Functional Medicine as a Guide to Better Health

Many people are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of functional medicine, but it may be the key to improving your health. What is functional medicine?

Your body has an innate intelligence designed to stave off diseases, to purge toxins from your system, to maintain homeostasis, and to keep you healthy through a variety of mechanisms. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that it is not running at its highest efficiency — your body is meant to alert you of health problems, not live with them. Simple acute inflammation can grow into chronic inflammation without proper attention. This chronic inflammation is a common source of autoimmune disease.

In traditional Western medicine, doctors will look to treat a patient’s symptoms at a surface level rather than getting to the root of the problem. They may do this by running tests to see how bad the symptoms are. In functional medicine, on the other hand, the doctor not only wants to provide assistance in easing symptom relief, but more so wants to find out why and how a patient’s problems began in the first place.

Do you work around disease?

I got a kick out of a story I heard from a friend of mine told me the other day. She and her husband were driving in their relatively older car, and it was squeaking and creaking with every twist and bump in the road. Her son called it “carthritis.” She asked her husband, “Does the car need oil? It sounds like it’s dying.” He replied, “Yeah, I know. I usually just try to avoid bumpy roads.”

Avoiding bumpy roads to prevent a car from getting weaker is like avoiding physical activities to prevent chronic inflammation — it doesn’t solve the problem, and it limits your experiences in the process. The goal of functional medicine is not to put more gas in the car and keep going; it’s to get under the hood and fix the source of the problem.

Traditional Western Medicine vs. Functional Medicine

This is where a lot of people begin to get defensive about traditional medicine. They say, “Well, my doctor wants to know what is wrong with me. They send me for tests and try to get rid of it.”

What they consider the problem, we generally consider the symptom. For instance, you have pain in your shoulder. After running some tests, they discover a tumor. They get rid of the tumor. Great! But what was going on in your body that allowed the development of a tumor in the first place?

You see, the tumor was not an isolated problem, but a symptom of a larger underlying issue. Until you acknowledge the tumor as an alert and make adjustments to your lifestyle, you may begin to see other symptoms pop up. Seemingly unrelated symptoms are in fact commonly related to the same underlying issue.

Treatment and Prevention in Functional Medicine

Another area of difference in functional medicine is how it is treated. As doctors of functional medicine, we believe the body is designed to heal itself … when it is provided with the right tools. These tools are things you would expect and have been told your whole life (for the most part).

It can be a challenge to establish good health habits with today’s hectic lifestyle. If you’re one of the millions of people living with a chronic condition, it can become even harder. Too often we neglect our health until a health crisis — such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity — forces us to examine how we live and make some serious changes. The practices we develop in this space require time and effort, but the rewards are tremendous. Positive lifestyle changes can propel you to a healthier, happier place than you have ever known.

Dr. Tom’s Top 3 Tips for Better Health

Recently, a friend of mine asked what my top three tips are for better health. Whether you’re just starting your wellness journey or have been on the path for some time, these three tips are some of the most simple yet powerful ways to positively impact your health.

1. Drink two big glasses of water first thing in the morning. If you’re like most people, the first thing you do after waking up is head to the bathroom; but the very next thing should be to drink two tall glasses of water. Why?

Your body is comprised of 50 to 75 percent water. This makes water vitally important to the functions your body carries out on a daily basis. Your cells need to stay hydrated in order for your body to perform these functions. Water also helps us flush out all of those nasty toxins and waste from your body through sweat and elimination.

Everything in your body works better when you’re well hydrated. Water improves bowel function, and you’ll feel better overall. Even if you’re not thirsty or feel too full, drink the water. The feeling of fullness will pass and your body will thank you for it. After a few days of doing this, your body will acclimate, and you will find you function better overall.

2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s simple. Every forkful of food that you put into your mouth is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. At the cellular level, all degenerative diseases involve inflammation inside the cell. Inflammation is the harmful process linked to diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, thyroid disorders, migraines, and more. Put out the fire! You can squelch inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats like omega-3s, etc. It is a good practice to limit or avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, grains, GMOs, food additives and preservatives, unhealthy fats like omega-6s and trans fats, etc. Every bite counts! Put out more fires than you start.

3. “Take it easy, but take it!” This quote comes from former Chicago-based radio show host Louis “Studs” Terkel. The path to health is a process. You’ll have victories as well as setbacks on the road to wellness. Don’t be discouraged by the setbacks. The important thing is to stay engaged in your journey to achieve better health. Never give up!

While your heart is still pumping and you are alive on this planet, you are still in the game. You don’t have to become Mr. Universe, but it is vitally important to stay active. Do not live a sedentary life, and avoid sitting for extended periods of time. (Don’t take it too easy!)

The road to wellness isn’t easy. Don’t stop making improvements just because you’ve suffered a setback. Working through those setbacks is the wisest decision you can make. Making simple, easy changes like avoiding toxins can help to take a lot of that load off — literally. Toxic load. Make choices that support your health even when it looks like your body has betrayed you. Let it know you may get kicked, but you will get right back up again … and again … and again — as long as your heart is still pumping.

Is it really as simple as all that?

Well, it isn’t simple at all. Your body has a very complex system designed to keep you at optimal health. We each have our own unique DNA and therefore experience our environment in different ways.

Although we all have different DNA, we all share the same systematic functions. As I’ve mentioned, the body is complex. Your body converts food into energy, but there are byproducts and chemical reactions as a result. Figuring out what and why something is happening in your body is like sleuthing. Extensive lab work is often needed to see how your body is throwing up signals that you may not be feeling.

For instance, you eat a piece of toast and unknowingly antibodies may be sent out. You can’t feel those antibodies being sent out. So unless you experience pain and discomfort when you have the toast, you have no association between the toast and the condition.

Functional medicine doctors look in-depth at how your body is functioning. Seventy percent of your immune system resides in your gut. Have you had antibiotics that have killed off a lot of good bacteria that help you fight sickness? Are you getting enough diversity in your diet to feed that flora? Nutrition and nutritional supplements are a key component in rebalancing and maintaining your health.

At TheDr, our Clinical Services team has extensive training in functional medicine, nutrition, and the four pillars of health: structure, biochemistry, emotion and the electromagnetic field. Through consultations, we offer personalized wellness based on testing and analysis. We give the tools to our patients to take control of their health and share these protocols, methods, test results, and progress results with other people they have chosen to be a part of their healthcare team. We believe this holistic approach leads to true healing.

Functional medicine sifts through all of your symptoms; tests and retests; looks at whether you are improving, declining or if there is no change; and seeks to discover the root cause or causes of your sickness. It relies on the technology of tests and the wisdom of nature. It can at times seem like a long journey, but the functional medicine approach to wellness seeks to determine the root causes of disease and prevents sickness from growing. Western medicine is based on the foundation of treating symptoms — not finding the causes to those symptoms.

Without identifying the source of the problem, the problem lays unaddressed festering, creating more in its wake. Functional medicine truly acts as a guide to better health.

A Changing Environment

Our bodies were designed to heal, but they were designed long before plastics and wireless phones and cars. Think of yourself just like one more animal you find in nature. That’s our environment, too.

Just like man is killing itself, we are impacting our environment in similar ways. Pesticides and insecticides, micro plastics, mercury levels in our water, pollution in our air, and electromagnetic radiation all affects both us and the other creatures we share our environment with. By being more conscious of what we put in and near our bodies, we can minimize our impact on our environment and better support our health at the same time.

Remember, your genes aren’t your destiny. Even if you have genetic susceptibility to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or other disorders, you can arrest and reverse many chronic conditions by making the appropriate lifestyle changes and using a functional medicine approach that looks at your life through a holistic lens.

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Coriolus Versicolor

Coriolus Versicolor, a remarkable mushroom, is esteemed for its potential to contribute to overall wellness. Known for its immune-supporting properties, Coriolus Versicolor may help strengthen the body’s natural defenses. This extraordinary mushroom has also been associated with promoting healthy energy levels, supporting digestion, and fostering vitality.

Fo Ti

Fo Ti, a revered Chinese herb also known as He Shou Wu, is valued for its potential to support overall wellness. Traditionally used for promoting vitality and longevity, Fo Ti may contribute to maintaining healthy energy levels, cognitive function, and immune system performance. This remarkable herb has also been associated with supporting liver and kidney health, as well as fostering a sense of overall balance


Agave, a versatile desert plant native to the Americas, is recognized for its potential to support overall wellness. Rich in natural fibers and low-glycemic sweeteners, Agave may contribute to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, digestive health, and providing a natural alternative to refined sugars.

Maral Root

Maral Root, a potent adaptogenic herb native to Siberia, is celebrated for its potential to contribute to overall well-being. Known for helping the body manage stress and maintain balance, Maral Root may also promote healthy energy levels, endurance, and cognitive function. This exceptional herb has been associated with supporting the immune system, fostering vitality, and enhancing physical performance.

  • Antioxidant and DNA Repair Stimulating Effect of Extracts from Transformed and Normal Roots of Rhaponticum carthamoides against Induced Oxidative Stress and DNA Damage in CHO Cells:


NotoGinseng, a distinct variety of Panax ginseng native to the Changbai Mountains, is esteemed for its potential to contribute to overall well-being. Renowned for its adaptogenic properties, Noto Ginseng may help the body manage stress and maintain balance. This exceptional herb has been linked to supporting cognitive function, promoting healthy energy levels, and boosting immune system performance.


Baicalin, a potent bioflavonoid derived from the Scutellaria baicalensis plant, is appreciated for its potential to promote overall wellness. With its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Baicalin may help protect cells from oxidative stress and maintain a balanced response to inflammation. This remarkable compound has been associated with supporting liver health, promoting cardiovascular function, and fostering a sense of vitality.

Purple Lapacho

Purple Lapacho, a unique and potent herb, is valued for its potential to support overall well-being. Known for its immune-boosting properties, Purple Lapacho may help fortify the body’s natural defenses. This remarkable herb has also been associated with promoting healthy energy levels, supporting digestion, and fostering vitality.

Holy Basil

Holy Basil has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion. It has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels.


Ashwagandha, a revered adaptogenic herb, is acclaimed for its potential to support overall well-being. Known for helping the body manage stress and maintain balance, Ashwagandha may also contribute to healthy energy levels and mental clarity. This remarkable herb has been associated with promoting relaxation, supporting the immune system, and fostering vitality.


Guarana, a powerful plant, is celebrated for its potential to support overall wellness. Rich in natural caffeine, Guarana may help promote mental alertness, focus, and healthy energy levels. This remarkable plant has also been associated with supporting endurance and enhancing physical performance.


Catuaba, a potent herb, is appreciated for its potential to contribute to overall well-being. Known for its adaptogenic qualities, Catuaba may help the body cope with stress and maintain balance. This remarkable herb has also been associated with promoting mental alertness, healthy energy levels, and fostering a sense of vitality.

Reishi Mushroom

Reishi Mushroom, a highly-regarded fungus, is esteemed for its potential to enhance overall wellness. With adaptogenic properties, Reishi Mushroom may help the body manage stress and maintain balance. This extraordinary mushroom has also been linked to promoting immune system support, healthy energy levels, and fostering a sense of calm and relaxation.

Astragalus Root

Astragalus Root, a powerful herb, is respected for its potential to contribute to overall well-being. Renowned for its immune-supporting properties, Astragalus Root may help fortify the body’s natural defenses. Additionally, this remarkable root has been associated with promoting healthy energy levels, heart health, and supporting the body’s ability to adapt to stress.

Asian Licorice Root

Asian Licorice Root, a versatile herb, is valued for its potential to support overall wellness. Known for its adaptogenic properties, it may help the body cope with stress and maintain balance. This remarkable root has also been linked to promoting healthy digestion, respiratory function, and supporting the immune system.

American Ginseng

American Ginseng, a revered herb, is prized for its potential to contribute to overall well-being. With adaptogenic properties, it may assist the body in managing stress and maintaining harmony. American Ginseng has also been associated with promoting mental alertness, healthy energy levels, and supporting the immune system.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea, a robust herb, is admired for its potential to support overall wellness. As an adaptogen, Rhodiola Rosea may help the body cope with stress and maintain balance. This remarkable herb has been linked to promoting mental clarity, healthy energy levels, and increased endurance.

Peruvian Maca

Peruvian Maca, a nutrient-packed root, is celebrated for its potential to enhance overall well-being. Known for its adaptogenic qualities, Maca may help the body manage stress and maintain balance. This powerful root has also been associated with promoting healthy energy levels, endurance, and supporting hormonal balance.

Schisandra Fruit

Schisandra Fruit, a unique berry, is renowned for its potential to contribute to overall wellness. Boasting adaptogenic properties, it may help the body adapt to stress and maintain equilibrium. Schisandra Fruit has also been linked to promoting healthy energy levels, mental clarity, and supporting the body’s natural defense


Acai, a nutrient-dense berry, is recognized for its potential to enhance overall well-being. Rich in antioxidants, Acai may help support the body’s defenses against environmental stressors, while promoting healthy energy levels and vitality.

Himalayan Goji

Himalayan Goji, a nutrient-rich fruit, is valued for its potential contribution to overall wellness. This superfood is believed to support the immune system, promote healthy energy levels, and aid in maintaining balance within the body. With its antioxidant properties, Himalayan Goji may help protect cells from environmental stressors.

Gotu Kola

The main group of components in gotu kola is the triterpenes including asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic acid, and madecassic acid, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are shown to positively influence brain plasticity which means a much sharper you.

  • Exhibits significant wound healing ability, Improves microcirculatory parameters, Sedative and anxiolytic properties, Antidepressant, Re-vitalize the brain and nervous system, increase attention span and concentration and combat aging:

Water Hyssop

Best known as a neural tonic and memory enhancer this powerful herb increases cerebral blood flow and neurotransmitter modulation.

Green Tea Extract

Healthy energy producer and one of the more researched and promising supplements. It upregulates fat metabolism at rest and during exercise. In recent years the consumption of Green Tea Extract has shown to help prevent lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular disease because of it’s preventative effects on chronic inflammation.

  • Helps with weight loss by increasing a protein hormone which is involved in regulating glucose levels as well
    as fatty acid breakdown:
  • Decrease cholesterol absorption and plasma levels, has strong free radical-scavenging
    activity inhibiting LDL oxidation, reduce the adhesion molecule expression, has antitrombotic activities by inhibiting platelet aggregation: 

Mikania Guaco

“Guaco” is Sun Horse Energy founder Dan Moriarty’s favorite herb, and the reason why he’s still alive. Traditionally, it’s a well-known herb for snake bites, scorpion stings and other venomous creatures. Guaco acts as a non-steroidal bronchodilator, meaning it opens up the airways without steroids. As a result of guaco opening up the airways, the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) are better able to accept oxygen transfer and get rid of carbon dioxide. In Brazil, Guaco syrup is one of the most popular herbal medicines used to treat the symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis, cough and hoarseness.

Osha Root

A traditional Native American herb, Osha is also known as “Bear Root”. Native Americans noticed that when bears emerged from hibernation, the first thing they did after being in a state of torpor for 4 months was not feast on salmon or drink water, but rather, dig up osha and eat it. Why? It decongests and wakes up the lungs. Native Americans who used Osha were able to run further, and treat their colds and congestion. Modern research studies suggest Osha may support the immune system by offering protective effects against oxidative damage.

I want to thank you for your existence. I want you to know that functional medicine has changed my life, well the life of my autistic son. So much so that I plan on taking the Functional Medicine Health Coach Certificate and work with my new friend who is now a Functional Medicine Doctor from the Institute of Functional Medicine and spread the word on GI testing and how finding the underlying issues will help eliminate autistic traits. 

I hope to be able to meet you one day so I can share this great news with others. Changing my son’s diet has changed him. Food is medicine!! By the way, I’m cooking my rutabaga. I’m Italian and never grew up with these. With love.

Rita Mastrangelo

I found you on YouTube a couple of weeks ago and I’m hooked. I listen to you a couple of hours every morning. I am being tested for celiac disease and have been gluten-free for a couple of weeks. Thank you for all of your insight.

April Renee

Just wanted to tell you that you’re amazing! You are helping so many people all over the world! Including me! Thank you so very much, Dr. Tom O’Bryan!

Patricia Puddle

Good morning Dr. Tom, Would just like to say thank you! This time last year I was going through a hell of a time with my gut. Terrible indigestion on a regular basis, feeling as if I had eaten a boulder and the tiredness was doing my heed (scottish for head) in! With two young girls being tired is not an option!

I went to the doctors on a number of occasions and they decided to prescribe omeprazole to mask the problem, sorry help my problem. I decided taking these drugs was not an option for me! So I started googling the life out of it!! Low and behold you started popping up!! Oh and Gluten intolerance! 

Your advice has been second to none! You have in my case really simplified what gluten does to my body and now that I have cut it out (which as it appears in lots of foods, some I can’t understand) I have found that my symptoms very quickly reduced and now I’m a year down the line they have gone for the vast majority of the time!! For that I’m truly grateful. I now follow you on YouTube and Instagram, which continues to educate me and the importance of gut health. I look forward to your future advice. Yours faithfully,

Gary Christie

Black Ant Extract

A Chinese medicine tonic, Black Ant is used to support energy levels. (In traditional Chinese medicine, Black Ant is given to increase vital Qi.) Research studies demonstrate that Black Ant supports the function of the thymus gland, which plays a crucial role in the immune system, producing and activating lymphocytes.

Siberian Ginseng

This well known adaptogen has been proven to reduce cardiovascular stress, lower and stabilize blood sugar to healthy levels, and encourages a more efficient lipid metabolism.

Pine Bark Extract

Many studies have shown that pine bark possesses anti-aging properties. It’s very similar in nature to the well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, resveratrol, which is abundant in red wine and grapes. Pine bark has a proven beneficial effect on lipids, the cardiovascular and immune systems.

Lion's Mane

A very yummy and medicinal mushroom is a well established candidate for brain and nerve health because it triggers neurite outgrowth and regenerates damaged nerves. Lions Mane has been extensively studied for its neuro-health properties.


This is an enzyme/protein that speeds up biochemical reactions and helps to prevent and dissolve the formations of blood clots (thrombi); addresses the problem of blood hyperviscosity, thereby preventing thick and sticky blood, which is not conducive to overall cardiovascular health.


Referred to as the women’s ultimate power herb, by some herbal enthusiasts. Used in India for at least 3,000 years, Shatavari, is structurally similar to estrogen produced within the body. Some researchers have concluded shatavari can be a highly effective alternative to synthetic hormone replacement therapy for peri- and menopausal women.

Chaste Tree Berry

Improve female libido, mitigate PMS, reproductive health

Horny Goat Weed

Increase para-sympathetic nervous activity, mitigate osteoporosis, improve libido, enhance smooth muscle tissue function

  • Treatment for erectile problems and nerve injuries in human patients:
  • Prevents thickening or hardening of the arteries through multiple mechanisms, including attenuating DNA damage, correcting endothelial dysfunction, inhibiting the proliferation and migration of smooth muscle cells, repressing macrophage-derived foam cell formation and inflammatory responses, as well as preventing platelet activation:

Bulgarian Tribulus

Enhance athletic performance, improve circulation, improve sexual performance, more efficient rates of protein synthesis


Cordyceps, a genus of mushroom, gained lots of attention after Chinese long-distance runners performed impressively at international competitions in the 1990s and early 2000s. Along with high-altitude training, supplementing with cordyceps was part of their intense training program. A research study concludes that cordyceps improves tolerance to high-intensity exercise after supplementation with it because the fungus is thought to increase blood flow, enhance oxygen utilization; it also acts as an antioxidant. It also has powerful anti-tumor properties, the ability to regulate the endocrine system, enhance your immune function, and protect the kidneys, lung, liver, and other organs.

  • Immunomodulatory, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities, promotion of endurance capacity, and learning-memory improvement, can be used to treat conditions such as hyposexuality, night sweats, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia, arrhythmias, and other heart, respiratory, renal and liver diseases:
  • Various pharmacological actions, including nephroprotective, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and antiapoptotic effects:

Ginkgo Biloba

In recent decades, an extract of the leaves of the tree Ginkgo biloba L. has been used to improve memory in disorders like Dementia disorders that affect memory and intellectual functioning, and are caused primarily by Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disorders.

  • Potent antioxidant properties and ability to enhance peripheral and cerebral circulation, ginkgo’s primary application lies in the treatment of cerebrovascular dysfunctions and peripheral vascular disorders:
  • Experimental results showed extracts of G.Biloba to upregulate protein expressions of BDNF:
  • The effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on cognitive functions in aged female rats;
  • The role of oxidative stress and brain-derived neurotrophic factor:


Jiaogulan, a versatile herb, is celebrated for its potential to support overall well-being. Known for its adaptogenic properties, Jiaogulan may help the body cope with stress and maintain balance. This remarkable herb has also been associated with promoting healthy energy levels, boosting endurance, and fostering a sense of calm and relaxation.