challenges that functional medicine can help with include:

People with seemingly unrelated symptoms that don’t fit neatly into a specific category or condition can also benefit from the functional medicine approach. A perfect example is Izabella, who had bloating and diarrhoea, as well as thyroid and autoimmune issues, which we often see in our clinic.

Many people in this situation are confused by which practitioner or specialist they need to see. With the functional medicine approach, practitioners can help by taking a 360° view of their health to determine what’s going on their body, and why. In many cases, while symptoms can seem disparate and unconnected, often the same causes or contributing factors are at play, and through a thorough understanding of the interconnectedness of systems in the human body, symptoms that seem disconnected suddenly make sense.

Other people who benefit from functional medicine are those in good health who want to prevent disease, extend their lives, or optimise their health now, such as elite athletes, biohackers, high-performance seekers, and optimal health enthusiasts.

How functional medicine is done - the process

So you might be wondering - how is functional medicine actually practiced? Functional medicine is a framework, and because functional medicine practitioners include doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors and even nurses, the way functional medicine is practiced will vary depending on what type of practitioner you see. However, all practitioners of functional medicine follow certain principles while working with patients to help them recover their health. Let’s take a closer look.

Functional medicine is detective work

Functional medicine takes a detective-like approach to solving patient cases. It requires thinking about all the possible things that could be causing a person’s symptoms, then figuring out a way to explore and rule out each possibility. In our clinic, our practitioners create a timeline of a patient’s medical history, and map out their health picture including possible root causes and contributing factors. From there, they create a plan that they continually refine as they rule out causes until they hone in on what’s really going on with a patient. ​

This deep detective work takes time, incessant curiosity, and skill. To do this effectively, practitioners need to have a deep understanding of biology, biochemistry, and pathophysiology (disease conditions). This allows them to think creatively about potential solutions for each unique case.

“Functional medicine is a map, it’s a GPS system, a way of navigating through the landscape of an illness. It’s the medicine that connects the dots between all the things that are going wrong in our biology.”
- Mark Hyman

Functional medicine treats the root cause - with the aim being improved long-term health

Imagine caring for a tree: if the leaves went brown and spotty, you could paint them green to make them look better, or even cut them off. The symptoms will be gone, however, without having addressed the underlying problem, they will return. This is akin to using medications for rapid relief and symptom suppression. The symptoms might disappear for a while, however the underlying problem still exists, while the treatments themselves can often lead to further problems.​

Consider the management of high cholesterol. Statins reduce cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme used in its production. The same enzyme is also required to produce CoQ10, a critical antioxidant and cofactor involved in energy production - so synthesis of CoQ10 is reduced which can lead to side effects like fatigue and muscular pain, and an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus.

​Meanwhile, most heart attack patients have normal levels of LDL cholesterol, and new insights show that high cholesterol is often a symptom of other imbalances in the body, such as metabolic syndrome, intestinal hyperpermeability, changes in thyroid function, stress, underlying viral infections or toxin exposure.

Functional medicine asks not just ‘what is the best drug or intervention for rapid relief of this disease?’, but also ‘why did it occur, and what needs to be resolved  in order for a return to  health?’.​

The health of a tree is dependent on the environment it lives in (soil, access to sun, water etc.). In the same way, human health is determined by ‘the exposome’: factors like nutrition, stress, pollution, exercise, relationships, and sleep. For a tree, the problem might be a lack of sun, or excess water. For a person with a chronic disease or other chronic health issue, it might be poor nutrition, stress or heavy metal toxicity. By addressing these factors, health can be restored, and longevity maximised.

infographic tree above ground representing conditions root system below ground representing causes
“Functional medicine asks not just ‘what is the best drug or intervention for rapid relief of this disease?’, but also ‘why did it occur, and what needs to be resolved  in order for a return to  health?’.”

Functional medicine practitioners look for the root causes of illness. They do this by looking for:

This is why a thorough case taking is the first step in the investigative process. No stone should be left unturned, as even a minor clue can be the key to putting a person’s health puzzle together.

Functional medicine takes a holistic approach to understand how the whole body works

Functional medicine is a ‘systems biology’ approach to medicine that looks at the body as a whole rather than focusing solely on isolated body parts or systems. While specialist knowledge is a valuable part of detective work, disease states and chronic disease management can be complex, involving many different biological systems. By taking a holistic view of the body, functional medicine practitioners can provide more comprehensive and individualised care to patients.​

One of the most well-known examples of the interconnectivity of body systems is the psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune (PNEI) system. The nervous, endocrine and immune systems have been identified as a super system, which can be influenced by psychological factors, highlighting the detrimental impact that stress can have on the body. In autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, psychosocial stressors, for example, may impact the nervous system and lead to high levels of inflammatory immune cells called cytokines, pro-inflammatory hormones, and downregulation of anti-inflammatory hormones.

infographic showing linked relationship of central nervous system endocrine system immune system

The body is interconnected, with systems working together directly or indirectly to keep the body in homeostasis - a dynamic adaptability in response to the internal and external environment.

​In the case of an autoimmune condition, rather than simply seeing the immune system as the issue, a functional medicine practitioner will look to assess the health of other systems such as the nervous system or digestive system, depending on a patient’s health picture, to determine the cause.

A broad overview of system interactions
System Other system interactions
Digestive Cardiovascular, muscular, nervous, endocrine, detoxification, urinary, immune
Cardiovascular Respiratory, digestive, lymphatic, immune, nervous, endocrine, detoxification
Nervous All systems
Immune Cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, skeletal, skin, digestive
Endocrine (hormones) Nervous, cardiovascular, reproductive, skeletal, immune
Detoxification Skin, respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, urinary, lymphatic
Urinary Digestive, cardiovascular, endocrine, detoxification
Reproductive Endocrine, nervous, digestive, immune
Respiratory Cardiovascular, detoxification, nervous, muscular
Skeletal Muscular, cardiovascular, immune, respiratory
Muscular Nervous, skeletal, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular
Lymphatic Immune, cardiovascular, skeletal/muscular
Skin Digestive, detoxification, nervous,endocrine, immune, lymphatic

Because of the complexity of the body, the functional medicine approach recognises that there is rarely a sole cause of a chronic disease state. As seen in the example below, there are many factors contributing to diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) such as inflammation, hormones, genetics, epigenetics, diet, exercise and mood disorders.

infopgrahic depicting many lifestyle imbalances leading to illness disease

On the flip side, many conditions can be caused by one imbalance. For example, chronic inflammation is a cause or driver of many - if not all - chronic health conditions, notably including heart disease, depression, arthritis, cancer and obesity.

infographic depicting how one imbalance can be the root cause of many conditions

This is why personalised care is a key approach of functional medicine.

Everyone is different, so care is patient centred and personalised

Taking all of this into consideration is the reason why functional medicine is a deeply personalised approach. Rather than applying one protocol to many patients with the same health problem, functional medicine practitioners take the time to learn about each individual's diet, lifestyle and health history (including family history) in order to develop a truly tailor-made treatment plan that matches their biochemical individuality. It’s about solving a person’s health puzzle rather than solving a condition.  

By combining their clinical expertise with the latest evidence in the scientific literature and their patient's health narrative, functional medicine practitioners are able to create a strategy that is unique to each person. This approach always considers 'what will be right for this patient?' and, as such, patients not only discover how to get their health back, but also how to live in alignment with what their body needs to be healthy.

This means that two people with the same diagnosis will likely get a completely different treatment plan that targets the root causes and drivers of their condition.

For example, two people with the same autoimmune condition can have entirely different contributing factors and root causes, requiring distinctly different treatments.

infographic comparing two women with same condition different causes drivers treatment

Patient 1 - Izabella

Alongside her primary health concern of an autoimmune diagnosis, Izabella, our patient example from earlier on, was experiencing IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating after eating meals, and ongoing stress due to family issues.  

The detective work​

As autoimmunity can be triggered or driven by stress, an imbalance in the gut microbiome and food sensitivities, this led the practitioner to run a comprehensive stool analysis to understand Izabella’s digestive environment, as well as food sensitivity testing to help identify what foods might be causing her bloating after meals. The stool analysis identified an imbalance in the gut microbiome (AKA gut dysbiosis), and the food sensitivity test revealed that the immune system was reacting to gluten, which was a staple of her diet. Gluten is a known trigger of autoimmunity, as it can weaken the intestinal wall, leading to proteins leaking into the bloodstream and causing an immune reaction along with inflammation. A current theory of how autoimmunity can arise is 'molecular mimicry', where the immune system creates an antibody to a foreign protein such as gluten that is similar to a protein in the body, such as the thyroid gland, causing the immune system to attack human tissue. Stress can also impact the gut microbiome and intestinal permeability, further driving autoimmunity, and can also be implicated in IBS.  

Izabella’s personalised plan​

The personalised plan Izabella’s practitioner put together included a gut healing protocol that sought to restore the gut microbiome and improve the intestinal wall integrity, a gluten-free diet, and a plan to help her manage her stress.

Patient 2 - Christine

When discussing Christine’s health history, it was revealed she had glandular fever (Epstein Barr Virus - EBV) around the time her health started to decline. She was also feeling constantly tired, with pronounced drops in energy throughout the day, particularly after meals where she also felt irritable and anxious, was overweight, and had ongoing mood and sleep issues.  

The detective work​

Viruses such as EBV are a known trigger for autoimmunity, with EBV recently being identified as a leading cause of multiple sclerosis. After a thorough assessment of her diet and lifestyle, it was noted that she was consuming a high intake of processed sugar and foods, mostly living on takeaway and store-bought foods, which is a key trigger and driver of autoimmune conditions. Her diet and fluctuating energy levels alongside her irritability and anxiety pointed towards suboptimal blood glucose control, which her practitioner confirmed by having Christine monitor her blood glucose levels with a glucometer before and after meals. Her ongoing energy, mood and sleep health challenges, alongside autoimmunity, led the practitioner to consider methylation as a factor. Hypomethylation of DNA has been implicated in gene expression associated with autoimmunity, so was identified as a possible antecedent for autoimmunity to occur. As methylation is a process essential to healthy detoxification, energy production, and neurotransmitter synthesis, Christine’s practitioner ran a methylation profile to confirm their hypothesis, which demonstrated that Christine’s methylation was suboptimal.​

Christine’s personalised plan

Christine’s treatment plan involved antiviral treatment using antiviral and immune-modulating compounds in the medicinal mushroom Reishi, a diet to improve blood glucose control, and micronutrient supplementation to support methylation.

As you can see, while each of those cases started at the same point, the underlying causes and solutions were dramatically different. This factor can explain why randomised controlled trials, where a group with the same health challenge is treated with the same intervention, falls short as the best source of evidence for whether an intervention will work for all people with that condition.

Functional medicine's personalised treatment makes it difficult to replicate in this type of study to test the effectiveness of the approach, however, cohort research has been done on the functional medicine approach, with promising outcomes.

A 28-week study in 2016 demonstrated significant improvements to stress, energy, fatigue, digestive issues, and quality of life in middle-aged women, and a more recent study reported significantly better quality of life outcomes for patients with chronic illnesses such as autoimmunity, neurological conditions, hormonal disorders, cardiovascular conditions, digestive disorders and skin disorders than those treated conventionally.

Functional testing is often critical to the detective work

Functional medicine seeks to empower patients, engaging and partnering them in their health journey

All the best testing, diagnoses and treatment strategies mean nothing without implementation. This is why functional medicine prioritises empowering patients and partnering with them on their journey to good health. People are complex creatures – not just in body, but in mind - so an effective care plan requires a deep understanding of people and behaviour change.​

Fostering a collaborative relationship helps patients feel heard and supported, while also giving them a sense of control and agency over their own care plan.​

Some functional medicine practitioners, like in our clinic, are going one step further and incorporating health coaches into their healthcare teams. Our health coaches provide ongoing support and guidance between practitioner sessions, helping patients set goals, learn self-management skills, and promote behaviour change that leads to lasting improvements in health. This allows us to focus more time and attention on each individual case, leading to better health outcomes.​

Through this empowering relationship between practitioner, health coach, and patient, we encourage our patients to take ownership of their health and participate in their healing. Part of this approach includes increasing a patient’s ‘health literacy’ - understanding the factors that contribute to their health and being in tune with their bodies. This level of connection and understanding is essential for true healing to take place, and gives people tools to manage their health for a long, healthy life.

infographic venn diagram with patient results at centre of patient practitioner healch coach

Why functional medicine is the future of healthcare

With chronic diseases predicted to rise across the globe, and with hospital systems already overwhelmed by mostly preventable conditions, functional medicine is perfectly placed to solve the healthcare crisis, given its role not only in disease resolution, but prevention through education and empowerment.  

Highly individualised care involves a substantial amount of time and effort from both clinicians and patients, and until functional medicine receives the recognition and subsidy it deserves, the testing and treatment can be expensive.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And the benefits of investing in an approach that can prevent or reverse a condition and improve quality of life, seem certainly worthwhile. Yet, the adoption of the functional medicine approach requires a complete paradigm shift by the medical industry, to recognise that getting to the root cause of a chronic disease is more economical than managing that disease over the long-term.

Watch Mark Hyman’s TEDMED talk on why functional medicine is the future of medicine

Functional medicine is here, and perfectly placed to care for patients' health based on the latest clinical research and insights. So if you’re after a personalised, collaborative, and supportive approach to solving your health problems, functional medicine is your best bet right now. Not only will it cost you less money in the long run, you’ll also live a higher quality, longer life. And you can’t put a price on that.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
- Thomas Edison

Case studies - functional medicine success stories

These case studies are from real patients (names changed to protect identity) to show you the functional medicine approach in action.

Jenny’s story

Jenny came to see us when she was 26. She'd had acne since she was 16.

Understanding the problem

Jenny had taken two courses of Roaccutane and was on her 9th month of antibiotics.  All of her blood work and her pelvic ultrasound was normal. Yet she had an erratic cycle length (30 - 45 days) and chronic acne.

We did some functional hormone testing and discovered that the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone was out of balance, with oestrogen being too high, leading to an oestrogen dominant situation - a key cause of acne.

Implementing the solution

We used herbal medicines to raise her progesterone levels, whilst encouraging her body to efficiently detoxify oestrogen to restore hormonal balance.

Achieving an incredible result

Her skin just kept getting better and better. Now she uses only foods to maintain that oestrogen clearance. Jenny has now been acne free now for 4 years!

Samantha’s story

When Samantha came into our clinic 2 years ago, she immediately burst into tears. Health Coach Bee sat and comforted her and could see that there was a lot of pain in Sam’s world. She was deeply emotional, crying many times a day, feeling out of control of her emotions, exhausted, out of rhythm, “just coping”. Like many of us, Sam attempted to ‘pull herself together’, but Bee recommended that in her session with Practitioner Jabe, she let it out all – be as honest as she felt safe to be. And to her credit she did.

Understanding the problem

Sam’s main presenting concern was fatigue. During the initial consult with Jabe, it became clear that her thyroid and sex hormones were out of whack along with some digestive issues. A conscientious mum of two, Sam had always worked hard and put her kids first. She is an incredibly devoted mum and wife (and friend) and consistently put others ahead of herself.

The primary focus for Sam, in order for her body to want to come back to a healthy state, was to spend more time in the Parasympathetic (rest, digest, reproduce and repair). Previously, as someone who took her phone to bed, we encouraged Sam to establish a healthy bedtime routine whereby she took off her makeup, cleaned up the kitchen (this gave her peace) and make the last hour or so before bed completely relaxing. It’s called sleep hygiene. Also, please leave your phone in the kitchen and don’t take it to the bedroom!

Implementing the solution

Ever conscientious, Sam started to implement the lifestyle strategies her team recommended.

She responded well to the introduction of the Auto Immune Protocol and the feedback was positive in a short amount of time. She told us she was still tired, but not fatigued, had no more brain fog, no more muscle aches and almost no pain with her period. Whilst it may seem like quite a simple fix, there was still some work to be done.

Sam came off the Oral Contraceptive Pill, took some supportive supplements and continued to work on her approach to life – specifically the ability to let go and put herself first (as Jabe said "Well done in prioritising yourself. Keep at it! You are worth it .")

And Sam was making progress, but not without frustration – there was a time, about 9 months in, when Sam had antibody testing and it showed an increase. She had periods of increased stress which meant it was more difficult for her to stick with her new behaviours and confessed to snacking on a well-known ‘glass and a half’ chocolate brand. She had a flare up after a family member had an accident, which resulted in serious acute stress on Sam. Gently coming back on track, she soon found her rhythm again, reframed her stress and sent through a heart-filled message showing outstanding antibody and thyroid results. The body wants to heal – we need to give it the right environment.

During the healing process, Sam started to uncover the real her – the woman she hadn’t previously had access to when so busy helping other people. She told Bee “I’m still emotional, but that’s who I am. I cry for things now but it’s not the same. I even tell the kids about some of my experiences”. She found her niche, her menstrual cycle regulated, her energy stabilised and she told Health Coach Bee “The greatest gift I was ever given was 4-7-8” (a breathing technique we encourage our patients to employ). She understood that stress was one of her greatest triggers, that this had a downstream effect on her wellbeing, and that she now has a robust spiritual practice that keeps her well. She told Bee “My biggest thing is that I have the tools. It is my responsibility to instill them.”

Achieving an incredible result

We worked closely with Sam and her GP to make sure we were tracking her sex and thyroid hormones and making any necessary adjustments. Sam’s willingness to reassess who she is, meant that her progress was ongoing and her health continued to trend in a positive direction. Her energy improved such that she no longer experiences fatigue and is intimately aware of her upper levels of exertion. Her monthly cycles have settled into a stable rhythm and she finds herself setting healthy boundaries in her life as well as having deeper emotional connections with her loved ones.

Tony’s story

When Tony first came to us, his diet was pretty ‘clean’ (he followed a Paleo template) and he described his primary concerns as a lack of energy and a history of gut problems. He had lived in the tropics previously and had blastocystis, dientoemeba and had also been exposed to mould. He was so fatigued, in fact, that he had quit his job because he simply couldn’t function.

Understanding the problem

By the time he came in, Tony was ready to do anything. He was so sick of being sick. Jabe asked him to really focus on recharging the body as we continued to get clarity around his picture.

It was established in the four-hour initial consult that it would be important to address all key elements of life with Tony, including sleep, diet, stress management and support with supplements. Practitioner Jabe directed him to some apps to help introduce Tony to meditation, as well as some podcasts that would help Tony access some concepts of philosophy and take some of his attention away from such a strong health focus (because attention is good, but too much attention can become detrimental).

Simultaneously, Tony saw a jaw specialist who was treating him for TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues, in order to lessen his headaches and improve sinus issues.

Implementing the solution

We wanted to encourage Tony to change the way he interacted with his world. He told us that he had always gone at lightning speed, had always been spontaneous and whenever, in his recovery journey, he saw times of improved energy, his inclination was to go go go! 

Recommending that someone change how they think, react and move through their world is a very long game. It was clear that Tony was invested in the change process.

Two months into working with Tony, with regular meditation, plenty of rest and a refined supplement prescription, he had a period of rapid improvement. In fact, he told us it was the best month he had had in a long time. He decided that he didn’t have a need for close coaching and felt confident that he could ‘go it alone’. During this time, Tony was excited and so let some of the foundation behaviours slip. He stopped meditating and let his yoga practice go as well as significantly increasing his social commitments.

Shortly after, when chatting with Health Coach Bee, he recognised that the few things that had slipped had, in fact, made a real impact on his recovery progress. He had started taking on more events socially, and he told Bee “I’m disappointed with myself for going back to old behaviour”. This is the very nature of human behaviour. There can be a strong drive away from a pain; the motivation is clear – to not be in pain. As that pain begins to resolve, we revert back to who we are (or were). Conceptually, it’s why shake diets so often leave people gaining more weight – they are not taught how to behave in a new way (in this case, healthy cooking/eating). Bee and Tony chatted about the benefits of creating a meditation practice – one in which he became present more frequently (strengthening those neural pathways) and then in the future, when his energy is consistently better, he is more likely to make appropriate choices about how he spends his energy.

Achieving an incredible result

Several supplements had a significant impact on Tony’s energy and sense of wellbeing. On writing this case story, testing is still underway to understand what underlies the fatigue. We’re looking at both mould and heavy metals, but we’re happy to report we have an engaged patient who is open to settling into a new way of being. He is self aware and has already seen great improvements to his wellbeing.

Joanne’s story

Joanne came to Melbourne Functional Medicine with a goodie bag of health worries. She was chronically fatigued and struggled to push through her training commitments, she had bloating, anxiety and sleeping problems. Joanne felt wound up and under energised.

Understanding the problem

In working with Jabe they were able to identify a number of important lifestyle choices that were compounding her symptoms.

Implementing the solution

Jabe prescribed a specific nutrition protocol to address her underlying digestive issues and to support her energy levels. Bee came on to support Joanne in a health coaching role and developed a tailored meal plan for Joanne with recipes, a shopping list and had a number of phone conversations with Joanne to ensure she understood the protocol and felt confident.

Achieving an incredible result

Within two weeks Joanne reported (excitedly) that by eating more regularly and making congruent food choices her energy levels had skyrocketed.

Her training had improved and her friends and family were all commenting on her elevated energy and attitude. Her bloating had also resolved. When talking with Bee she seemed most excited by the absence of anxiety.

This alone can be a taxing and socially alienating experience so to overcome this so quickly was valuable.

James’ story

James was 17 years old when he first came to us. He was covered from his neck to his ankles in eczema. There was bad scarring behind his knees from the constant itching scratching. James also had a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder and was verbal, enjoyed learning at school, but not a fan of eye contact.

Understanding the problem

A thorough assessment revealed that he was also constipated despite drinking a lot of water and had congested sinuses most of the time. Historically, he wasn’t breast fed, and the eczema developed in his infancy. He also had a period in his childhood of multiple urinary tract infections (due to a congenital malformation) and required treatment with many courses of antibiotics. His bowel motions were never quite the same.

A holistic assessment of James indicated that there were multiple factors in the past and present contributing to his eczema:

• Early exposure to bovine based formula and the onset of eczema point to intolerances. The inflammation created by food intolerances can express systemically, and likely in this case both in bowel and skin.

• Recurrent courses of antibiotics disturbing microbiome ecology, and potentially leading to constipation, compromising a key pathway of detoxification and impacting the behaviour of the immune system (eczema, chronic upper respiratory congestion).

• When key paths of detoxification are impaired, this can over burden other systems such as the skin and lymph.

Implementing the solution

We assessed food intolerances by blood test and discovered that dairy, almonds and eggs were the main offenders.  After eliminating the problem foods from James’ diet, we observed a significant reduction in eczema. He then binged on ice-cream and it returned, which was a great reminder for him.

Achieving an incredible result

After the small slip-up, James got back on the elimination diet and after 16 weeks his eczema completely cleared up.  You can see the remarkable improvements in the before and after images below and as you can imagine, James couldn’t be happier with the results we achieved together.

Amy’s story

Amy was 11yo when her mother brought her to see us. She had lots of tiny little bumps across her forehead and was getting self conscious about them at school. The other kids were starting to notice and say things about it. Her mum also commented that she’d started to develop noticeable body odour, which is unusual in a girl of her age.  

Understanding the problem

Questioning revealed she was constipated (moving her bowels every second day), had tummy pains and snored very loudly. An ear, nose, throat specialist had flagged the need for surgery to remove her enlarges adenoids. Her sister and father have food reactions.

The global nature of her symptoms and family suggested that they could be attributed to food sensitivities.  Testing revealed strong reactions to egg, dairy and gluten.

Implementing the solution

After removing the foods for 3 months, whilst repairing the gut, her body odour completely went away, the snoring stopped, she resumed normal daily bowel motions and the rash on her forehead remitted.  Most significantly when the ear nose and throat specialist examined her, the size of her adenoids had resumed to normal (which explained the snoring disappearing). The specialist remarked that he’d never seen such large adenoids shrink back to normal size so rapidly.

Achieving an incredible result

Food sensitivities can affect many parts of the body by launching an immune response and especially can cause gut inflammation and damage. IgG food sensitivity testing does not show allergies. It detected reactions that are delayed and cumulative.  At the same time as eliminating the foods for 3 months, additional work is done to reduce gut inflammation and restore integrity and to reduce the inflammatory response by the immune system.

Brenda’s story

A married 55yo woman came to see us. She runs a company, is married and her children are out of home. She was stressed about her weight gain of 10kg in 2 years.

An in-depth analysis of the problem

She was eating about half the kilojoules required for a woman her age, was going to the gym three times a week, as well as walking and gardening on weekends. Her sleep had become fitful, and whilst she was able to ‘push through’ her fatigue, she knew she couldn’t do this for long.  Her flushes and sweats were manageable for her. Her daughter, who we had treated for food intolerances, referred her.

Implementing the solution

The treatment focused on ironing out the oestrogen fluctuations through modulation with herbs and dietary changes (phytoestrogenic rich foods), and investigating her thyroid function. We discovered that she had developed an autoimmune thyroid condition, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, since her menstrual cycle changed. This is unfortunately not so uncommon for women to experience as a result of a significant transition in hormonal development (it often happens after childbirth too).

Her thyroid function was probably also being affected by the excess oestrogen (menopause) and cortisol (high stress job). And there was now the autoimmune aspect to manage. 

Autoimmunity generates inflammation when the body is attacking itself by mistake.

We used herbal medicine to lower her antibodies, modulate oestrogen and support the adrenals by lowering cortisol. We also focused on stress management techniques, and she reduced her work hours for a period of time to allow her body to recover.

Achieving an incredible result

After 3 months she had lost 5kg, was eating more and doing the same amount of exercise.

She felt energised and clear headed and lost the remaining weight over the following months.

Tanya’s story

Tanya came to us with some gut and joint pain issues with a focus on optimising her health. What we discovered quite quickly, was that learning lifestyle skills has turned out to be valuable for Tanya. She sought advice about healthy snacks, how to eat well (the actual act of eating), and how to move well.

Understanding the problem

We learnt that Tanya had bowel variability – she tended towards constipation, couldn’t go to the bathroom when staying away from home, was tired, had painful periods and her bowels became loose around period time. She is a hard-working business owner and being well is important for her. In a session with Bee, she identified that health, inner peace and mindfulness were amongst her highest values.

Implementing the solution

The process with Tanya has been a series of mini experiments and she has learnt an awful lot about her body. She now has a clear understanding of what food her body likes and doesn’t – those experiments have been absolute. She knows when she needs to slow down. With ongoing variability in the bathroom, Jabe asked Tanya to carve out time to just sit – don’t rush this. Making this particular adjustment has seen Tanya’s entire bowel-moving experience change. She now goes, easily, every day. She recently reported that she’d gone away and had success going to the bathroom there!

Achieving an incredible result

“I did two poos yesterday – I was so excited.”

We celebrate all the wins 🙂

Michaela’s story

Michaela came to us because she was suffering from psoriasis and it was having a significant impact on the way she was living her life. Being in her early 30’s, socialising was a big (and important) part of Michaela’s life. Going to music festivals was her outlet and most of her social interactions included drinking alcohol.

Understanding the problem

Michaela had been living with psoriasis since she was a teenager and was already able to identify that there were some things that directly impacted her psoriasis, like stress, sun, salt and alcohol. This was great awareness and important information.

Taking the time to really explore a patient’s history is critical for us. Because we believe that everybody can –with the right conditions– heal, we need to really figure out what has been going on, and why. This is where Michaela was so great; she knew she was sensitive to chemicals because whenever she walked down the cleaning aisle, she sneezed. Her skin was sensitive to personal care products, and she got shocking hangovers. Together, this told us that her ability to detoxify was a point of concern, so straight away we had some good information about where to pay attention (the liver and other elimination channels).

Implementing the solution

Being suspicious of gluten for her, we also put her on a gluten-free diet. After a month we hadn’t seen a significant change. With inflammation being a primary target, functional medicine practitioner Jabe recommended Michaela start an Auto Immune Protocol (AIP). This is one of the more intensive food protocols but is incredibly powerful when wanting to find out the role food is playing when it comes to immune interactions and inflammation. Giving up booze was tricky, as it really was the cornerstone of social life, but with Health Coach Bee, they came up with some strategies around how to navigate those social times as well as staying crystal clear about why she was doing it (big-picture goals).

Once Michaela had spent some time doing AIP, it was clear that food was indeed causing an inflammatory response (expressing through her skin). After a couple of months there was a noticeable improvement in her skin, but it had not completely resolved. We dug a little deeper with a Food Inflammation Test and it turns out pumpkin and spinach were causing problems for her. This was powerful information as we weren’t likely to guess that these were foods to be avoided!

Michaela’s skin improved further, and we learned that in addition to pumpkin and spinach, she had problems with legumes, and grains in general, but otherwise didn’t need to be as strict as AIP.

Although we were supporting her liver, and now had absolute values on which foods were showing up as inflammatory, the most significant piece to Michaela’s puzzle was stress. Working in a high stress industry, we needed to help her develop skills and habits that would support her body. Michaela leaned-in to daily journaling and gratitude, as well as building a robust meditative practice. She started walking to work so that she had some ‘empty brain’ time and worked with her Health Coach, Bee, to come up with some affirmations, which helped her navigate moments of anxiety.

Achieving an incredible result

During a particularly busy and stressful period over Christmas (after working with her health team for 11 months), where work was requiring longer hours, parents were visiting from overseas and she was given a leadership role at work, she told us that she noticed she wasn’t as stressed as she would previously have been. Hooray! She had taken the time to build those habits to the degree that they simply became part of her everyday routine – like brushing her teeth. As those neural pathways strengthen, so too does the physiological response, which is why, when stress pressed down on her, she displayed more resilience.

At last report, Michaela’s skin is great. She has maintained her meditative practice, eats well (the way her body likes it), and she has clarity around her thresholds for stress – and what to do about it.

Ava’s story

Ava was 8 when her mum first contacted us. The family lives in country NSW and asked whether we could help with eczema that Ava had since age 3. Her eczema was worsening, and she was starting to get staph infections.

They had previously tried a number of approaches, including the GAPS diet for 12 months, with varied success. Ava was also feeling very low in energy, which is unusual for a primary school aged child, indicating a significant loss of vitality. She also had to avoid swimming lessons as the chlorine would sting her skin.

Understanding the problem

After speaking with her mother at length about Ava’s eczema during the initial consultation, it became obvious that it appeared after taking antibiotics as a toddler for some ear/nose/throat infections, that temporarily went into remission before happening again at age 6, following further antibiotic treatment.  

The family had also relocated on several occasions across different climatic zones, which may have irritated the skin barrier and introduced different bacteria/fungi to the skin microbiome.

Additional contributing factors were stress from moving on Ava, fitting in at different schools, on top dealing with her eczema. When the body is stressed it has limited ability to heal itself.

The GAPS diet, whilst effective for some, was not helpful despite a thorough application of the principles for 12mths. A low salicylate approach appeared to be somewhat helpful, however did not produce a complete resolution. Her practitioner recommended food sensitivity testing, which showed that Ava had a number of immune mediated food sensitivities, such as eggs, which she had been eating daily on the GAPS diet.

We also tested her digestion with comprehensive stool microbiome mapping and discovered a significant imbalance in gut flora (dysbiosis), as well as the presence of the parasites giardia and dientamoeba fragilis, and low gut related immunity (secretory IgA).  Ava had no digestive symptoms or parasites, however sometimes they can exist in low enough numbers to be asymptomatic, yet still enough to be a source of irritation and inflammation contributing to the overall burden of inflammation. Additionally, an imbalance in gut flora affects how the entire immune system behaves, tending toward a more inflammatory response that is associated with eczema.

In summary, the assessment of Ava’s situation was eczema aggravated by intestinal inflammation and hyperpermeability secondary to food sensitivities, aggravated by dysbiosis and the presence of pathogens.

Implementing the solution

The first step was to provide Ava with the nutrients required to heal the existing damaged skin and the digestive tract. To reduce inflammation, we removed the foods that were identified in testing. This provided some relief, although not completely, so we experimented with limiting dietary salicylates as these natural compounds can be inflammatory for some people. In the background, progressive work was done to restore gut microbiome balance, and crowd out pathogenic species. Topical agents were also used to keep the skin moisturised and the barrier protected.

Ava’s mum was supported by her health coach with dietary requirements and substitutes. Food elimination can be tricky in family environments, and coaching can help minimise the impact on the rest of the family. This was achieved with the assistance of tools such as a Food Symptom Tracker. Through using this tracker, Ava was able to find consistencies with foods that were causing a symptom flare, as well as supporting her through the food challenge phase. This tool assisted both Ava and her mum to improve self-awareness about food and symptoms, and to have confidence when adding new foods back into Ava’s diet.

With the knowledge gained from both the food testing and symptom tracker, a personalised food plan was able to be developed and shared with Ava’s mum. This included recipes developed to include foods we knew were well tolerated by Ava. This also helped provide extra support for Ava’s mum to assist with family meal planning and meal preparation.

Ava was also of the age where she attended things like school camps, and through health coaching conversations, Ava’s mum was able to successfully implement strategies with both Ava and the school, such as improving communication with the school and helping build Ava’s confidence in personal food choices. These conversations helped Ava’s mum navigate these times where she had less control over food exposure without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Achieving an incredible result

With removal of the aggravating foods, Ava’s degree of itching improved significantly within 6 weeks. Less itching means less scratching which allows the skin time to improve. After this period, her skin just kept getting better.

After 3 months of treatment, Ava was able to resume swimming lessons, and after 4 months, she entered herself into 3 events at the school swimming carnival.

Since then, Ava has been able to introduce the foods that were originally a problem for her on a rotational basis, which means she can eat them without getting a reaction, just not every day.

Through health coaching, Ava’s mum was able to build confidence around how to provide Ava with skills to make informed food choices and improve self-awareness about how these food choices would impact her skin. Ava’s mum was also able to feel supported throughout the treatment program, and as a result, felt a reduced burden in having to be the main person responsible for navigating Ava’s health.

Alex’s story

Alex was 40 years old when he came to see us after being recently diagnosed as having hypertension with a blood pressure of 155/105 at rest. Alex was overweight which was normal for him since childhood, although he admits that over the last couple of years he has been carrying more weight than usual.

His GP had ordered a 24hr blood pressure monitor as well as an echocardiogram as Alex mentioned he frequently has heart palpitations, particularly when physically active at work. The echocardiogram showed a mild enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart with mild mitral valve regurgitation.

An in-depth analysis of the problem

During the initial consultation Alex was found to have a significant family history of cardiovascular disease on both his mother’s and father’s side, including hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia and myocardial infarction.

In the clinic, his blood pressure was found to be 160/103mmHg.

Recent blood results were reviewed during the consultation which showed that total cholesterol was elevated at 9.1mmol/L (HDL: 1.2mmol/L LDL: 7.2mmol/L TRIG: 1.5mmol/L).

At 185cm tall and a weight of 103kg, Alex’s BMI measured at 30, which is in the range for obesity. A waist/hip ratio of 1.1 is suggestive of central obesity which is associated with cardiovascular disease.

Dietary analysis showed a typical western diet which was high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and low in fresh fruits, vegetables and fibre. Water intake was suboptimal at approximately 500-750ml per day, with most fluids coming from coffee, soft drinks and alcohol. Alcohol intake averaged 2-4 standard drinks per day, usually beer, or occasionally bourbon and coke.

Alex was reasonably physically active with his work as a sales and client manager for retail pharmacy. Dedicated exercise included weekend walks or bike rides with the family.

Functional testing using a comprehensive cardiovascular profile including lipoprotein subfractions was undertaken. The results demonstrated elevated lipoprotein levels consistent with the elevated cholesterol results previously reviewed. Further analysis of the lipoprotein subfractions determined elevated lipoprotein (a) often seen in people with a genetic or familial predisposition to hypercholesterolaemia, or in people with a low vegetable, low fibre diet. Lipoprotein subfractions profile indicates a mean particle size in the low end of the normal ranges, although still indicative of a lower risk for coronary artery disease, the trend to the lower end of the ranges indicated the need to be responsive to these findings.

Fasting blood glucose was normal indicating there was no risk of blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance or development of Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

Other markers such as homocysteine and c-reactive protein were within normal ranges indicating a low risk for cardiometabolic disease, considered a much more serious chronic disease.

Over all these results indicated potential for early intervention preventative strategies to correct modifiable lifestyle factors, reduce body weight and central adiposity, and reduce blood pressure, thereby reducing risk for heart attack, stroke, or more serious chronic cardiometabolic disease progression.

Implementing the solution

Modifiable lifestyle factors have been consistently shown to have a significant effect on improving a person's cardiovascular risk profile. The 4 pillars of eat, sleep, move and de-stress were used to implement a number of strategies to improve Alex’s cardiovascular health.

A modified version of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was introduced. This included a diet that was abundant in fruits, vegetables and wholefoods, with a moderate amount of good quality lean meats and proteins. The diet was modified to remove dairy products as Alex had reported having some symptoms when consuming dairy, particularly milk. In addition, his health coach worked with Alex to increase his daily water intake and reduce daily alcohol intake.

As Alex was known to snore in his sleep, he was referred for a sleep study to check for obstructive sleep apnoea, a known risk factor for hypertension and development of cardiovascular disease. The results of the sleep study did not identify obstructive sleep apnoea, so with the guidance of his health coach, effective sleep hygiene strategies were used to improve the quality of Alex’s sleep.

Alex was encouraged to increase his dedicated exercise time to the recommended minimum threshold of 5hrs moderate to high intensity exercise per week. For Alex this included brisk walking for 30mins on most days of the week, and including muscle strengthening or resistance training on at least 2 days per week for a total of 1 hour. The health coach worked with Alex to help this become a regular part of his daily life.

As Alex had identified stress related to his work as having an impact on his energy levels and mental wellbeing, he worked closely with his coach to implement simple breathing exercises that he could perform throughout the day to offset the effects of stress. He also used a phone app to help him with guided mindfulness exercises.

A nutritional compound of Arginine and citrulline was prescribed to help improve endogenous nitric oxide production and improve blood vessel compliance. Fish oils which contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and have been shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure and assisting to correct the blood lipid profile, were prescribed. A high tocotrienol containing form of vitamin E was prescribed as it has been shown to be effective in lowering total cholesterol and LDL-c.

Achieving an incredible result

By working closely with his health coach, Alex was able to progressively introduce the various lifestyle strategies that were recommended. By the end of the 1st month his blood pressure was measured in the clinic at 140/85mmhg, placing it in the high normal range. Additionally Alex had lost 2 kgs in weight reducing his BMI to 29.5, representing a shift from the obese to the overweight range.

By the 3rd month Alex was completely comfortable with and enjoying his new diet and found that his family were now all eating much better then they had previously. The family were now a lot more active and exercising regularly together.

Alex continued to lose weight, reducing a further 9 kilos over 6 months to achieve a BMI of 26.9, slightly above his healthy weight for his height, but still representing a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk. Additionally his waist hip ratio had improved to 0.96 indicating that he was successful in reducing his central abdominal adiposity, considered a significant risk factor for cardiometabolic disease.

Alex’s blood pressure reduced further and stabilised around 135/80mmhg considered normal for a male his age. Over a period of 1 month he was weaned off the arginine compound with no rebound rise in blood pressure.

Follow up testing to check his cholesterol levels showed that total cholesterol had reduced 7.14 due an increase in HDL-c, reduction in LDL-c and triglycerides. This represents a significant improvement in lipid profile over 6 months, and with the changes Alex has made, it is expected to continue improving over time.

Lucy’s story

Lucy was 5 when she was referred to us by a speech pathologist.   Her mum was worried that she wasn’t going to be school ready, because she was getting sick every couple of weeks which would often  progress to croup. The recurrent upper respiratory infections had impacted her hearing earlier in life, which in turn hampered her learning.  She was also tired most of the time, and didn’t like the physicality of playing like other kids.  In fact, she’d rarely go outside. She was also a very fussy eater, choosing only “white foods” such as milk, bread, cakes and biscuits.  

Lucy was small for her age, had been late meeting most of her milestones, she could not breathe through her nose, and had speech and mannerisms that were underdeveloped for her age.  She also experienced eczema periodically.  Her mum reported that Lucy had been unwell most of her life and had also been constipated primarily since 3 months of age.

Understanding the problem

Lucy was a C-section baby and breastfed until 3 months of age, when she transitioned onto formula. Vaginal births and breast-feeding are considered to be protective and positive for a developing immune system. However, this isn’t possible for everyone due to circumstances, and can certainly be mitigated with appropriate interventions.

Functionally speaking, Lucy’s body was showing signs of stress from a young age, from about the time formula was introduced and worsened with solid food introduction. Excessive inflammation and mucous production had resulted in ear infections, grommets, lots of antibiotics, colds, coughs and croup.  Antibiotics would have caused changes in her gut microbiome diversity, affecting her capacity to digest foods, and further negatively affecting an already imbalanced immune/inflammatory response.

Practically speaking, having a constantly blocked nose would have impaired taste acuity, therefore influencing her choice of foods.  Her breathing difficulties would have impaired  oxygen exchange, and therefore the production of energy, hence her apathetic response.  Furthermore her innate immune resistance to infection was likely compromised by inadequate nutrients from her limited diet.

Implementing the solution

Therefore the treatment was aimed at several levels:

  • Preventing further infections to provide her respiratory system time to heal and to reduce exposure to antibiotics and prednisolone (steroids for inflammation)
  • Provide her body with the nutrients and building blocks to create a healthy immune response
  • Reduce inflammation and mucous production in her airways to facilitate oxygen exchange and improve energy
  • Improve quality and regularity of bowel motions - as a sign of healthy detoxification and restoring the health of her microbial diversity
  • Identifying foods that are driving inflammation

Food sensitivity testing revealed a strong reaction to dairy, which her mum was concerned about as she seemed to live off milk and cheese. We used substitutions for these foods for other white foods like coconut yoghurt, soy milk and gradually introduced fruits and vegetables in a way that was playful and reward based, so Lucy enjoyed the transition and became more adventurous with food.

We used:

  • easy tasteless pre and probiotics for bowel health
  • nutrients to support her immune system, which also supported gut repair
  • herbal medicine to support her immune resistance

Achieving an incredible result

By the end of 6 months of treatment, Lucy was assessed as school ready. But even more gratifying for her parents was that she had transformed into an energetic girl who could go on family bike rides and play outside for hours without needing to rest. She barely got sick anymore and if she did, it resolved quickly. Lucy also became aware of her body and very proud of her poo!

John’s story

At MFM we’ve worked hard to overcome any possible roadblocks for patients. Part of this solution involves an app that we ask patients to join us on so we can monitor their nutrition, hydration, movement, sleep and other critical trackers. Not only do we get to see how you’re tracking, we can seamlessly communicate with each other as an extra (and very efficient) channel of support. John (not his real name) came to see Jabe as he’s in training to participate in a marathon and he needed some guidance around energy metabolism, athletic programming and nutrition to support him in his training. He said this about the support he receives through the Nudge app:

“…it’s great – pretty sure it got me started back, not sure I would have without it. It’s not the app that gets me, it’s the app, combined with knowing who is at the other end of it, plus having an appointment booked for another catch up – those three together keep me really honest – cheers”.

Michael’s story

Michael is 35 years old, a husband, first time father and entrepreneur. He came to see us because his skin was causing him to feel self-conscious about the appearance of the skin on his face. His work involved a lot of training and public speaking and noticed that his skin was starting to undermine his self-confidence.

Understanding the problem

His skin was red and flaking below his eyes, across the bridge around the folds of his nose, as well as on the margin of his hairline and scalp. The flaking on his scalp was persistent and profuse and was also a source of concern, as he constantly had to be aware of flakes falling on his suit jackets or shirts. He was using anti-dandruff shampoo to try and control it. More recently an angry red rash had spread through his beard, down his neck and onto his chest.

Michael had been dealing with this for 5 years and had tried eliminating foods for short periods of time with little success. However, these dietary experiments had only been for a few weekends at most.  

Implementing the solution

We conducted food sensitivity testing for Michael and found that he was highly sensitive to eggs, gluten and dairy.  We removed these foods from his diet, gradually, for a total of 3 months. During this time, we focused on reducing inflammatory markers that is a key driver of dermatitis, restoring the gut microbiome (which impacts inflammation), creating normal healthy bowel motions (another driver or contributor to dermatitis), and most importantly, repairing gut inflammation, which is generally present in those that have external inflammation.

Achieving an incredible result

By the end of the 3 months, the inflammation on his face was almost completely resolved. 

Through rechallenging certain foods, we established that eggs were highly reactive for him and removed these from his diet moving forward, of course while replacing them with other protein sources. Surprisingly the scalp flaking/dandruff completely disappeared.

Note: Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) and dandruff are a continuum of the same condition. SD effects areas mostly where there is a higher proportion of oil glands. Cradle cap is also a form of SD. On the scalp SD tends to be less inflamed, and is mostly an over-production of oils that flakes off. On the rest of the body, it tends to appear on the nose, cheeks, sometimes chin, chest and anywhere there is a crease e.g. armpits, neck or elbow crease.

Danielle’s story

When Danielle first came to us, the bathroom was the one room in the house she dreaded. With a history of gut issues that she’d had no resolution from, she was determined to get to the bottom of things.

An in-depth analysis of the problem

After running some labs to determine just what was going on we incorporated supplements and asked Danielle to experiment with some foods. She saw improvement in bloating, mood, energy and digestion.

Implementing the solution

There was a significant turning point for Danielle. Talking with Bee one day, she was recounting that she was still experiencing reflux, sugar cravings after meals and her bowels weren’t moving the way she hoped they would. She set a micro challenge: for one week, eat mindfully. Remove all tech and reading materials, taste each mouthful, chew thoroughly, put your fork down between mouthfuls.

Achieving an incredible result

 A phone call follow up the next week saw her very excited as her bowel movements were now her idea of perfect, the cravings had subsided and she had no more reflux. Together, Danielle and Bee celebrated the simplicity of this one element.

Maria’s story

Maria was 24 when she came to see us, and had been experiencing acne for half of her life! Since age 12, Maria’s acne fluctuated between being mild to severe. Her acne never went away, even after trying the oral contraceptive pill for a few years in her early twenties.

Maria was worried about taking antibiotics or Roaccutane, as she was scared of the side effects. She had used topical vitamin A, peroxide creams and facial extractions with limited success.

Understanding the problem

After a thorough case history, we discovered that Maria had severe allergies to nuts and fish, and would come out in hives and have digestive upset when eating dairy, eggs, citrus and wheat as a child. Maria also alternated between constipation and diarrhoea, had thinning hair, long irregular periods, and wheat was a staple in her vegan diet. She would also binge drink with friends every fortnight.

Functional hormone testing revealed that her testosterone levels were almost twice the upper limit. Combined with her symptoms of thinning hair, acne, and long irregular periods, Maria met the criteria for PCOS - polycystic ovarian syndrome, a common condition in those with acne. Her uncle also had severe acne, pointing to a genetic link to metabolising testosterone poorly, leading to the increased levels as shown on Maria’s lab test.

Other factors contributing to Maria’s acne were food sensitivities, particularly wheat, and that she was missing key nutrients in her diet that are important for skin health (many of these were mentioned in the webinar). Her detoxification pathways also needed support (especially from the binge drinking), as did her gut health.

Implementing the solution

Maria’s treatment plan included taking herbal medicines to reduce testosterone levels,  which included having spearmint tea. She was also advised to avoid wheat given it was a known sensitivity for her, and was supported with food suggestions and nutritional supplements to help regulate her menstrual cycle, improve her detoxification ability, her digestive health, and her skin.

Achieving an incredible result

After 3 months, Maria barely had any new acne, and her period started to become less erratic. At the end of 6 months, her cycles were much more regular, and her skin was clear of acne.

Check out Maria's before and after pics below. The bit of redness left is post inflammatory pigmentation from having acne for so many years. The redness disappeared within 2-3 months as Maria maintained her skin healing protocol.

After struggling with acne for 12 years, you can imagine how happy Maria is to finally look in the mirror and be happy with seeing clear skin!

Susan's story

Susan is a 60 year old female who presented to the clinic with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, overweight and with chronic sleep problems. Her fasting blood glucose fluctuated between 7-8mmol/L and would rise to 17mmol/L after eating. A measure of her HbA1c levels at 9.2% indicates that her blood glucose regulation had been poorly managed over the proceeding 3 months.

A review of Susan’s diet showed regular meal skipping, high intake of coffee, and low in fruits vegetables and fibre. She was undertaking a moderate amount of exercise each week including walking and 3-4 gym sessions, however there was no effect on reducing weight.

Understanding the problem

At the initial consultation Susan’s recent pathology was reviewed:

Liver function test showed low serum globulin indicating that liver function was less than optimal, however, not suggestive of any serious pathology and likely attributable to a suboptimal diet.

Her most recent fasting blood sugar was extremely high at 17.7mmol/L, a significant increase on her previous result of 7.8mmol/L and her HbA1c indicated that the dysregulation of blood glucose has been going on for several months or longer. Fasting blood glucose levels normally range between 3.5-6mmol/L, so the current result is diagnostic for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) which now requires oral medications and insulin injections to control.

Serum insulin levels were found to be normal, suggesting that the pancreas was still capable of producing insulin, however wasn’t secreting sufficient insulin to control blood glucose, and it is likely that Susan’s cells were resistant to insulin.

Cortisol levels, a key marker for inflammation, was elevated, as were her serum triglycerides which are associated with cholesterol.

During the consultation it was also found that Susan suffered from bloating and constipation, and her sleep was frequently interrupted by leg cramps and needing to urinate. She also had several amalgam fillings in her teeth, and had begun to suffer from neurological symptoms in her hands and feet which is commonly associated with poorly controlled T2DM.

Susan had a number of stressors in her life relating to caring for her family and working night shift.

Following the initial consultation some functional pathology tests were ordered. A food reactivity profile was undertaken and showed Susan to be reactive to white potato, sweet potato, garlic and coffee, all of which frequently featured in her diet. These food reactions will contribute to a systemic inflammatory response, further disrupt her diabetic control, and will be an underlying driver for disease progression.

An organic acids test was also completed and showed elevated markers for yeast and bacterial overgrowth, in particular for clostridium difficile. The elevated oxalates also suggested that the yeast overgrowth was likely to be caused by Candida which is often found to be problematic in people with poorly controlled T2DM. A number of other metabolites showed increased lactic acid, poor energy production and increased ketones, all of which are consistent with her diabetic state.

The organic acids report also showed elevated metabolites for her detoxification pathways which is suggestive of potential toxic exposure. Susan undertook a toxic metals blood screen which showed high levels of antimony which has been shown to leech from PET plastic bottles and containers. Mercury levels were also elevated and are likely to be related to her amalgam fillings.

At the end of the consultation, the priorities for managing Susan’s health were determined to be:

  • Improve blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity through diet and lifestyle interventions, as well address the underlying food reactions and dysbiosis which were acting as primary drivers for systemic inflammation, further compromising her diabetic control. The end objective was to reduce her reliance on insulin injections to control her blood glucose levels.
  • Implement strategies for managing her stress and improving sleep by facilitating a shift from sympathetic dominance associated with the fight, flight, freeze stress response, to the parasympathetic state associated with rest, digest, repair and reproduce.
  • Reduce her weight which would further improve her blood glucose management.
  • Prevent the progression of her chronic disease state which is indicative of being at risk for the development of a more serious cardiometabolic state.

Implementing the solution

The approach to addressing Susan’s uncontrolled blood sugar regulation involved both effective lifestyle interventions to address diet, exercise, weight control and stress management as well as specific clinical interventions.

The 4 pillars are the foundation for establishing health and in Susan’s case, will form the lifelong strategies she will need to follow to continue to manage her diabetes.

EAT: Functional testing detected a number of reactive foods in Susans diet. These were removed to reduce the immune priming and inflammatory response that dysregulates blood sugar regulation. Other dietary changes were implemented to reduce the high amount of processed foods and high glycaemic load foods, and to increase fibre and complex carbohydrates. These approaches stabilise blood glucose levels, preventing spikes which can reduce insulin’s ability to bind to cell membrane receptors and allow glucose to enter the cell.

MOVE: There is a significant body of evidence to support the role of regular moderate exercise in managing people with diabetes. For Susan this included brisk walking outdoors or on the treadmill for 1hr/day 4-5 times per week.

SLEEP: Specific sleep promoting strategies were implemented to help regulate cortisol and melatonin levels necessary to promote quality sleep. Improving the body's diurnal cortisol regulation also reduces cortisol's effect of driving systemic inflammation which is a primary concern in the progression of diabetes.

DE-STRESS: One of the physiological effects of stress is elevated cortisol which becomes a primary driver of systemic inflammation. Regular practice of stress management techniques such as breathing exercises were used to help reduce the physiological impact of stress on Susan, and to improve her cortisol regulation over the course of the day.

Several supplements were also prescribed.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid, which has been shown to improve insulin resistance, one of the key endocrine disorders that precedes the development of T2DM. ALA also improves symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy which is commonly experienced in people with diabetes.

Low magnesium has been shown to be associated with insulin resistance. Magnesium citrate was prescribed to correct the low magnesium levels and also to assist with the physiological effects of stress.

Activated B-Complex vitamins are important cofactors involved in a large number of metabolic processes in the body.

Probiotics were prescribed to help restore the healthy gut bacteria and reduce the opportunistic overgrowth of candida. With reduction of the candida, vitamins B6 and B12 will support the oxalate metabolism pathway, reduce the excess oxalates that had been found, and reduce the pro-inflammatory effects of oxalates.

Achieving an incredible result

Current evidence suggests that lifestyle factors should be the primary interventions for the management of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Over several months, Susan worked with her health coach to progressively plan and implement the key strategies recommended for each of the 4 pillars; eat, move, sleep, and destress.

Along with the prescribed supplements, within 3 months, Susan’s blood glucose readings reduced from a fasting level of 17mmol/L to 8mmol/L, and her HbA1c levels had reduced from 9.2% to 7.9%. Additionally, Susan lost 5.5kg in weight.

These significant changes in Susans diabetes control demonstrate a significant reduction in her risk factors for peripheral vascular disease, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, and blindness. In discussions with her doctors, Susan’s GP had agreed that if she continued to improve over the next 3 months, then they would consider reducing her insulin with view to her moving to oral medication only to control her blood sugar levels.

Leanne's story

Leanne, 25yo, had been experiencing hard nodules in her groin since puberty which fluctuated with her menstrual cycle. She explained that sometimes the lesions would burst. At the time she came to us, she had one primary large lesion and several pea-size lesions that had persisted, cycling between mild and severe for the previous month.

Antibiotics had been prescribed, however these caused an allergic response. She had also been recommended to take the pill, though knew this wouldn’t be appropriate due to previous adverse events, like mood changes and acne vulgaris, to that medication as well.

Understanding the problem

A thorough case history revealed that whilst Leanne was within the healthy BMI range, she had gained 12kg since puberty.  Given that weight gain is associated with the condition, this may have been a contributing factor. 

She was also not having complete bowel motions. Daily complete emptying of the digestive system is a key way that the body detoxifies, including hormones. This was validated by functional hormone testing and gut function testing which showed that she had an imbalance in bowel flora that were impacting her digestion as well as phase 3 oestrogen detoxification.


Other factors that were likely contributing to Leanne’s case were low water consumption, a lot of convenience foods, and that she had been smoking for the last 6 years.

Implementing the solution

Leanne’s treatment plan included:

  • Taking pre and probiotics to enhance taking herbal medicines to restore bowel flora, which also eased bowel motions
  • Specific plants such as linseed, broccoli sprout and rosemary to encourage healthy oestrogen metabolism
  • Herbs to improve detoxification through the liver, gall bladder and kidneys. Supporting those reduces the burden on the skin.
  • Nutrients to speed up wound healing time
  • Specific antibacterial herbs to reduce risk of infection
  • Gradual dietary modifications moving to a whole food diet of primarily meat, fish, vegetables, legumes and whole grains
  • Increasing hydration to 1.5 - 2 L water daily
  • Adjunct hypnotherapy for smoking cessation

Leanne’s health coach supported her through dietary and lifestyle modifications, guided her through the testing process and was available between appointments to navigate and interpret symptom changes.  

Through discussions with her coach, it was discovered that Leanne had erratic sleep patterns. This arose as an important factor in her body’s ability to heal, as sleep is when the body should be resting, healing, detoxifying and integrating. Therefore, her health coach supported and guided Leanne to develop strategies and behaviours for consistent, restful sleep.

Achieving an incredible result

Within 2 weeks the largest active lesion had completely subsided, but there were still some small lesions that grew and remitted in a cyclical fashion alongside her menstrual cycle.

After 3 months of treating hormones, achieving great bowel health and sleep habits, these also resolved without any of the lesions rupturing, which was a huge success.

This was a huge relief to Leanne who was then able to focus her energy on smoking cessation, as this was identified as a significant risk for recurrence of the condition.

Read more success stories and real world testimonials from patients of Melbourne Functional Medicine here.

Want to know how to get started with functional medicine? Click here.


Browse our FAQs by category below.

Is functional medicine evidence based?

Yes, functional medicine is evidence based, and the evidence base for functional medicine is constantly growing, as more and more studies are published on the functional medicine approach with a range of health concerns such as COVID, neurodegenerative conditions, cardiometabolic conditions such as diabetes, atrial fibrillation, arthritis, digestive health concerns like SIBO and a range of gut, skin, heart, hormonal and mood conditions.

What is a functional medicine practitioner?

A functional medicine practitioner is a healthcare professional who has undertaken training in the functional medicine approach, and is certified as a functional medicine practitioner. They specialise in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease through personalised care, and have a broad knowledge of disease processes, health, natural remedies and lifestyle medicine. Many different health professionals can train in the functional medicine approach, from doctors to nurses, naturopaths, and chiropractors.

What does a functional medicine practitioner do?

A functional medicine practitioner uses a systems biology approach to understand how the body works in order to solve health issue. They focus on finding and addressing the root cause of illness, rather than simply treating symptoms.

Functional medicine practitioners take a holistic approach to health care, considering all aspects of a person’s life that may be contributing to their illness. They work with patients to develop personalised treatment plans that may include diet and lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and other natural therapies.

Is a naturopath the same as a functional medicine doctor?

A naturopath can be a doctor, which is typical in the United States, however in Australia, naturopaths are typically not doctors, and training levels can vary, from having a Bachelors of Science to Diplomas. There are however functional medicine trained naturopaths, like the functional medicine practitioners at our clinic

The difference between a functional medicine doctor and a functional medicine naturopath in Australia is that a doctor can prescribe medications and order blood work, often covered by Medicare, whereas a naturopath prescribes natural medicines like nutrients and herbs, and can organise functional testing, however any prescription medication or standard blood pathology testing is managed with a patient’s doctor by working in an integrated way. Functional medicine doctors may focus more or less on a conventional approach to your health issue, depending on their training and preferences, whereas a naturopath will focus solely on natural approaches to your health. 

If you’re a GP or naturopath and want to be a functional medicine practitioner, find out how to become a functional medicine practitioner here

Is integrative medicine the same as functional medicine?

Integrative medicine is similar to functional medicine in some ways, however there are some distinct differences. Integrative medicine is more about a team of health practitioners supporting a patient in an integrated way - for example, a doctor working with a dietitian - to help a patient improve their health. However, they may still be working in a conventional way rather than looking at addressing a person holistically and seeking to find and treat the root cause of a health condition.

Functional medicine practitioners can work in an integrated way, and often do, working alongside psychologists, endocrinologists, neurologists and other specialist practitioners to bring resolution to health issues. 

Is a functional medicine doctor a GP?

It is likely that a functional medicine doctor is a GP, however this is not always the case. For example, an endocrinologist could decide to train in functional medicine, and even though they’d technically be a functional medicine doctor, they’re likely to be working in an endocrinology clinic versus a general practice where you’d go to see a GP. 

What is the difference between integrative and functional medicine?

Integrative medicine is where healthcare providers work in an integrative way, for example, a doctor and dietitian working together to help improve their patient's overall health. However, they may still use conventional methods rather than taking a holistic approach, and looking for the root cause of a condition. This might mean that a patient makes some improvement, however may not fully resolve their health issue if there is an underlying root cause or contributing factor that hasn’t been investigated and addressed. 

Functional medicine practitioners usually take an integrated approach as well, partnering with specialists like psychologists, endocrinologists, neurologists etc. to resolve issues. The difference is that functional medicine practitioners focus on identifying and treating the underlying causes of disease so that lasting positive health outcomes can be achieved. 

Is functional medicine covered by Medicare in Australia?

At this stage, functional medicine isn’t covered by Medicare in Australia. However, a few private health insurers offer some rebates associated with other modalities that practitioners tend to be qualified for, such as naturopathy or nutrition. Speak to your health insurer for more information. 

Treat the cause. Get support. Be well.

Find out how the practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine would approach your health issues and support you back to the healthiest version of you.

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